Born May 1, 1966 in Manhasset, NY 5-10/1.78m 140lbs./63kg Bishop Feehan HS, Attleboro, Ma '84 Maryland '87 PRs (outdoor): 800 1:51.8 '91 1,500 3:44.68 '91 Mile 3:58.81 '89 2,000 5:12.17 '93 2,000 Steeple 5:28.33 '92 3,000 7:55.60 '93 2M 8:21.45 '95 Steeple 8:26.90 '92 5,000 13:23.72 '95 10,000 28:23.38 '92 PRs (indoor): 3000 7:57.61 '90 5000 13:34.72 '92 PRs (road): 5K 13:48' '92 10K 28:13' '94 15K 43:47 '95 Marathon 2:13:05 '96 Major Meets: 1985 7)World Junior XC Trials 1987 7)NCAA Steeple 1988 9h)USA Steeple 10s)Olympic Trials Steeple 9)USA XC 1989 3)World XC Trials 39)World XC 4)USA Steeple 1990 3)World XC Trials 171)World XC 4)USA Steeple 6)USA XC 1991 7)World XC Trials 85)World XC 13)USA Steeple 9)USA XC 1992 3)World XC Trials 13)USA Indoor 3000 34)World XC 10)Olympic Trials Steeple 4)USA XC 1993 3)World XC Trials 110)World XC 10)USA 10,000 6)USA XC 1994 3)World XC Trials 122)World XC 9)USA 10,000 1995 2)Pan American Games Marathon 2)USA 5,000 9h)World Championships 5,000 6)USA XC 1996 2)Olympic Trials Marathon 41)Olympic Games Marathon 7)Olympic Trials 5,000 4)USA XC
Could be that Mark Coogan is one of the best all-around athletes on the distance running scene. How many other Olympic runners have been recruited as basketball players? Perhaps the most telling sign of his athleticism is his versatility as a runner. He's broken four minutes in the mile, been ranked as one of the nation's top steeplechasers, and has run in the Olympic marathon.
Few can match that kind of range, though Coogan downplays the significance of it. "Bob Kennedy could probably run 3:50 in the mile and could probably run a good marathon. Todd Williams could probably run a marathon. I just do it. I think other people could do it, too. I'm kind of a jack of all trades and a master of none."
Coogan admits he finds it boring to stick to one event all the time. That's why his career has brought regular forays into cross country, the roads, and he's just as likely to be found racing a mile on the track as a 10,000.
"It keeps you fresh," he says. "It keeps it exciting. My favorite race of all time is when I broke 4:00 in the mile. It was more exciting to me than making the Olympic team." Even if no one would consider Coogan a "miler", the magic of that day, June 10, 1989, in Dedham, Massachusetts, still electrifies Coogan. "Real exciting. All my high school friends were there and my family was there."
For Coogan, it all started with the same distance, and with some of the same friends present. "In high school I played basketball, and the coach suggested that everyone do another sport in the spring, so I just ran track. The first day I went out we ran the mile, and I ran 4:59. It was kind of fun. It took off from there; I ran cross country the next year. I kept playing basketball all through high school, but that didn't take off like running did."
He calls his accomplishments as a prep "nothing great", but times of 4:20 and 9:15 are certainly respectable. Coogan got offers to play college hoops at places such as Brandeis and Southern Connecticut, but the schools that contacted him for his running skills were in a different league: Indiana, Maryland, Kentucky, Stanford, Dartmouth, etc.
Coogan chose Maryland. Not surprisingly, basketball entered into the decision. "Maryland beat Virginia, which was ranked number one in basketball. That was so exciting, it was one of the reasons I went there."
A solid collegiate runner, Coogan hit 8:42 for the steeple. Nothing stellar, though, as he only made it to the NCAA outdoor meet once. He stuck to it, and within two years he graduated to contender level in the steeple, breaking 8:30 and finishing in the top four at nationals.
His attention started to wander, and by 1991 he began doing some serious experimenting with other distances. In the winter prior to the 1992 Olympic Trials, he clocked 13:34 for the 5,000m indoors, a time only five Americans had ever bettered. He also ran a 28:23 in the 10,000, but at the Trials decided to stick to his flagship event. A lifetime best of 8:26.90 indicated he might have been in shape to do some damage, but he came home in 10th place. After a few more steeple races in Europe, he gave up the event.
In 1993, Coogan switched to the 10,000m at nationals, and finished 10th again. Not encouraged, he began casting about for a way to make his first major international team. The next year, he gave the marathon a shot, running a credible 2:13:24 at Boston. That won him selection for the following year's Pan-Am Games, where he captured the marathon silver.
For 1996, the plan was simple: Marathon first. "One of the reasons I did the marathon trials was I thought I could make the team and do well," he says. "But I also thought I was giving myself two shots to make the Oly team. If I didn't make the marathon I could come back and try either the 5 or 10, whichever I was feeling better at."
Turned out there was no need for a Plan B. Coogan ran the race of his life, a 2:13:05, to finish second on the hilly course in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 26 miles were bittersweet. A week earlier, wife Gwyn, widely regarded as one of the favorites for the women's team, finished fourth at women's trial in nearby Columbia, South Carolina.
Coogan confesses that the media attention focused on them prior to the races made life a bit tough. The two had to deal with a steady barrage of articles about the couple with Olympic ambitions, despite the fear that they both wouldn't be ready.
After her big Twin Cities victory the previous fall, Gwyn had picked up a stress fracture. "She didn't want to let people know she had a busted foot," reveals Coogan. "She wasn't really training as hard as she wanted to and she wasn't on top of her game the way she wanted to be. Everybody and their brother thought she probably should make the team if she had a good race. Then the New York Times is coming to your house and the Wall Street Journal is calling you up... people we never usually talk to."
The two again competed together at the track trials. Gwyn ran but did not finish the 10,000m final. Mark did the 5,000m, as speedwork more or less, and finished seventh. "I think if I had trained for the track I would have made it on the track as well," he notes.
The Olympic marathon is a race Coogan is still thinking of, trying to make sure he's drawing the right conclusions. "It's hard to keep fighting when you know you're not going to be in the top three or four. It's hard to stay up there when you're getting your butt kicked," he says.
"I think I blew it a couple ways," he explains of his 41st place finish. "One was I kept telling myself I just wanted to be with the leaders at halfway. When I was dreaming about it as a kid, I thought that I'd be okay if I went with the leaders through halfway. That's pretty exciting stuff. But when I got to halfway, it wasn't that easy. I think I should have told myself to get to 20M with these leaders and then see what happens. I think I might have set myself up a little bit there. I'm not sure.
"I don't think I drank enough in the race. I got really dehydrated and had a couple of IVs after the race to get my temperature back under control. I was in such good shape and I ran so crappy, so it was kind of disappointing."
Life goes on. While Gwyn works on her Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Colorado, Mark handles most of the child care for daughter Katrina, age three. "Gwyn will run first thing in the morning and when she's done I'll run, and then she'll go to school and I'll watch the baby," he explains. "Then she'll come home and I'll go running again and then watch the baby while she gets her second run in."
Coogan sighs and says, "We used to do our morning runs together and now we hardly run together at all."
What's next for the jack of all trades? He says, "I've never really run a good 10K on the track; I think I can run 27:45. And I want to run the 5,000 on the track this spring; I want to run between 13:10 and 13:15."
In the fall, Coogan will turn to the marathon, as are so many other distance runners in this year of the million dollar record bonus. "Probably Chicago or New York," he says.
Coogan admits media attention sometimes makes life hectic, whether it be about the New Balance million dollar pitch, for instance, or the running couple angle. He says, "We wish running were more popular, and was out there more in the limelight. But if it was like that, you'd lose your own quietness and humbleness. You want to be popular and you want to make a nice living at it. But then if it was that big, you might not be able to run around town."
For the time being, Coogan feels the media spotlight is manageable. Now if he wins that million dollars...