Hogan, Jim (1933–2015), athlete, was born James Joseph Cregan on 28 May 1933 in Croom hospital, Co. Limerick, the second eldest of nine children (seven girls and two boys) of Michael and Margaret Cregan of Coolboy, Athlacca, Co. Limerick, who owned a small farm. Educated locally, he spent much of his time working on the family farm. His father was a good judge of horses and bought and broke yearlings. This sparked Jim’s love of horses and after leaving school he worked for a time as a stable lad for J. P. ‘Joe’ Hogan, a trainer in Co. Limerick. He was 5ft 9in tall and rarely weighed much over 9 stone in adulthood and could probably have been a jockey. However, by his late teens he was becoming increasingly interested in running. Although the sport had little tradition in his area and most neighbours regarded it as a form of madness, he marked out a running track in a field near his home, persuading his sister Betty to time him with an alarm clock as he ran laps. In 1952 in Tralee he became the Irish cross-country champion over five miles in a national record time of twenty-six minutes. Because most of his training and races were done on grass tracks, he usually ran barefoot, only wearing shoes when the ground was particularly muddy. He went on to win the Munster four-mile championship five times and twelve National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) Irish championships over distances ranging from four to ten miles.
During these years he had trouble finding steady work and in February 1960 emigrated to England, claiming that in Ireland ‘there were no jobs and the country was riddled with class distinction’ (Hogan, 30). He soon found work as a groundsman with Brentford and Chiswick Council and ran with Polytechnic Harriers. Mistakenly believing that having competed in Ireland under the NACA (a body not recognised internationally) he had to re-register to compete in British athletics, he changed his surname by deed poll to Hogan. His racing tactics were simple: he ran from the front as fast as he could manage to compensate for his lack of finishing speed. (At an athletics event on the Continent he was surprised to be offered an illicit payment by a local promoter to set a fast pace since he did this as a matter of course anyway). To build up the stamina required to grind down faster rivals, he undertook regular high-mileage and high-tempo training. His devotion to training often necessitated him giving up work for long periods, during which he was supported by his wife Mary Murphy, an Irish-born teacher who he married in Chiswick on 8 September 1961, and to whom he was deeply devoted.
Selected to represent Ireland at the European championships in Belgrade in 1962, he ran in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres but did not finish either race. This happened regularly: if he believed he could not win, he tended to drop out rather than waste energy. His fellow Irish runner, Ronnie Delany described him as ‘a problematic runner with a history of inconsistency, sometimes performing brilliantly and oftener running way below his capabilities’ (Ir. Times, 13 Oct. 1964). His failure to finish races often baffled and infuriated clubmates (particularly in team events), who found it difficult to square with his dedicated training and tenaciously competitive personality. Hogan though ran for himself and cared little about what others thought.
During 1962 and 1963 he showed excellent form, regularly breaking the Irish records for three and six miles. On 3 June 1963 he won the British six-mile championship at White City in London – his favourite track – and added the London County cross-country championship on 23 November 1963. He continued to represent Ireland in athletics, running the 10,000 metres and the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was unable to complete the former but ran well in the latter. Although he had done no marathon training, he was the last man chasing the defending Olympic champion, the legendary Ethiopian Abede Bikila (1932–73), who went on to win the race in a world record time. Hogan was three minutes ahead of the rest of the field and a silver medal was there for the taking but he became dehydrated and dropped out of the race after twenty-two miles. This was recorded in the classic documentary film Tokyo Olympiad (1965) which shows an exhausted Hogan sitting on the kerb gesturing for water to Japanese spectators. His dehydration was so severe that he had to be carried to hospital on a stretcher.
In 1965 he began running for Great Britain after a dispute with Irish officials over an air fare. His relationship with the Irish governing body had never been good: he was critical of the medical care he received in Tokyo, and generally believed that Irish officials gave him little recognition or support and failed to enter him for overseas events because he was based in England. His form was strong throughout 1965. On 19 June he won the three-mile southern championship of England and on 14 August broke the British record for 10,000 metres at White City with a time of 28:50. Selected to run for Great Britain in the marathon at the European Championships in Budapest on 4 September 1966, he prepared properly this time, training methodically, eating well and making sure he was properly hydrated. Breaking away from the field after eighteen miles, he maintained a punishing pace until the finishing line and won well ahead of chasing pack in a time of 2:20:04. He recalled standing for ‘God save the queen’ at the medal ceremony as ‘a moment I’ll treasure forever. And why wouldn’t I? I stood there as a British subject. That country was kind to me and my wife and gave me a good way of life. I got nothing at all in Ireland by way of work and definitely not in athletics’ (Hogan, 80).
Despite his success in the marathon, he insisted that he was ‘first and foremost a track runner. Cross-country would have been second on the list for me. I never considered myself a marathon runner’ (Hogan, 32). Although he enjoyed his time in England, he was generally regarded as an outsider in the fiercely competitive world of English athletics. This was accentuated by the fact that he was older than most other competitors (and looked even older than his age) and his colourful use of language on and off the track – the intensity of his swearing often shocked even fellow Irishmen. He did though inspire affection and admiration in some fellow athletes, among them the young David Bedford, himself a driven outsider, who described Hogan as a ‘man after my own heart when it came to training and racing’ (Hogan, 13).
On 12 November 1966 he ran a world record time of 1:32:25.4 for thirty kilometres at Walton-on-Thames and on 17 March 1968 was a member of the English team that won the international cross-country championship in Tunisia. In 1968 he again competed for Great Britain in the 10,000 metres in the Mexico City Olympics but found it difficult to run at altitude and finished in twenty-sixth place. In 1969 Hogan retired from competitive running but returned at the age of fifty to take part in the World Masters Championships in Puerto Rico in 1983, finishing first in the 5,000 metres and third in cross-country race in the over–fifties division. In truth though he was never really committed to veterans’ competitions, finding it difficult to accept that his times were unlikely to improve.
In November 1995 Hogan and his wife returned to Limerick, settling in Knocklong. He renewed his interest in horses by riding out for some local trainers and, after working as a noted breaker of horses, became a trainer and had some success on the track. At the age of seventy-one he also rode in a charity race at Mallow. While always sensitive to slights, he was comfortable in the world of horse-racing which he found welcoming and egalitarian. In 2008 he published his autobiography The Irishman who ran for England (with a preface written by David Bedford) and set up a booth at that year’s London marathon to sell copies. He remains the only Irishman to win a gold medal in the European Athletics Championships, and later donated his medal to Gerard Hartmann’s sports museum in the University of Limerick. In February 2011 a plaque was unveiled in Athlacca to celebrate his unique achievement; those present included the athletes Tom O’Riordan and Ronnie Delany. Hogan spent his final years in the Maria Goretti Nursing Home in Kilmallock and died in Limerick Regional Hospital, aged eighty-one, on 10 January 2015. After funeral mass on 12 January 2015 at St John the Baptist Church, Athlacca, he was buried in Knocklong Cemetery. He was predeceased in 2001 by his wife Mary who suffered from Parkinson’s disease.