Born and brought up in South Africa, he has since lived in England and United States where he attended the University of Arkansas. He races for Ireland and competes most often over 3000 metres and 5000 metres. He holds the Irish national records in both the 5000 metres and the 10,000 metres. He holds the European road running record in the 5 km in 13:26, set in Carlsbad, California.
Cragg's father was a coach in South Africa and now lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas with his wife. Alistair's older brother, Duncan, went to Southern Methodist University from 1994-99. Alistair followed him there in 1999. His first cross country season there, he was injured and finished the season poorly at the regional meet in Denton, Texas. Arkansas coach John McDonnell saw him after the race and said something about how he should not run if he was injured. The next spring, Alistair was the top freshman finisher in the 5000 m at the NCAA Championship meet, smashing SMU freshman records in that event.
The following autumn, one of Cragg's brothers died and Alistair dropped out of SMU. After taking a year off, SMU had given away his scholarship and Alistair needed a new home. McDonnell made room for him on the Arkansas roster. Alistair had an outstanding college career with the Arkansas Razorbacks with McDonnell, winning individual NCAA titles at 3,000 m, 5,000 m and 10,000 m on the track, as well as indoor titles. In 2004, he was voted Southeastern Conference athlete of the year, and the Track and Field News magazine Collegiate Athlete of the Year.
Cragg is the University of Arkansas recordholder for 3,000 m and 5,000 m, and the only Razorback to win the 10,000, 5,000 and 1,500 meter races at a single SEC Championship meet. He won seven NCAA championships while at the University of Arkansas.
Cragg declared for Ireland in 2003, having represented South Africa as a junior athlete in a cross country race. He qualified for an Irish passport on the basis of his Irish ancestry and first obtained Irish nationality in 1985.
Cragg made his début for Ireland at the 2003 European Cross Country Championships, where he finished a respectable 8th. In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens he finished as top European in the 5000 m at 12th place. Cragg won the gold medal in the 2005 European Indoor Championships for 3,000 m. Unfortunately for Cragg he could not build on this success as injury forced him to miss most of the outdoor season, including the 2005 IAAF Athletics World Championships.
Cragg began the 2006 season well and finished 4th in the World Indoor Championships, just missing out on a medal. He was one of the favourites to win a medal in the 5000 m at the European Championships, but dropped out whilst leading the slow run final with around 800 metres to go. It is believed he had suffered an Achilles tendon injury.
During the early part of the 2007 season, Cragg made Olympic 'A' standards for the 2008 Olympic Games in the 1500 metres, 5000 metres and 10,000 metres. Whilst recording the standard in the latter event, he broke the seven-year-old Irish record for the distance. Cragg finished second behind Cathal Lombard at the 2007 Irish Cross Country Championships, held in Belfast.
In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Cragg competed in the 1500 m and 5000 m track events. He failed to qualify from heat section in the 1500m, finishing 8th with a time of 3:44.90. In the first heat of the 5000 m, he finished sixth in his heat of the 5000 m with a time 13:38.57.
Immediately after this race, thinking he had failed to qualify, Cragg was emotional when he was interviewed about the pressures that are associated with being an Irish athlete. He criticized Irish media, who he said, place too many demands on track and field athletes, and the Irish public, for criticizing the Olympic team too hastily. He criticized Ireland's former middle-distance athletes for lambasting his performances, saying he could match the likes of Eamonn Coghlan and others in a race. Cragg sat by himself watching the other two heats, dejected at his performance. However, it turned out that he had qualified for his second Olympic final as a fastest loser, with the sixth fastest time of all the qualifiers. He went on to participate in the 5,000 metre final, but did not finish.
Daegu, South Korea 13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics
He reached the 5000 m final at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, but finished in fourteenth place overall.
Cragg again competed in the 5000m, finishing 17th in his heat with a time of 13:47.01. A female reporter for RTÉ asked him, "Realistically, should you have come to the Olympic Games?" Bernice Harrison, writing in The Irish Times, called this criticism "harsh".
2013 Fukuoka Marathon
Major competition record
|2003||European Cross Country Championships||Edinburgh, Scotland||8th||9830 m||29:13|
|2004||World Cross Country Championships||Brussels, Belgium||16th||Short race|
|2004||Olympic Games||Athens, Greece||12th||5000 m|
|2005||European Indoor Championship||Madrid, Spain||1st||3000 m||7:46.32|
|2006||World Indoor Championships||Moscow, Russia||4th||3000 m||7:46.43|
|2006||European Championships||Gothenburg, Sweden||—||5000 m||DNF|
|2008||Olympic Games||Beijing, China||—||5000 m||DNF|
|2010||European Athletics Championships||Barcelona, Spain||—||5000 m||DNF|
|2012||Olympic Games||London, Great Britain||30th||5000 m||13:47.01 (h)|
- 3,000 m indoors: 7:38.59 (February 14, 2004 in Fayetteville)
- 5,000 m indoors: 13:28.93 (March 14, 2003 in Fayetteville)
- 5,000 m outdoors: 13:03.53 (September 16, 2011 in Brussels, Belgium)
- 10,000 m outdoors: 27.39.55 (April 29, 2007 in Stanford, California)
- "GEBREMESKEL, DIBABA WIN CARLSBAD 5000". www.iaaf.org. IAAF. 2 April 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- Cragg takes long winding road to success . IAAF (2005-05-12). Retrieved 2019-09-16.
- "Cragg wins SEC's top honor" NCAASports.com, 24 June 2004.
- Irish Times feature on Cragg in 2004, irishtimes.com; accessed 7 August 2014.
- Cragg profile, arkansasnews.com; accessed 7 August 2014.
- Cragg breaks Irish 10k Record[clarification needed]
- "Beijing 2008 - Athletics - Men's 1500 m". www.olympic.org. IOC. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- "Beijing 2008 - Athletics - Men's 5000 m". www.olympic.org. IOC. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Cragg interview[clarification needed]
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)[clarification needed]
- Perez outruns Goucher at Phoenix Half Marathon. IAAF (17 January 2011). Retrieved on 2011-01-19.
- Martin, David (30 October 2011). Komon and Mergia take convincing victories in Portsmouth. IAAF; retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Harrison, Bernice (11 August 2012). "To bring the Olympics closer to home, RTÉ's your only man Get stuck into ..." The Irish Times. Irish Times Trust. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
Some were heart-breaking: sailor Annalise Murphy on Monday was a lip-trembler, and the most candid one of the week was when the woman from RTÉ asked Alistair Cragg, who was full of excuses after his disappointing performance, “Realistically, should you have come to the Olympic Games?” Harsh maybe, but it was what we, by that time so full of boxing hope, were all thinking.
- "Alistair Cragg". European Athletics. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
- Irish Indoor Records Archived 18 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine from AthleticsIreland.ie[clarification needed]
- Alistair Cragg at World Athletics
- Irish Boys run Well Article on Cragg (and David Gillick) focusing on his decision to run for Ireland - Sunday Times, 6 March 2005 *IAAF.com interview/profile February 2006
- Flotrack Coverage of Alistair Cragg[permanent dead link] (video interview)