DARRAGH McElhinney raced into the history books, again, in 2021.
As he joined an exclusive club of Cork men to break the four-minute mile, the Glengarriff athlete (21) became the first West Cork man to achieve the notable feat.
In total, and including McElhinney, only eight Cork men have run under four minutes for one mile (1,609 metres).
It’s hallowed ground for athletes and carries a certain prestige, following in the footsteps of the legendary Roger Bannister who, on May 6th, 1954, became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes with a time of 3:59:04.
And now West Cork man McElhinney is one of only 49 Irish men to run sub four minutes (indoors and outdoors) for the mile.
At a track meet at Wimbledon Park in London on Wednesday evening, July 28th, Darragh finished second in a one-mile race in a time of 3:58.20. His previous PB was 4:04.57, an indoor run in February 2020.
He knew he was in good shape ahead of the race and had run a 1500m PB (3:42.17) the weekend before at the BMC Grand Prix in Loughborough.
‘The four-minute mile is very prestigious, but it’s a funny one because I probably have had better performances in different distances,’ McElhinney explains.
‘The 1500 metres is just 100 metres less than a mile and it’s the more commonly ran distance.
‘I broke the four minutes on a Wednesday night and on the Saturday night previous I had run 3:42.1, which equates to a 3.59.6 mile, or something like that – but because it’s not actually breaking four minutes for the mile, there is not the same hype around it.
‘At the same time, as much as it is, physiologically, the same as running 3.42 or 3.41 for 1500m, there is definitely something different when you run a sub four-minute mile.
‘On the same night I ran 3.42 for the 1500, there was a mile race and there were five lads in the race that you would expect to break four minutes. One fella ran 3.58 and the next four all ran four minutes flat. I remember watching that race, because I was going running the mile a few nights later, and thinking that I know I am in shape to break four minutes, but that was the perfect nudge to say unless you go out and execute the race perfectly, it can very easily slip away from you.’
That Wednesday night in Wimbledon – and under a clear sky – everything went perfectly for McElhinney. It had to.
‘It was one of the smoothest races I’ve had. It was evenly paced and I didn’t have my stride chopped by anyone cutting across or anything like that. It was really smooth, and even at that I only broke four minutes by just under two seconds,’ he says.
‘It was brilliant and there was a nice bit of excitement about it. Even chatting to some people now, they will know that I broke four minutes for the mile – even though I would argue that my 3000m time is much more impressive than a 3.58 mile, but it doesn’t have the same clout!’
McElhinney’s 3:58.20 for the mile is also an Irish U23 record and the 30th fastest one-mile time by an Irish man.
Closer to home, he is the first West Cork man to break the barrier, sixth fastest Cork man to run one mile and the fourth fastest Cork man outdoors.
Mark Carroll (3:50.62, outdoor), Marcus O'Sullivan (3:50.94, indoor), Ken Nason (3:58.09, outdoor) and Charlie O'Donovan (3:58.95, indoor) are all from the city. Macroom man Ciaran Ó Lionaird ran 3:52.10 indoors in 2013, while Ballyhooly’s John Hartnett (3:54.7, outdoor) and Doneraile’s Kieran Stack (3:59.4, indoor) have achieved the feat, too.
Here are the eight Cork men who have run sub four-minute miles: 1. Mark Carroll (Oslo, 2000) 3:50.62; 2. Marcus O’Sullivan (New Jersey, 1988) 3:50.94; 3. Ciarán Ó Lionáird (New York, 2013) 3:52.10 (indoor); 4. John Hartnett (Eugene, Oregon, 1973) 3:54.7; 5. Ken Nason (Cork, 1995) 3:58.09; 6. Darragh McElhinney (London, 2021) 3:58.20; 7. Charlie O’Donovan (Boston, 2020) 3:58.95 (indoor); 8. Kieran Stack (Notre Dame, 1988) 3:59.4 (indoor).