Villanova's Men win 4 x Mile Championship of America

Past pupil and Villanova sophmore Seán Donoghue gives his team the best possible start in relay race
Villanova's Men win 4 x Mile Championship of America

PENN RELAYS: A Finish for the Ages as Villanova Men Win 4xMile Championship of America

Article courtesy of Villanova Mens Track & Field

Past-pupil Seán Donoghue, who is in his Sophmore year at Villanova University, gave his team the best possible start in the Championship of America 4 x Mile relay at Franklin Field on Saturday 29 April 2023. Having had a tough year injury wise Seán has only bounced back to race in the last few weeks and what form he has found. He ran a Personal best (PB) with his split just outside 4 minutes. This follows on from his race last Thursday where he finished second in the open 1500m in a time just outside his PB.

Seán is living up to the promise he showed when Villanova awarded him the scholarship in their athletics programme following his Leaving Certificate in 2021. Nothing has come easy for Seán as he battled Covid-19 red tape in order to travel to the USA. No matter what upset has come his way he uses it to focus and become even more determined in the pursuit of excellence. We send our congratulations to Seán, his teammates and especially his rightfully proud family.


PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—The finish was as memorable as any in recent memory and the celebration was worthy of that superlative as the Villanova men won the 95th Championship of America title in program history with a thrilling final 200 meters in the 4xMile relay at Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon. The team of sophomore Sean Donoghue (Dublin, Ireland), fifth year Charlie O'Donovan (Cork, Ireland), senior Sean Dolan (Ewing, N.J.) and junior Liam Murphy (Millstone, N.J.) erupted into a frenzy of unbridled joy after a furious kick which saw Murphy go from ninth place to first with a championship in sight at the 127th Penn Relays.

"It is a coming-of-age moment," Wildcats head coach Marcus O'Sullivan said of the strength it took for Murphy to will himself and his teammates to be the last ones standing in a stacked field of teams filled with sub-four-minute milers up and down their lineups. "I don't get excited that much about things, but when I was watching the race today, I'm just exhilarated to watch young guys grow from last year to this year. To see them get some fruits of their efforts and their labor is a very special moment. I can't express it enough, but to do it on your home track so to speak, at Penn, but nevertheless it means a lot to a lot of people."

This is the 21st time that Villanova has won the men's 4xMile relay and the first Penn Relays wheel for the Wildcats since the team's last 4xMile victory five years ago. The winning time was 16:14.03, with Murphy holding off Wisconsin by less than a quarter of a second to win a distance race that had six teams all cross the finish line within less than two-thirds of a second of each other. The runner-up Badgers had beaten Murphy in the final 100 meters of the distance medley relay on Friday afternoon. Third place Washington had four sub-four milers in their lineup and seventh-place Oklahoma State was the indoor national champion in the distance medley relay. Murphy was behind all of those teams – and several others – with 250 meters left in Saturday's race.

"I like waiting until the end of the race to make my move," Murphy said. "I'm definitely comfortable in that situation. I learned what I did wrong yesterday and I wanted to be in the best spot possible to make my move. At a point, I think I waited a little too long. I was in the fourth lane. I trusted my coaches, and what my teammates said yesterday. They said to wait as long as you can. If you're the last one to go it will pay off. That is what I did, and I had a little left compared to yesterday."

Villanova's time of 16:14.03 is the eighth-fastest in meet history, the best time for any team since 2014 and the number two time in school history behind only the school record performance of 16:10.6 by the 1974 Penn Relays championship team. Donoghue led off with a split of 4:01.24, O'Donovan had a split of 4:01.80 on the second leg and Dolan ran 4:00.80 on the third leg of the race before Murphy took over and split 4:10.20 on a tactical anchor leg. Murphy made a reference to yesterday when he took the lead in the distance medley relay with 250 meters left but was caught by Wisconsin on the final turn and ran out of time to respond on the final straightaway. He was more patient in the home stretch a day later.

"I told him to just wait today and then I was thinking, not this long," O'Sullivan said with a smile. "For Liam to edge his way to the finish line is a phenomenal experience for me. You have young guys, from a bunch of different universities, and they all come here fancying themselves as being the best team. We didn't have the best team on paper. You wish for the unexpected, and it is unexpected in the way it unfolds. You're not picking the winner from 100 [meters] out. Nobody is at that point and, little do you know, like I didn't yesterday with Wisconsin. I saw them moving out of the corner of my eye. I knew it was late and we're not going to make it. Today we were on the other side of it. It is very special."

Donoghue was the freshest leg of the Villanova lineup after not running the DMR yesterday, although the 4xMile was still his second race of the week after he ran in the individual 1500 meter championship on Thursday night. He came back with a big performance on Saturday and handed the baton off to O'Donovan with the Wildcats in the lead.

"Being on the first leg you don't know if [the race] is going to go out hot or not," Donoghue said. "Once I saw myself out in front with two laps to go, I just said I'm going to hold these guys off and put us in the best position possible."

The second leg of the race was a physical one. O'Donovan was bumped on more than one occasion with one lap left before the second exchange and had faded to the middle of the pack by the time he gave Dolan the baton. Dolan quickly pushed towards the front of the pack before settling into fourth place, just a couple strides off the lead, for the next two laps. With one lap remaining before the anchor leg it was Villanova, Oklahoma State and Washington running shoulder to shoulder.

"This will never get old," Dolan said. "This is my favorite meet and it is the best track meet in the world in my opinion. Nothing beats Franklin Field this weekend. It is a big deal for us, and to bring home a wheel where it belongs is a huge honor."

Dolan made a move with 225 meters to go before the final exchange and handed off to Murphy with five teams nearly even with each other. The pace slowed to a crawl as soon as the anchors took the baton. It was immediately an eight-team race by the time the anchor runners made it around the top curve and onto the back straightaway. Nine teams were in it with two laps left.

"It is an honor to be here again," Dolan said of the Wildcats winning lineup. "This whole team is back next year, and I hope to continue to keep this great tradition alive for me and my family, my teammates, and the alumni at Villanova."

  • The Villanova men have won 120 titles all-time at the Penn Relays. That tally includes 95 Championship of America races and another seven wheels in the freshman mile relay which the Wildcats won seven times from 1932 to 1968 when the race was considered one of the major championships at the Penn Relays carnival. The other 18 championships have been individual titles, most recently this year when fifth year distance runner Josh Phillips (Belrose, Australia) won the 5000 meter championship on Thursday night.
  • The third leg of the 1932 freshman mile relay was a young runner named Jim Elliott, better known as Jumbo during his legendary coaching career when he guided Villanova track & field to worldwide acclaim and eight NCAA team titles.
  • The Villanova men have won eight Championship of America titles during Marcus O'Sullivan's head coaching career, including the distance medley relay four times (2001, 2009, 2011, 2018), the 4x800 meter relay in 2014 and the 4xMile relay on three occasions (2015, 2018, 2023).
  • Saturday's winning time of 16:14.03 in the 4xMile is the second-fastest time in school history, trailing only the school record performance of 16:10.6 exactly 49 years ago to the day. On that date the lineup of Tom Gregan, Brian McElroy, Eamonn Coghlan and John Hartnett won their own Penn Relays Championship of America wheel. That team still holds the sixth-fastest time in Penn Relays history.
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