independent

Sunday 22 September 2019

A remarkable man

Peter McArdle who was one of the greatest athletes this country ever produced died suddenly 20 years ago this month in June, 1985.Some may not remember the exceptional runner but in the modern era and with the training techniques and professionalism now available he would undoubtedly have been not just an Olympian but a major contender of honours.

By Kevin Mulligan



Peter McArdle who was one of the greatest athletes this country ever produced died suddenly 20 years ago this month in June, 1985.

Some may not remember the exceptional runner but in the modern era and with the training techniques and professionalism now available he would undoubtedly have been not just an Olympian but a major contender of honours.

Peter was a native of Blackrock and died in his adopted city of New York. Peter was aged 56 collapsed and died while out running.

He had given up running for 19 yearspreviously, returning in 1982 and showing the class that made him an Olympic competitor, in winning many veterans races.

Peter worked in the G.N.R. prior to emigrating to New York, and indeed is fondly remembered here for his great feats of running. He trained at the old dog track in Blackrock on the Sandy Lane where the recreational centre and Rock Celtic are now accommodated and would lap that track time and again, wearing down his own path as he circled it so frequently during the summer days.

For a period of five years between 1951 and 1956 Peter, then a member of the NACAI, won no less than 12 national title at distances varying from one to six miles. He turned in times of 4.12 for thc mile, then run on grass tracks, to 24.00 for five miles.

Peter emigrated to America in 1956, chiefly to find work, but he was also frustrated at his failure to make the Irish Olympic team, his membersship of NACAI prohibiting his participation.

His love of running continued to be his motivation and he ran 150 miles a week including running to work in New York where he trained as a motor mechanic.

He defied many experts by reaching his pcak late in life at the agc of 34 when, runnIng tor his adopted country, he won the 10,000 metres at the Pan American Games. McArdle's time was 29.30 for that event.

Stepping up to the toughest race of all, the marathon, Peter was selected for the Amcrican team for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The trials, however, were run in sweltering heat and humidity and nearly killed Peter, for he lost over 10 pounds in the course of the race and was severely dehydrated.

Yet his great determination kept him in the race, winning against a formidable field in a time of 2.23.

The trials and a troublesome back injury had taken their toll and Peter was not at his best for the marathon in Tokyo. Still he finished in a respectable time of 2.25 and in 23rd place.

His best marathon time was 2.17 (current World record is 2.04.55) in 1963 in Culvert City, an amazing time for an athlete of his years.

The Tokyo marathon was Peter's last race for 19 years. "I did not give up running," Peter said at the time, "running gave me up." He could hardly walk because of pain in the backs of his legs and concentrated on bringing up his family with his wife Barbara, a native of Sligo, with whom he had four children. Maeve, Peter jun., MaryJean and Alice.

However, Peter still maintained the diet of an athlete and in 1982 to his own amasement he spotted a group of fit, happy looking runners warming up. He joined them in his boots and overalls and did not stop running until his death in June, 1985.

It did not take Peter long to regain his fitness and within a year of re-starting he was running through the first mile of six miles in under five minutes, virtually unknown. Prizes and recognition were not long in coming either. He won the lOk for the 50 to 55 age group in the George Washington Bridge road race, and in May 1983 when he beat the famous Bill Hagman, one of the finest over 40 runners, nobody believed Peter's age, causing a hell of a row at the presentation ceremony until, fortunately for him, an enthusiast had a clipping in his wallet of Peter's past achievements.

He never regretted that he was not competing in the sport when athletes such as Eamonn Coughlan were able to make a living out of running, and he recalled with some relish that he had but 25 dollars to his name after the Tokyo Olympics.

Peter McArdle was dedicted to his sport and his family and was without doubt one of the finest sportsmen Louth has ever produced.



His achievements should never be allowed to die.





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