Hall of Fame

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Clifford Sheehan
Track & Field

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

Sheehan was an All-American in 1985 in the indoor 3,000-meter and First-Team All-Ivy in both indoor and outdoor in 1985-86. He still holds the record in the 1,500 meter with a time of 3:42.44 and in the Distance Medley Relay with a total time of 9:27.65 at the Penn Relays. He also holds the record in the mile with a time of 3:59.44, becoming the only Harvard runner to ever break a four-minute mile. He remains second on Harvard’s record list for the 3,000 with a time of 8:01.59, and fifth on Harvard’s record list for the 1,000 meter with a time of 2:10.19. He holds a Heptagonal Indoor meet record in the 1,500 meter with a time of 3:44.60.

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

A self interview Q: When did you first become interested in track and field? A: I grew up during the running boom, the era of Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers when even executives wore Nikes and Adidas with their business suits. As a little kid, I would pretty much run wherever I had to go; to school, to baseball practice. I found out I was a lot better running the warm-up laps than I was at baseball. Q: What about competitive running? A: In 7th grade homeroom, Coach Walt Clarkson came around with an article from The High’s Eye, the high school paper for which he was also the editor, called “The Magnificent Seven.” The team had won the Group IV state championship in cross country which has seven runners on the team. He was looking for recruits to come out for the 8th grade squad. I still remember these guys dressed in their school white uniforms holding this enormous trophy. I went to the library and read a book on track and field by Jim Bush, the UCLA head coach. I remember looking at the pace tables figuring I should be able to run about a 4:20 or a 4:30 mile. Later that spring I raced five events at the Westfield AAU meet. In the quarter mile I rigged so badly I barely finished. I remember my dad going home early because he didn’t think I would be able to finish the mile, the last event. I think I ran about 5 ½ minutes, which wasn’t too bad for a 7th grader. The next year I ran 4:55 (on cinders), which set the 8th grade school record. Q: In high school you were a state champion. A: I won 12 state championships. Well, actually 11 ½. Q: Tell me about the half. A: Junior year in the state sectional 1500 meters, my teammate and friend Jim Morris and I signaled that we wanted to tie at the finish. The judges didn’t allow ties and he actually got the win, though I’d slowed down for him on the last turn so we could cross the finish together. We cut the gold and silver medals in half, getting the idea from the Lake Placid Olympics. In 1984 the Russian and the Finnish cross country ski racers had finished in virtually the same time, a hundredth of a second apart. I guess they thought that was kind of bogus since the race was a time trial, not head to head competition. Q: Who were your main rivals in high school? A: Vinnie Coehlo from Elizabeth and John Marshall from Plainfield. Between 8th and 10th grade Vinnie and I traded more than a few wins and losses but by junior year I could pretty much get the better of him. John Marshall on the other hand made the 1984 Olympic team in the 800 meters with Johnny Gray. Since he was a half miler, we didn’t race each other all that often, but he won 3 out of 5 of our head to head competitions. Q: Everyone talks about the one that got away. Ever have any where you just got lucky and won? A: Two races come to mind. My junior year the cross-country state sectionals finished on a cinder track at Warren Echo Park. I must have been 80 or 100 yards behind the favorite Salerno from Morristown when I entered the track. But it had been pouring during the race and there was something like 2 or 4 inches of water on top of the cinders. I just splashed my way around quick enough that I somehow caught him. There’s a home movie somewhere or you might think I was exaggerating. Earlier in the season I won my first invitational race in the A section at Ridgewood. They had a trophy for the fastest time of the day. The B race winner was 2/10 of a second behind and like about half of the New Jersey weekends in the pouring rain that wasn’t exactly a decisive margin. Q: What race are you most proud of? A: From a competition standpoint, probably the IC4A indoor mile where I won by a slim margin over Abdi Bile from Somalia who went on to win the 1987 World Championship. From a personal standpoint probably the 1985 Jumbo Elliott Mile at the Penn relays. I broke 4 minutes for the mile but it was the first time my grandparents had ever seen me race. Q: What about your coaches? A: I was very lucky to have such great coaches. Except for Frank and Eddy, they all had a military background and ran a pretty tight ship. Coach Martin had been in the Air Force. When I was in high school he was still running 4:30 miles. He’s still coaching today. Coach Clarkson was a marine and a head on competitor with Wes Santi who had come close to being the first American to run a sub 4 minute mile. Dennis likewise was a marine, the first US born African American to run a sub 4 minute mile. I think he still has the military record for the 5 mile run with pack and gun. Bob Seveny was a war hero and got shot down in a helicopter. The story is something like that the doctors told him he’d never walk again. He didn’t listen and went on to run a sub 4 minute mile. There is a story I like telling about a couple of rednecks who made fun of his lycra tights. Eddy Sheehan (no relation) he was still running the marathon in under 2:20. If you could keep up with him on the training runs you were ready for the championships. Frank probably would have made the Olympics if it had not been for that darn typewriter. They all earned my respect and the respect of my teammates.
And then of course there was McCurdy. Our freshman year was his last year coaching the team. We had a pretty good class. Easy-O and Perkins who went on to be captains senior year, Herberich the Olympian bobsledder to name a few. McCurdy had the BEST stories. The all comers meet with the 36 Olympic champion, the 37 NCAA champion and the current world record holder in the 440. “Beat them all!” he would boom. When I would kick it was just death and disaster for the other guy. There was the story of the 28 pull-ups. I last saw him before heading south to Texas. He had some chores for me out at the poor farm (his home with 20 rooms on 20 acres in Harvard MA). “Sheehan, looks like you’ve been workin’ out. How many pushups can you do?” he asked. “93 Coach,” I replied. “But I think I’ll be able to do 100 soon.” “I can do 100,” he said. I knew better than to think that was all he could do. Wish he was still here today. Q: Any regrets? A: Yeah. Those darn Achilles tendons.