Breaking down the NCAA mile - trackboundUSA

Breaking down the NCAA mile

Hannah England has the NCAA Indoor Mile amongst her accolades

No country has been quite as enveloped by the romanticism of the mile as the United States. The 1609m distance is still run during the indoor season and remains the blue riband event. The days of Roger Bannister rewriting human limitations on the Iffley Park track are now but a distant memory, and with a 3:58 time required to guarantee participation at the National Indoor Championships for the men, no distance race is deeper in quality. The appeal and allure remains in the US, despite the 1500m replacing it on the world circuit.

The mile, however, still stands as a barometer of achievement by those outside of the sport, to the common spectator, and is revered and respected. So, every Spring, student-athletes across the nation spike up and run this arbitrary distance on flat tracks, banked tracks and oversized tracks alike, with the goal of becoming national champion.

However, this party has been crashed, on an incredible frequency, by athletes from Britain and Ireland. As long as athletes have been heading across the Atlantic, they have been consistently over- performing on this stage. Of course, the athletes from the British Isles that chase this American dream are of good quality, but man-for-man, and woman-for-woman, they have had remarkable success in this race.

So, at trackboundUSA  HQ, we have compiled what we believe to be a definitive guide to these achievements. Researching pre-2000 proved difficult, but here are what we believe to be the finalists in the years 2002-2011, and their subsequent placing. We have linked the winner to the race video where possible.

Men Women
2002 Chris Mulvaney 6 th (Arkansas) Roisin McGettigan 5 th (Providence)
2003 Chris Mulvaney 1 st (Arkansas) Roisin McGettigan 4 th (Providence)
2004 Chris Mulvaney 9 th (Arkansas)
2005 Tom Lancashire 4 th (FSU)
2006 Tom Lancashire 4 th (FSU)
2007 Scott Overall 6th (Butler) Barbara Parker 4 th (FSU)
Tim Bayley 11th (Iona)
2008 Hannah England 1 st (FSU)
2009 Lee Emanuel 1st (New Mexico) Charlotte Browning 8th (Florida)
David McCarthy 4 th (Providence)
2010 Lee Emanuel 1 st (New Mexico) Charlotte Browning 1st (Florida)
Rob Mullet 7 th (Butler)
2011 Chris O’Hare 2nd (Tulsa)
2012 ? ?


As shown above, there has been Brit-Irish representation in an NCAA mile final every year since 2002, with 5 victories in the same time. But it hasn’t just been the last decade that has seen this success. Listed below are the winners of the mile from the inception of the Indoor championships in 1973 for men, and 1983 for women.

Past British and Irish Winners Pre 2002
1975 Eamonn Coghlan (Villanova)
1976 Eamonn Coghlan (Villanova)
1983 Aisling Molloy (BYU)
1985 Paul Donovan (Arkansas)
1986 Paul Larkins (Oklahoma State)
1992 Andy Keith (Providence)
1993 Niall Bruton (Arkansas)
1994 Niall Bruton (Arkansas)


The above list is even more remarkable when you consider that Irish athletes such as Frank O’Mara (3:55 at college), Niall O’Shaughnessy (3:56), Marcus O’Sullivan (3:56), Ray Flynn (3:56) don’t even feature.

This year sees potential for further success with the following returning athletes and new recruits:

Athlete 2011 time
Chris O’Hare (Tulsa) 3:56
Rich Peters (Boston) 3:58
Ross Millington (New Mexico) 3:59
Tom Marshall (Tulsa) 4:00
Ross Clarke (Butler) 4:02
Harry Ellis (Butler) Did not compete
Adam Cotton (Harvard) Freshman – 3:41 1500m – may not compete indoors
Hannah Brooks (FSU) 4:40


So what is behind this success? Using comparative populations is not an effective metric due to participation levels; instead we should look at the number of British and Irish athletes in the NCAA compared to their US counterparts. Our database tells us of 83 known British and Irish athletes within NCAA D1 (we can possibly attribute 5-10 more that we do not know about). Compare this to the overall student-athlete figure competing within indoor track which stands at nearly 21,000. Now, we appreciate that further statistics on mile specific participation figures would further validate our point, but it’s clear to see that the success in the mile goes way beyond normal levels of pro-rata accomplishment, even considering the skew in the figures due to the fact that most Brit-Irish athletes are distance oriented. 

Well then, why is it? Is it because new recruits into the NCAA have had good experience of indoor competitions within the UK compared to their novice high school US counterparts? The UK is well-endowed with indoor track facilities compared to much of the US and athletes have the opportunity to compete regularly indoors before even considering their college options. The UK also has a rich middle distance history in 800 and 1500, in contrast to its achievements in the 5000m and upwards. The US high school scene is one of big mileage and hard work, and there is a much greater lure to the longer distances, above and beyond the mile.
Or is it borne out of the success in years prior which has developed a sub-conscious winning mentality? What we do know is that it is working and seemingly will continue to do so judging by the current crop of athletes on NCAA rosters. So, whose turn is it this year?

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