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Johnson City 150 — Five questions with Ray Flynn

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 27, 2019 at 10:47 PM

Ray Flynn is the most decorated runner in East Tennessee State history and the leader of the legendary “Irish Brigade,” a group of runners brought to Johnson City by the Bucs’ Hall of Fame track and cross country coach Dave Walker.

He ran 89 sub-four minute miles, recording a best item of 3:49.77 in 1982 at Oslo, Norway. Nearly 40 years later, he still holds the Irish record for the 1,500 meters at 3:33.5 and holds ETSU school records in both events.

Flynn was also part of an all-Irish 4 x 1-mile relay team that set a world record in 1985. He is also a two-time Olympian, representing his native country. He still resides in Johnson City and owns Flynn Sports Management, which represents athletes from all over the globe.

HOW IS JOHNSON CITY SIMILAR TO AND DIFFERENT FROM YOUR HOMETOWN IN IRELAND?

Flynn: “Johnson City and the East Tennessee area are beautiful like Ireland. It is green and rural with hills and valleys that very much are similar to the Irish countryside. The people of this area are welcoming and friendly much like the people in Ireland. There are not many differences in this global world we live in. With fewer larger cities, the culture is more local there.”

WHAT WAS THE IMPACT DAVE WALKER HAD ON YOU AS A RUNNER AND A PERSON?

Flynn: “Big Dave was like a second dad to me. He was tough but principled and instilled a strong work ethic into all of his runners. He was loyal to those around him and he had the belief that we could beat anyone anywhere. He was larger than life and was my greatest mentor besides my dad.”

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THE IRISH BRIGADE THAT THE GROUP EASILY BECAME A PART OF THE JOHNSON CITY COMMUNITY?

Flynn: “The Irish brigade had an identity both as a winning team at East Tennessee State and in our connection to the people of East Tennessee who are predominantly of Scotch Irish descent. We shared a heritage and were welcomed here with open arms.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU HAD YOUR FIRST SUB-4 MINUTE MILE?

Flynn: “I grew up with a love of running and its history. I wanted to be a great runner following in the footsteps of the legendary milers, especially Irishman Ron Delaney who won the metric mile at the 1956 Olympic Games.

“Running sub four minutes for the mile at the Penn Relays in 1977 gave me the validation that I was on my way in that journey. I had been sick the night before but good old Dave got me some Epsom salts to help my stomach settle and convinced me that I had done the work to break four minutes. There was nothing like it.”

AMONG YOUR BUSINESS VENTURES, YOU OWN FLYNN SPORTS MANAGEMENT AND HAVE OWNED PROPERTY IN JOHNSON CITY. YOU’RE ALSO HAVE A KEY ROLE IN ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST FAMOUS TRACK EVENTS IN NEW YORK. WHAT DOES BEING MEET DIRECTOR FOR THE MILLROSE GAMES ENTAIL?

Flynn: “I have have directed the NYRR Millrose Games in New York City now for the past eight years, this past February being the 111th edition. I am a student of history and am proud to have a hand in keeping the World's oldest and most successful indoor track meet at the forefront in that sport.

“I love Johnson City and this year marks my 45th year as a resident here.”

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