Roger Bannister still astonished by enduring fascination in sub-four-minute mile
“If it brings other people into running, then it is all for the good, and I am still happy to do all I can to help”
These are the things all good distance runners are obsessed with, and it was refreshing to hear Mark English tell me about some of his inspirations this week, which included Seb Coe and Steve Ovett – both naturally inspired by Bannister – and also Alberto Juantorena, the big Cuban, famous for his nine-foot stride length, who won both the 400m and 800m at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
“I’d watch a lot of those old races on YouTube,” English told me. “Like Steve Ovett, at the 1977 World Cup, in Düsseldorf. His positioning in that race was just perfect, the whole way round.” (Indeed it was, so look it up on YouTube.)
English was saying this in the knowledge that he will need to execute the perfect 800m, tactically and physically, to make any impact at the World Indoor Championships, which get underway in Sopot, Poland, next Friday.
At 20, English still has a lot to learn, but admits too that the World Championships in Moscow last summer – where a poor tactical race meant elimination in the heats – was exactly the sort of learning experience he needed.
No one is mentioning the M-word, and for good reason: English is one of just five athletes qualified for Sopot, and they’re all there for the learning experience. David McCarthy goes in the 1,500m in what will be his first major championships at senior level, and the three Irish women qualified – Ciara Everard and Roseanne Galligan in the 800m, and Claire Tarplee in the 1,500m – are actually selected off times run during last year’s indoor season. What does matter is that the learning experience is made count at the European Championships in Zurich next August, where a few people will be mentioning the M-word.
That’s not saying we shouldn’t expect the unexpected. Five Irish athletes in Sopot is one more than the four Irish athletes that qualified for the inaugural World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis in 1987. There, everyone was mentioning the M-word when it came to Eamonn Coghlan in the 1,500m, except he was tripped in his qualifying heat at 600m and fell. Coghlan actually recovered, yet still misjudged his finish, and missed out on qualifying when the big German Dieter Baumann snuck past.
Despite Coghlan’s seemingly disastrous absence, Marcus O’Sullivan went on to win the gold medal, and then, the only other two Irish athletes in Indianapolis, Frank O’Mara and Paul Donovan, won gold and silver in the 3,000m. O’Mara’s race that day was brilliantly executed, both tactically and physically, and worthy of another rush of nostalgia on another day.