Meet John Coghlan, the Irish sprint coach who helped clinch Olympic gold for Puerto Rico

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In many ways what he did was crazy, but John Coghlan saw it as the method. As the pandemic set in in 2020, the Dubliner had a good stable job with Meath GAA, training their top players at different levels for speed and strength. But as a former sprinter who has worked with some of the best athletes in the world, his eyes were always open for a return to athletics.

It happened in 2020, a phone call from her friend Paul Doyle – one of the main agents in the athletics world – offering her the chance to lead the career of a young and talented sprint runner, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn. . The Puerto Rican had been a college star, but she got lost in the pro ranks a bit, with Doyle telling Coghlan she needed someone with her hurdling expertise to work with her full time.

And so, in 2020, Coghlan packed his bags and headed to Orlando, Florida.

“It was a bit of a crazy idea to cross the pond to train an athlete,” he says. “But who dares, wins.”

At the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo yesterday, the decision paid off – Camacho-Quinn gave Puerto Rico their first ever Olympic gold in track and field. As the 24-year-old sported a dazzling smile afterwards, draped in her country’s flag, she paid tribute to Coghlan.

“He came from Ireland just to train me,” she said. “He played a huge role; we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but this is my mate. I really thank him.

It had been a nervous morning for Coghlan, who arrived at the stadium decked out in Puerto Rican gear. Camacho-Quinn has been the fastest in the world this year, the favorite for the gold medal. His nation was waiting.

“Everyone involved is probably getting nervous, but you have to keep your head calm because it spreads to the athlete,” Coghlan said. “It was a long wait, and the 10 minutes before the race, you’re like, ‘Come on, go for it.’ But when they settled into the blocks, I felt calm.

Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn reacts after winning the women’s 100m hurdles in Tokyo 2 yesterday. Image: Getty

It was a time they had been working on for many months – a time that Coghlan, as a coach, had hoped to experience for over two decades.

His journey into elite level training began in 2000, with his brother Peter – himself a world class hurdler – having a close connection to Doyle, which saw John meet Loren Seagrave, which had resulted in a series of champions. One of them was Pauline Davis-Thompson, the Bahamian who won gold in the 200m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

A sports science graduate from UL, Coghlan spent a lot of time abroad in the years that followed, learning his coaching profession under Seagrave, and he returned to Ireland to train a number of sprinters from foreground. However, that says a lot that coaches like Coghlan couldn’t make a living here from athletics, and in 2015 he took a job in China to coach many of their top sprinters.

“I love Ireland, I love athletics, but there isn’t really any professional coaching work,” he said. “I was spending a lot of time on it and I said, ‘I can’t afford to do this. “” He has worked intermittently at GAA since 2002 and in 2016 took the role at Meath GAA as Head of Physical Development. In early 2020, he made his first visit to the group in Florida led by Gary Evans, and later that year moved on full-time, eliminating the Camacho-Quinn technique and finding ways to make it more quick.

“I’m a bit of a nerd, a tech geek,” he said. “It took a little while to get her membership, there were things she didn’t want to do, and I had to say to her, ‘Come on, this will work.'”

Camacho-Quinn admits that they have sometimes had an adversarial relationship.

“I thank him for pushing me and driving me crazy sometimes,” she said with a laugh. “I really appreciate everything he has done.” Coming to Tokyo, she felt the pressure. In the 2016 Olympic semi-final, she crashed after breaking a barrier, and before her semi-final here, she had flashbacks and “had some sort of breakdown”. But she was perfect in this race, clocking 12.26 to place fourth on the all-time world list. In the final, she dominated her opposition, a crash late in the race was not enough to prevent her from winning gold in 12.37. Coghlan cut a delighted figure as he waited for him afterwards, with Puerto Rico’s sports minister being one of those who approached him for a photo.

His skills had been appreciated, although away from home.

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