Without doubt the best sprinter ever to win a Northern Ireland title was Olapade Adeniken from Nigeria in 1989. Adenikan's appearance was similar to that of the Kenyans who have graced our major road races in the last decade. He flew in, took his medal and flew out. His performance on the day of 11.08 was not even close to his 9.95 which he was to run at altitude in 1994.
He was not however the first Nigerian Northern Ireland Champion. In 1958, 1959 and 1960 Joe Riverson, a student at Queen's University achieved that honour. Now Dr. Joe and practicing in Africa , he has been seen in recent years on television making an appeal for children's charities in his native continent.
The Sixties threw up a great crop of sprinters who trained and raced together with great success, a concept which might seem strange to today’s athletes who seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. Davy Bennett, Don McBride, Gerry Carson, Jonny Kilpatrick, Mike Forrest and the late Cyril Crawford not only won titles in the North and the Irish Republic but could hold their own against the best in Britain .
Gerry, a 9.7 100 yards man, began his athletics career running away from the school bully. He now writes a regular column on athletics in the Sunday Life. Forrest, based in London , is another still involved in the sport as one of the major exponents of computer timing systems in UK Athletics. Cyril Crawford, a former headmaster of Cullybackey High School was tragically killed in a road accident near Nutt's Corner in Co. Antrim.
The only Northern Ireland sprinter to make a Commonwealth Games final was Simon Baird who finished fifth in the 200 metres in 1986 in Edinburgh . The bronze medalist that day was a certain Ben Johnson and the eighth finisher was John Regis! Simon took seven local sprint titles in the 80's. A 'sprint quartet' of Mike Bull, Gerry Carson, Joe Chivers and John Kilpatrick made the 4 x 100 metres final in 1970 in Edinburgh and finished 8th in 41.12 secs.
More recently we have seen local sprinters on the Olympic stage representing Ireland . John McAdorey is one of very few who has managed to make the transition from outstanding schoolboy sprinter into the adult ranks, and that after several years away from the sport. Paul Brizell is the curent Record Holder yet has somewhat surprisingly won only one Northern Ireland Title.
Forced to make a choice for the title of 'greatest' I would have to go back to an era before my time - just! From 1944 to 1947 Denis Maloney of the RUC won the Championship sprint double on four occasions, the only man to ever achieve this feat. At his peak in 1946 he ran 22.6 for 220 yards and set new NI records figures of 9.8 for the 100 yard at Balmoral Showgrounds, a time which was never bettered in Championship competition. (it was equalled twice - once a windy performance by Joe Riverson in 1958 and by Gerry Carson in 1965)
I never met Denis Maloney but I was hear about him many years later when he and his wife were two of the victims of the terrible Kegworth Aircrash at the East Midlands airport in which so many Northern Ireland people died.