Jerry Kiernan: Former Irish Olympic athlete and renowned coach dies aged 67

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Jerry Kiernan (centre) with fellow RTE athletics pundits Derval O'Rourke and David Gillick
Kiernan (centre) was an articulate, knowledgeable and outspoken athletics pundit for Irish national broadcaster RTE

Tributes have been paid to former Irish Olympic athlete and renowned coach Jerry Kiernan who has died at the age of 67.

The Clonliffe Harrier finished ninth in the Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984 when his Irish team-mate John Treacy clinched the silver medal.

After an athletics career which included two Dublin Marathon wins, Kiernan became a highly-regarded coach.

The athletes whom the Kerry native guided included Ciara Mageean.

Kiernan also became part of the national sporting conversation in Ireland through his work as an articulate, knowledgeable and outspoken athletics pundit for broadcaster RTE.

Irish President leads tributes

Irish President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to the Kerryman.

"The death of Jerry Kiernan, Olympian, sports commentator and athletics coach will have been heard with sadness by all those in the sports community and those who enjoyed his voice in commentary.

"His achievements in 1984, and his enduring coaching legacy will be long remembered."

Kiernan had been unwell for some time but his passing caused deep sadness and shock in Irish athletics circles.

Athletics Ireland said it was "very sorry to hear of the passing of Jerry Kiernan" and pointed to his successful career both as an athlete and coach.

Portaferry woman Mageean said she had been "truly blessed and privileged to have been able to call him my coach and friend".

Legendary Irish athlete Eamonn Coghlan said that he was "totally gutted to hear this very sad news".

"My great friend, training partner, athlete, coach and commentator. He'll be hugely missed," added the 1983 World 5,000m champion.

Coghlan was working as a commentator for RTE alongside Jimmy Magee during the Olympic Marathon in 1984 when Kiernan joined the leading group of athletes with just over six miles to go.

At that stage, Kiernan looked to be going even better than compatriot Treacy who was running his debut marathon but the Kerryman got a cramp at the 21-mile mark and had to settle for a ninth-place finish, which still represented a tremendous run.

'Good enough to beat anyone on my day'

Speaking to BBC Sport Northern Ireland in 2002 as he was about to manage the Irish team at the World Cross Country Championships in Leopardstown, Kiernan said his LA run convinced him that he was good enough to beat anyone "on my day" - which he proved over the next decade in several marathons in the US.

"I ran 2.12.19 in LA in 90 degrees," he recalled.

"Actually the time itself is nothing to write home about but more the people I beat. There was a whole bunch of 2.07, 2.08, 2.09 men strung out behind me.

"It's fine running fast times when conditions are good and you're running on a fast course and conditions are maybe only 10 degrees centigrade.

"But it's a different ball game when the temperatures are up around 95 or 100 degrees.

"In that respect I value more the people I beat rather than the time," he added.

Those behind him in LA included home hope Alberto Salazar, Japan's Tosheiko Seiko and New Zealand great Rod Dixon.

Kiernan's LA time remained his personal best even though he went on to achieve numerous wins in Ireland and the US.

Two years earlier, Kiernan had earned his first Dublin Marathon win - a feat he repeated in 1992.

Away from athletics, Kiernan was a passionate supporter of Barcelona FC in addition to enjoying a flutter on the horses.

He was an inspirational educator and mentor at St Brigid's Boys School in Foxrock on the south side of Dublin for more than 40 years and former students who paid tribute to the Kerryman following his death included Ulster rugby player Ian Madigan who described Kiernan as "far more than a teacher".

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