Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Racing Past Book Reviews Chairman of the Boards: Eamonn Coghlan

Chairman of the Boards, Master of the Mile

by Eamonn Coghlan with George Kimball

Dublin: Red Rock Press, 2008. 264pp





Chairman of the Boards is one of the best runner’s autobiographies. With the help of George Kimball, Eamonn Coghlan has given us deep insights into what is involved in becoming a world-class runner and in staying at the top for over a decade. He is open about his failures, errors, and weaknesses to the point of confession. He is perceptive about the people in his life, his family, his supporters, his opponents. And in addition, this autobiography provides a detailed picture of the running world between 1975 and 1985, from the US college and indoor scene to the international Olympic and Worlds scene. 

Coghlan’s early life before he left Ireland for Villanova University is covered in a rich 35-page section. His family, an important part of his life, is thoroughly described, as is his crucial relationship with Gerry Farnan. The development of his personality is clearly and honestly conveyed. 

Coghlan’s difficulties at Villanova, where he experienced extreme culture shock, follow. And we get a good feel for the Famous Villanova coach Jumbo Elliott. There are many examples of his colorful language: “Run like you’re ten feet tall, keep the head up and relax those goddam shoulders!” 

As the book reaches his big races, it provides thorough background and description. Of his big breakthrough race in Jamaica in 1975, he writes, “I was running second about 15 yards back and hanging on for dear life. Bayi went through the half in 1:56 and by now I was closing in on the king.” 

He describes how he could not deal with a big send-off arranged for his first Olympics (1976): “I was furious and to their shock and amazement  exploded in anger and frustration…. Once on the plane I was overcome with shame that I tried to put out of my mind; but the guilt I felt over my behaviour that day was a weight I carried to the Games.” 97 And more suffering occurred after he finished a very respectable fourth when the disappointed Irish media turned on him. 

This book gives a lot of info on the US indoor scene, where Coghlan really excelled. All of his seven Wanamaker wins are covered in detail, as are his attempts to be the first under 3:50 indoors—a feat finally achieved in San Diego. 

Especially interesting is the phase of his career when he became a professional runner. This occurred at the time when amateur rules were disappearing and payments ceased to be “under the table.” Coghlan made most of his money from indoor  competition and quickly became a millionaire. 

Before the book ends with his Masters 4-minute mile, Coghlan provides an interesting short chapter, “Dopers.” He describes some the main issues from Ben Johnson to the Finnish blood-dopers, and then recounts the one time late in his career when he was sorely tempted. With a prescription for steroids from a doctor, “I was literally standing there on a street corner in New York City, looking at the prescription, looking at the chemist shop.” Finally, he tore up the prescription and walked away. 

There is much more to commend in this book. I believe it will remain as one of the crucial books documenting the running scene in the 1970s and 1980s.


Very highly recommended.


Note: This site has a detailed profile of Eamonn Coghlan.


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