Mile star Eamonn Coghlan thrives on indoor meet atmosphere
New York — It is that slushy, dreary time of winter when most of us in the Northeast sustain ourselves with idle thoughts of warm, sunny days that are still weeks away. Our more affluent neighbors repair to Florida - New York City's southernmost suburb - and rub it in by sending back postcards depicting romantic beach scenes.
Then there is Eamonn Coghlan, a 30-year-old transplanted Irishman who loves being stuck indoors in the city. He is at his best in cavernous, stuffy buildings, punishing himself with extreme physical exertion, and he practically dreads the blossoming of spring.
Eamonn Coghlan is the world's greatest indoor miler, now or ever, and actually records faster times indoors than outdoors.
This Friday evening in the USA Mobil Meet at Madison Square Garden, before an expected capacity crowd and a Public Broadcasting Service television audience, Coghlan will try to complete an undefeated season in the mile, track and field's most luxurious event. He also will try to surpass his world indoor record of 3: 50.6, accomplished in San Diego in 1981, the same year Sebastian Coe set the outdoor mark of 347.3 (Coghlan's outdoor low is ''only'' 3:52.5).
Pushing him will be, among others, Steve Scott, holder of the American indoor record and a staunch rival of Coghlan. In Ohio last weekend, Coghlan nipped Scott, and Scott complained he had been bumped off balance.
Coghlan is called the chairman of the boards for good reason. Running on them , he has dipped to 3:53 or better four times, a feat merely matched by the rest of the leading milers put together. He has won the famed Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose games here all five times he has entered it, including this year.
He represents the New York Athletic Club, but more evidently and colorfully he represents his native and beloved Ireland, for which he works as a tourist board public relations figure. Clad all in kelly green, down to and including his toes, he is a treat to follow as he hurtles almost jauntily around the banked track with his short but fluent strides.
''I love the closeness of the crowd at indoor meets,'' he says with a handsome, theatrical grin and just the remaining traces of a brogue. ''I'm an extrovert. I feel at one with the crowd. No matter what they cheer for, I feed on the emotion. That's one thing I like better about the American indoor season than the European outdoor season. The tracks are much shorter, but it's a carnival atmosphere indoors, and I thrive on it.''
There are other, more tangible reasons for the way Coghlan goes against the usual pattern by doing better indoors than out. For one thing, at 5 ft. 101/2 in., he is short enough to lean low into the turns and virtually catapult out of them.
''You have to run nearly perpendicular to the slope,'' he says, ''and I can do that where most milers can't. It's especially important toward the end of a race. I can use the track efficiently and appear to be much faster than I am when I put on a finishing kick.''
Coghlan likes the Garden track and points out that Ivy League engineers have worked technical wonders in recent years with higher, sharper banking on the turns that can add impetus to the smart runner's momentum.
''I've loved running on boards ever since I stepped on them as a freshman as Villanova. That's an 11-lap track like this one, and everybody said how difficult I'd find it. But I got out there and I wanted to sprint on those turns - it was an exhilarating experience going through them.''
Another factor in Coghlan's comparative lack of success outdoors is his preference for the 5,000-meter over the mile. He ran the 5,000 in the last Olympics instead of the metric mile, and plans to do it again in the '84 Games, using the mile as a training distance.
An Olympic gold medal is his major goal. He ran the 1,500 in 1976 and finished fourth, then was fourth again in the 5,000 in 1980. The latter was his first loss at the longer distance.
Aye, but the Irish welcomed him home afterward with warmth and understanding.
''They felt bad, but for me,'' he says. ''They're the friendliest people in the world, and my family and I will probably move back there to live eventually, much as I like the New York City area. It's the most beautiful part of the world to me, and everyone knows me and makes me feel welcome.
''A while ago I had a minor car accident, and it made big headlines. I put a dent in the back of an older lady's car, and everywhere I went for days afterward I was kidded. Guys would lean out of car windows and laugh and yell, 'You shouldn't be allowed on the roads, you granny-basher!' The country's so small you can't get away with anything.''