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Encomium To A Legend: Jim Hogan - A Rare Breed
by PJ Browne

Preface

  The year 1964 was the most turbulent in the political history of Irish athletics since the 1930s. The International Cross Country Championship was held in Leopardstown Racecourse on 21 March. The race was a low- key affair. Irish television offered a paltry 400 pounds to carry a live telecast which was turned down.

 Franscisco Aritmendi of Spain, a 25- year old sports groundsman won the race in front of a medium sized crowd. Athletic fans elsewhere had to make do with a radio commentary. Jim Hogan took 5th for Ireland and the Irish team were 6th out of nine. Great Britain won the team event.

 It was a race that Hogan might have easily won. He explains: "I had trouble getting over the obstacles, and lost about 5 seconds over each one. Each time I made up ground on the Spaniard only to fall back on the obstacles. Normally I would have run the f***er into the ground."

In the 1966 European Championships, Hogan would win the Gold medal in the marathon in an English vest, the summit of his turbulent athletic career. What follows is a glimpse of Hogan's accomplished career. Mary Hogan, his beloved wife, succumbed to Parkinsons disease before Christmas 2001.


"Only two good things came out of Ireland in the 60s - Arkle and Jim Hogan." This was a popular sentiment that Jim Hogan used to hear around around Chiswick, and he smiles as he recalls it. Although a little embarrassed by the hyperbole, Hogan is pleased to be linked with the great chaser.That it embraces the two dominant passions of his life, athletics and horses, is tacitly acknowledged. "I have always loved the horses," he says. "Arkle was marvellous, and I saw him win all his races in England." Hogan is a mere five pounds heavier, 9stone 7lbs., that when he was at the peak of his running career. He was light enough to be a jockey, and spent many of his early years riding out for old Joe Hogan, patriarch of the Hogan racing dynasty in County Limerick.

Jim Hogan and his wife, Mary, returned to Ireland in November 1995. "Mary wanted a bit more space, and I was glad to come back," he says quietly. To see him workout in Bruff Sportsfield, one would think that little has changed. He runs barefooted with his distinctive gait moving lightly through the strides. Two to three miles per day is his limit, but characteristically, there's a hint of quality about them.

 It was on this field, newly opened in 1956, that Hogan won one of his 5 Munster titles at the 4 mile distance. "I set out the track," says Ronnie Long of BLE. "The weather was roasting hot. That was the day that all the bicycles got punctured." Thanks to some local pranksters, boxes of thumb- tacks were scattered all over the place. After winning his race, Hogan discovered that he had run the entire distance with a tack embedded in the sole of his foot. It would take a lot more than a thumb -tack to impede Hogan's rapid progression to stardom.

Hogan (or Cregan, depending on whom you ask) began his athletic career quietly and furtively in his native Athlacca. "If you were seen running in those days, people thought you were mad," he says. "You'd have to steal out." His parents didn't know about his running until his name appeared in the Limerick Leader after coming 2nd in the Senior County cross- country. "After that I cut a track on our own field with the scythe. My sister had an alarm and a clock timing me. People wouldn't believe the hardship we went through."

When he was 28, Hogan went to England. "I should have gone four years earlier," he says, "and I would have made the Rome Olympics. It would have given me experience for Tokyo." He didn't run for about six months having difficulty finding suitable employment. He worked at various jobs until he found the ideal situation with Brentford and Chiswick Local Council. His running needs were accomodated, enabling him to take time off work to travel and compete. It took him about a year to establish his dominance with the Polytechnic Harriers, "and then for about 8 years nobody could get near me." He thrived in the organised training and support of club running.

Success brought acclaim and international recognition: "In 1960 I came back to Ireland and ran as Jim Cregan. I was under the impression that if you ran under the NACA which I did all my life, you wouldn't be allowed to run in England if it was known that you were an NACA runner. So I changed my name to Cregan. A lot of people don't understand it. Cregan was the first name that came to mind, and had no special significance whatsoever." Press clippings indicate that the reverse actually happened, that Cregan changed his name to Hogan. Notwithstanding the mystery surrounding his name, there was no ambiguity when it was time to compete. Jim Hogan was selected to run for Ireland in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo 1964

There was no clear cut favourite in the 1964 marathon, with at least 15 runners in serious contention for the gold medal. Defending champion Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia had undergone an appendectomy only 40 days before the race. The Australian Ron Clarke, running his fourth race in a week, rushed to an early lead, followed by Hogan. "After we started off," Hogan recalls, "Clarke said to me, we'll run as we feel. After 6 miles we found ourselves at the front. I then took the lead and Bikila came up at 9 miles and we drew away from the field. At the halfway, I was 6 metres behind him, and not particularly worried. At 20 miles he had 50 seconds on me, but we were three minutes away from the rest. After 22 miles everything began to unravel; I took no water and my legs stiffened." Hogan was dangerously dehydrated and slowed to a walk before dropping out.

Dave Guiney (now deceased) met Hogan shortly after the race and was shocked by his condition. "I'd always admired his courageous running," says Guiney. "and I remember him saying to me, 'I didn't come here to make up the numbers. I came out here to try to win a medal. I did my best.'" That statement typified Hogan's attitude to running and competition. "Running to win is the only attitude," he says with conviction. " If you're looking around at your opposition you'll win f...k all. I cared about no one when I was in form."

 Guiney believes that Hogan's front running may have cost him a medal. It's a valid observation but Hogan does not concur. "I thought I did quite well against Bikila," he says, " and I was, of course, thinking about the win. If  Dr. Kevin O' Flanagan had done his job right, I would have medalled. I had pulled out of  the 10000 metres with a bad stitch, and I knew nothing about hydration in preparation for long distance. I was cruising at 15 miles. Five minute miles were nothing to me. It was pure dehydration that done me in, and nothing else."

 During his recovery after the race, "not one Irish official came down to me in the medical room. The only assistance that I got was from the New Zealanders. I wasn't disappointed over what happened in the race. I ran quite well as a complete novice." More important for Hogan were the lessons learned. "I vowed that the next time I'd run a marathon," he added, "I would be fully prepared for it."

"I had a fantastic 1965," says Hogan. "Every race I ran in was better than another. I really ran well."  He finished second in a three- mile race in Portsmouth in a personal best of 13:19:06. In a 10,000 metre race at the White City, he set a British Record running 28:50 in 80 degrees heat. He made the British cross-country team finishing 5th in the trials, but was disqualified for missing out on some obstacles. By the end of the year, Hogan was convinced that the marathon provided the best chance to medal in the 1966 European Championships.

 "So I just trained then for that distance," he explains. "My main run was a 15 mile course in Chiswick, with 3 big hills on it, and I would do that once a fortnight. I never ran more than 15 miles if it was a hard run or a time trial. I thought going further than that would take it out of the legs. I'd sooner run fast at 15 than slow at 22." On Sundays he would run long and easy with his mates. But speedwork was the overriding feature of his training. "This was intensive, quality training," he says. One of his favourite sessions was the 440 with a rest of 110. He would run 30 of these quarters in 64 seconds with a 56 second jog in between. Each run was completed in two minutes or less.

 

The European Championships 1966

Ten days before the marathon, Hogan ran the hilly course in 75  minutes. "I knew then if anybody was going to beat me, they would have to be going exceptionally well," he says. He tapered off his training and headed to the British training headquarters, 15 miles outside Budapest. He trained with Alan Simpson, the miler, while in camp, who told him: "You're the fittest man on this team, there's nobody fitter. When you get to 18 miles, you'll just wave them goodbye."

 Simpson was as good as his word, and that's how the race went. At the 18 mile mark, Hogan gained about 30 metres on the field without increasing speed. Says Hogan - "A gap opened, so I said Jesus, now I'll put it in, so I put the boot down and ran the next 5K fifty seconds faster than the previous one. Most of the effort was put in in the first mile of that break, and that was where the race was won. The rest was easy and I never looked back. It just happened like. I won it," he says casually.

1967 was quite a good year for the European champion. He prepared for Mexico and qualified for the 10,000 metres. "I ran the fastest time in my life, six miles in 27:30," he notes. He dropped out in the trial for the marathon. Mexico was a disappointment. "I might have been better off in the marathon because you had to go that bit slower at altitude, whereas the 10000 was run that bit faster, and it was harder to do it." Hogan enjoyed the Mexico Olympic experience and took in a lot of cultural events much to his wife's satisfaction. His running career ended at Mexico. "I ran in 1969, just average running, "he says, "and one year later I retired. I kept fit but never raced."

In 1983 he came out of retirement to compete in the Veteran World Championships in South America, and he won two golds in the over 50 division. Somehow it was not the same even though he reached an unbelieveable level of fitness. He was doing over 6 miles of interval running inside 41 minutes. Beating runners 10 years younger was amusing but not satisfying. The ten year hiatus from competitive running had refreshed him, but it was to last only for a year. The injuries came in a flurry and though he competed again in Rome two years later, his brief flirtation with the veteran's scene was over.

Any assessment of Hogan's career will have to consider the way he was treated by Irish officials. "I had a terrible time with them," he says. "If you lived in England and ran for Ireland, you were treated as an alien. They only picked me for the Europeans or the Olympics. I was never invited to go to the glamorous meets in France and Italy. When I was selected for England, I ran in several countries, and you have to experience that kind of running if you want to be a succesful international runner."

Dave Guiney points out that "he got on the wrong side of the Irish officials quite early on, and the mystery of the name Jim Hogan made them uneasy. He suddenly appeared on the Olympic scene and they couldn't find out his background. He was Jim Cregan before that. He didn't have a job and he was treated badly by officials who basically wouldn't give you the itch then. They looked after him in England." Hogan didn't help his cause either and he spoke his mind when others would have remained silent. He was also a bit of an outsider in England and was heavily influenced by the Australians with whom he trained.

Hogan is quick to point out that he never had any problems with Irish athletes even after he decided to compete for Britain in 1965. All of his clashes were with the officials, and he says, "the athletes were always last on their agenda. I have no regrets about wearing the British vest. I never had an ounce of bother in England," he says, "and athletically I couldn't have done much of it without going there. If you're getting a living in a country you should stand by it. The worst people to work with in England were the Irish."

He speaks highly of the Irish athletes that he competed against. "I ran against Tom O' Riordan several times back in Kerry. I don't think he ever beat me. He was an excellent runner was Tom." O' Riordan remembers Hogan as being highly competitive and driven to win. "He would tear around the country to different sports meets looking for a race, cycling on his bike, or arriving on the back of a lorry with a group of runners. I got on well with him," O'Riordan notes. "He was stubborn, and he had an occasional tendency to swear a lot."

Hogan doesn't bear any grudges. "I carry on. It's in the past and doesn't bother me," he says. He does have some regrets though. "I sometimes wish that the European marathon was at an Olympics as I would have taken a lot of beating that day. Also, if I had a sprint finish, I'd have won a lot more races. If I could run a last lap in 56 or 57 secs  I'd have been fantastic."

Hogan views the cureent athletic scene with some dismay. "There is nothing in Ireland or England for that matter. They've got it too easy now. The Kenyans work and that's why they are successful. That's why Sonia (O'Sullivan) is succesful; she trains with people who are way better than her. I have great admiration for the Radcliffe girl. By Jesus but she is some athlete. She is only coming into her own now and I don't see anyone beating her in the marathon if she is right on the day. She'll f***ing destroy them."

These days Hogan's time is taken up looking after a couple of two year old horses, getting them ready for the sales. He is well connected with the racing scene having spent many years travelling with jockey Declan Murphy. He understands the business, and he has an easy way with the animals. He rarely sits still.

 His wife Mary has Parkinson's Disease. This is a devastating blow to the couple. They have no children. Mary can already sense that feeling of otherness the diagnosis has brought with it, and is frightened about the future. Hogan's feelings are well concealed and he doesn't like to dwell on it. "You do the best you can and try to get on with it," he says.

 It took them about four years to renovate the house together, and Mary sometimes wonders if her husband has fully grasped the implications of her condition. She has difficulty walking but her mind is untouched so far. She dreads becoming a burden on one who is so active.

"Athletics is a great sport to be in if you're good at it," Hogan says as he gently strokes one of the horses in his care. "Look at this boy. Now there's a racehorse. Whether he'll amount to anything remains to be seen. You know I see these fellas running 100 miles a week and never improving. What's the point of doing that. If that kind of running wasn't improving my performance, then I'd go and find something else to do."

"I had my day and it was great," he says. " People tell me I was born 25 years too early and could have made a lot of money. What good is money? I have no time for these people who go around with a chip on their shoulder saying how good they would be nowadays. There's no use in that. It's gone and past." And with that Hogan turned and was gone too, "away in a hack over river and bush."

Hogan's Athletic Achievements

Munster Champion 4 miles - 5 wins

Irish Five mile                    - 4 wins

Irish 10 Mile                      - 2 wins

2 Time Olympic selection

2 Time European selection

Ran Cross Country for Ireland and Britain

Irish Cross Country Champion

12 All-Ireland Championships, all distances.

Southern Counties 3 mile winner

British Record 6 mile 27:32

Marathon best 2:19:06

Mile Best 4:08

2 Mile Best 8:42

3 Mile Best 13:19

Editor's note: Thanks to PJ Browne for this piece

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