Breaking Barriers: Five Athletes Achieve Sub-4-Minute Mile at BMC Belfast Meet

June 19, 2024

Perri Williams 

There has always been a certain magic associated with the sub-4-minute mile. From that inaugural effort by Roger Bannister on 6th May, 1954 in Oxford to the present day, the push to break through that 4 minute barrier is on every middle distance runners agenda.

Last Saturday in Belfast at the BMC meet in the Mary Peter’s Track, five athletes broke this magical barrier for the first time on Northern Ireland territory since 1998. It has been a long time coming and it is only pertinent that this deluge of achievements should come in the year of the 70th anniversary of Roger Bannisters effort.

The mile was the signature event at the BMC (British Milers Club) meeting and attracted athletes from abroad. Given that the race is not run that often, it draws a crowd – seventy-four athletes lined out across seven graded races. The main race was won by Max Wharton (England) who took victory with a time of 3.58:02. Taking 2.5 seconds off his previous best from 2022, this was the Englishman’s first time ever beating the barrier.

While Ciara Mageean may have been hoisting a gold medal around her neck after her superb 1,500m victory at the recent European Championships, her boyfriend Thomas Moran was making strides of his own. The county Meath native now running for Sale Harriers finished runner-up to Wharton. Recording a time of 3.58:57 he took his first step across that 4.00-minute mark outdoors. In January of this year, he ran 3.58:07 to record his first sub-4-minute mile indoors at the John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston. A week later he recorded 3.59.80 at the Scarlett and White Invitational.

Running on home ground, the BMC marked Callum Morgan’s first attempt at a sub-4. Trained by Mark Kirk, one of the meet organisers, on paper there was no question that Morgan should achieve this goal, his 1500m times all indicated as much. Morgan recorded a time of 3.58:69 to become the first Northern Irish athlete to achieve this feat on home soil in thirty-three years. Back in 1991 Davy Wilson just nipped inside the barrier with his 3.58:9 also on the Mary Peter’s track.

Then came Cathal O’Rielly. The Kilkenny City Harriers athlete has been steadily improving over the last few years and recorded some quick times over 1500m, 5000m and 3000m since the start of the year. What was unusual with O’Rielly’s achievement was that with 150m to go he was about three seconds adrift of making the target. A superb wind-up, finding a gear he did not know existed, saw him run a blistering final 150m to gain not only time but distance as he sped past four athletes in the process. O’Rielly ran 3:59.26 his first ever time inside 4 minutes.

The final athlete to record a sub 4 was Andrew McGill (Scotland) who finished in 3:59.27, his first one-mile attempt ever. McGill has been running 3.48 and 3.49 for 1500m recently. Indications are that he is now possibly capable of 3.45s. Finally, spare a thought for Philip Marron (Dublin City Harriers) who was so tantalizingly close – just 0.01 seconds outside the four minutes. This has to be the closest time ever run in Ireland to the actual 4.00-minute mark.

The national record for the outdoor one mile is held by Ray Flynn. Flynn ran 3.49.77 at the Bislett Games in Oslo in 1982. Not far behind is Eamonn Coughlan who ran 3.49.78 (Indoors) in New Jersey back in 1983. These times do not even rank in the top 30 on the current World all-time list. The current world record is held by Hicham El Guerrouj who ran 3.43.13 in Rome in 1999. Jakob Ingebrigtsen has come the closest to this time of late with his 3.43.73 at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon last year.

On the domestic front recent research conducted by athletics Ireland president John Cronin has found that over 390 sub 4-minute performances were recorded by 222 athletes across fifteen venues. This recent race in Belfast dramatically changes those statistics. In Ireland the first sub-4-minute mile was recorded on August 5th, 1958, when Australian Herb Elliot broke the barrier at Morton Stadium, Santry. Elliot recorded 3.54.5 to break the World record at that time. It is a coincidence that on that famous night, five athletes also achieved the same feat. Other interesting statistics relating to the sub-4-minute miles run in Ireland:

Fastest: Sydney Maree (USA) 3.49.2 at the Cork City Sports in 1982

Youngest: Nicholas Griggs (Ireland) 3.56.40 at the NIA live Indoor meet in 2022 then aged 17. Griggs is also the youngest person in the world to do a sub-4-indoor mile.

Oldest: John Walker (New Zealand) 3.58.29 at the Giro Bank Ulster Games in 1989 age 37 years.

Most frequent: Marcus O’Sullivan and Ray Flynn with ten each on Irish soil.

Image: Perri Williams 

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