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Monday 18 March 2019

Top athlete considered drugs to win Seoul medal

Running star Coghlan reveals that missing out on Olympic gold caused his depression

Irish athletic star Eamonn Coghlan with wife Yvonne at the RTE Sport Awards, believes the Irish athletes don't
stand a chance against international competitors at this year's Olympic Games in Beijing
Irish athletic star Eamonn Coghlan with wife Yvonne at the RTE Sport Awards, believes the Irish athletes don't stand a chance against international competitors at this year's Olympic Games in Beijing

Alison O'Riordan

Irish running hero Eamonn Coghlan once investigated taking drugs to help save his running career.

As the Olympic Games got under way in China, he also revealed that depression caused by running Irish athletics almost drove him to suicide.

The former world champion admits to being tempted to take drugs when he was 35. At the time, he says, many athletes believed that you had to use drugs in order to win an Olympic medal. "So I was faced with a question, will I or won't I? At the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, I was now basically an old man for an athlete and so I investigated it and met with a particular doctor in America who told me how it would help me overcome injuries, in terms of allowing me to train harder for longer and recover quicker without breaking down. So I almost came close to crossing the line," he said.

Coghlan wished the Irish athletes competing at this year's Olympics in Beijing well, but said they had absolutely no chance of winning any medals.

Meanwhile, he has spoken of his own deep disappointment at his failure to win an Olympic medal. "The cross I had to bear was my own disappointment of not winning an Olympic gold medal which had been instilled in me as a kid and the thought of not fulfilling what I had dreamed of made me very depressed."

He has also revealed how the job of Chief Executive of the Track and Field Federation drove him to the brink of suicide. "I was sucked in because the then Minister for Sport, Frank Fahey, had been p*****d off with the Athletics Federation in Ireland because they hadn't made an appointment. Fahey thought this would be a good opportunity to have somebody of my international status in athletics heading it up. My 144 days of working there almost drove me to suicide because I got seriously depressed as a result of my life, it was genuine."

Coghlan's memoir, Eamonn Coghlan: Chairman of the Boards, Master of the Mile, is due to be published next week.

In an exclusive with the Sunday Independent, Coghlan recalls the atmosphere when fellow sprinter Ben Johnson won the infamous 100 metres at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games against American rival Carl Lewis to set a world record of 9.79 seconds.

"I was sitting in the stands with Olympic teammates and the general reaction amongst the people in the stands when he won was: 'Oh f***, he got away with it.' As an older teenager when I was competing at the highest levels in America, Johnson had been getting away with it and making money and there was a lot of hype between him and Carl Lewis.

"Behind the scenes, Lewis complained about Johnson's obvious use of drugs so when Johnson tested positive for steroids a few days later we all sang from the same hymn sheet: 'Great we got him at last'."

Coghlan also remembers the extraordinary relationships he forged during his career, including one with Carl Lewis when he was the new kid on the block. He expresses his admiration for his athleticism but also his disappointment when he tested positive.

With professionalism and sponsorship now taking over, Coghlan maintains that the camaraderie has gone out of sport. "This X generation who are competing now are like zombies staring into their mobile phones all day long, sending text messages, listening to their iPods, watching their DVDs, not knowing who is who. They don't know one another, the only time they know each other is on the track, off the track it is totally impersonal.

"Too much pampering goes on. The agents make the decisions, book the airline tickets, do the deals, organise the hotels. They don't know how to look after themselves because they've been spoon fed. When I was on the scene we were path-finders, we did our own wheeling and dealing, even getting in a queue outside a hotel room like we were some kind of drug dealer to collect our cash in an envelope."

With all the money going into Irish sport, why is it we are not bringing home the medals? Coghlan maintains the number of kids coming through athletics is minuscule compared to rugby, soccer and Gaelic football.

"I really believe it's an inverted pyramid. The money is supporting the athletes who are on the borderline of breaking through but no money is put into their development at juvenile level. We have talked about this for 20 years and nothing is being done about it because they are afraid money will be wasted. I really believe it is vital to invest heavily in primary schools."

Coghlan is adamant the Irish athletes in Beijing don't have a chance. "The Irish athletes are super stars at division one level. I wouldn't criticise them whatsoever but let's call a spade a spade, Derval O'Rourke doesn't rank in the top 40 in the world nor does David Gillick or Paul Hession.

"There are a dime-a-dozen sprinters at their disciplines from other countries, so for our athletes to get through into the second and third round, that's the best we can hope for."

The 56 year old explains how writing the book helped him to get over the upset of not winning an Olympic medal.

"It was a burden I held personally for a long time because I genuinely believed I could win gold; not silver, not bronze, but gold. And I lost out on gold by three-tenths of a second and finished fourth.

"I lost out a second time, when I was sick and injured, by a second which I never told anybody at the time. However, in 1994 at the age of 41, I became the first person over 40 to run a sub-four minute mile. It was a personal mission. It was a way of redeeming myself. I went out on my own terms.

"The disappointments have made me a stronger person, so looking back, I wouldn't change anything."

See LIFE magazine Page 22

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