Derek Graham: Belfast running great has Irish records restored after 53 years

Belfast man Derek Graham has had seven Irish athletics records recognized more than 50 years after they were airbrushed from Irish sporting history.

Graham, 78, won an International Cross Country medal for Ireland in 1966 but soon was among Northern Irish athletes banned from even racing in the south.

His story was highlighted in a recentĀ BBC Sport Northern Ireland article.

Arising from that, Athletics Ireland has now restored Graham’s name to its national records timelines.

“I’m very grateful to the people who made this happen,” said Graham, who has had long-standing health issues and is currently cocooned at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For example, Pierce O’Callaghan of Athletics Ireland’s technical committee looked at my times on their merits, without any other considerations, and then told his colleagues that something needed to be done about this. I know without his input this wouldn’t be happening.

Athletics Ireland’s updated national records progressions It’s such a long time ago and I didn’t really want to be rocking any boats at this stage of my life.

“But looking back at that time, having the Irish records effectively taken away from me and more so not even being allowed to race in Dublin really did upset me because I loved competing down there and the whole atmosphere in places like Santry Stadium and College Park.

“I got a lot more support in Dublin from people who were knowledgeable athletics fans than I ever got in Belfast so having all that taken from me was very hurtful at the time.”

Graham competed for Great Britain at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and 1966 European Championship but up until 1967 could also represent an All-Ireland team at the International Cross Country Championships, which was the global event in those days through the muck and over the hills.

In 1966, aged only 24, Graham placed a magnificent second at the International Cross Country in Morocco when those behind him included France’s then world mile record holder Michel Jazy.

Graham’s performance was Ireland’s first individual men’s medal at the championships in 35 years and remained the best Irish male feat in the event until John Treacy’s successive gold medals in 1978 and 1979, by which time it had been renamed as the World Cross Country.

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