herald

Sunday 26 January 2020

Remembering Basil Clifford

Basil Clifford
Basil Clifford

On 1 June 1956, Ronnie Delany became the first Irish athlete to run a mile in under four minutes at a meet in California. His time was three mins 59 secs and he went on to win the 1500m at the Melbourne Olympics in December of that year.

In August 1958, he improved that time to 3:57.5 in Santry, finishing third behind the Australian Herb Elliott whose winning time of 3:54.5 was a new world record.

Delany's story is part of Irish sporting legend - but what of the second Irish man to run a mile in under four minutes?

His name was Basil Clifford and he came from Inchicore. In August 1964, he replaced his Donore Harriers team-mate Tom O'Riordan in the Emsley Carr Mill in London and finished second in 3:59.80.

That qualified him for the Tokyo Olympics, where he competed in the 1500m. Only nine years later, he died tragically in an explosion at the gun factory in Birmingham where he worked.

In 2014, the 50th anniversary of Clifford's mile was remembered when the Basil Clifford Trophy was unveiled at the Donore Harriers "opening run" day in October. That trophy now goes to the winner of the 1500m at the National Track and Field Championships.

Last June, at a 90th birthday party for the great Cyril White, talk turned to Clifford, who was Donore's first sub-four-minute miler. An attentive listener was Cyril Smyth who decided to look into Clifford's athletic career. His short biography was launched just before Christmas. The book is now available from Willie Smith or through Donore Harriers.

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