Crash, burn, boom as Mark English hits an Irish high in Glasgow
Ciara Mageean reaches 1,500m final as English eases into the 800m semi-finals
Mark English celebrates reaching the 800m semi-finals. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Crash, burn, boom. For a long time these European Indoor championships opened up like a bad day on the Stock Exchange before first Ciara Mageean, then Mark English, restored some real medal-winning value.
English ran the perfect race to ease his way into the 800 metres semi-finals, looking every bit the part of the athlete who won silver in Prague four years ago. In an indoor event where the tactical element can often double, English ran every stride near breathless and inch perfect to win in 1:49.38.
“I felt really good, just wanted to save it for the last 100m, get in front by the finish, so happy with the finish,” said English, who eased past the French athlete Aymeric Lusinel before driving it home, his semi-final set for 6.25pm (Saturday).
“Looking forward to it,” he added. “I’m in a good place, and it’s the championships where your performances really matter. I know I’ve got good finishing speed, but it will be another step up in the semi-finals.”
After hitting something of a plateau since 2015, English also has his European bronze from outdoors in 2014 to remind him he can deliver at this level. “Call it Mark II, Mark B, whatever you want to call it, but I’m just excited to get back out there and give it socks. The semi-finals won’t be as easy, but I felt like I had a lot to give on the backstretch, and again the competition will be a lot tougher.
“All I can do is put myself in contention. I know in the past I’ve stayed too far back. I don’t want to make that mistake again. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten I’ve won those medals, but that is the past, this is about the present, and the future, and giving that a good shot.”
Mageean hit the track a little earlier having made no secret of her intention to make the 1,500m final. Only running in the second of three heats, she got caught up in a frantic dash for the line: coming off the final bend, she lost out to Marta Perez from Spain, who took the win in a lifetime best of 4:08.05, just ahead of Simona Vrzalova of the Czech Republic (4:08.06).
That left Mageean third in 4:08.15, outside the two automatic places, but still plenty good to see her through to Sunday’s final; third fastest overall, as it turned out, quicker than Britain’s gold medal favourite Laura Muir, who won her heat in 4:09.29.
It also left Mageean feeling quite unwell, before later giving a short interview: “A little disappointed not to get one of the automatic qualifying spots, but otherwise good, making the final is all that really matters,” she said between a cough and hard sneeze. “Feeling much better now after my warm down, and getting a little fresh air, and recovery is the most important thing now, before the final on Sunday.” That’s set for 8.12pm.
No such joy for Conal Kirk (sixth) or Zak Kirwan (fifth) in their 800m heats, while the earlier session felt like an incident or an accident waiting to happen for the Irish, for a while at least partly self-inflicted for Phil Healy.
Ranked fourth fastest in the women’s 400 metres, Healy’s opening round heat certainly didn’t go to plan, at least not immediately. Going out too fast, Healy was well up at the 200m break, still leading coming into the short straight, only suddenly and swiftly was passed on both sides and ended up third in 53.13. With only the top two automatic plus the next four fastest across the seven heats progressing, that meant a nervous wait.
In the end Healy’s 53.13 was enough to see her through to the semi-finals, where despite a more balanced and brave race she ended up third again in 53.65, Lea Sprunger from Switzerland winning in 51.90, with only the top two making the final.
When she crossed the line in her heat, Healy immediately put her hand over the eyes. “Just because I wasn’t in the automatic spot, because that’s what I wanted,” she said. “But at least I got that small ‘q’ next to my name, and glad to have got another shot to get there and give it another go.”
Still, progress was to make that final, and no one will know that better than Healy. No joy there too for Sophie Becker, fifth and last in her 400m heat in 53.99. Indeed heats and lane draws often double their weight when it comes to indoor championship running, and both Thomas Barr and Cillin Greene found that out the hard way.
Barr, drawn on the inside lane of his 400m heat, never got into his stride, ending up fifth in 48.22 seconds. His outdoor best, including the 10 three-foot hurdles over the 400m, is 47.97. “I just wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t relaxed, wasn’t myself,” Barr said without a hint of an excuse. No immediate regrets either at taking on the indoor season over what is effectively a different event.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, after some pause. “It was a no-pressure event, and the aim really was to work on my speed. Looking at the race, it looks like I’ve gone backwards, but it’s frustrating. Sometimes you need this. Athletics is such an up and down sport, I’ve still maybe had more highs than lows, and I’ll just have to put this down to a bad day at the track.”
Greene, just turned 20, never even got to finish. In the previous heat, he twice ran into trouble, pushed into fourth at the 200m break, then just 30 metres later, he ran into Jan Tesar of the Czech Republic, who’d fallen onto the track straight in front of him.
“I didn’t even get the chance to react, just hit the ground,” he said. Certainly a memorable debut, if for the wrong reasons: “Yeah, I won’t forget this one. But being here was a bonus. It’s still been an incredible experience, and hopefully I’ll be back for more.”
Sean Tobin finished an excellent fifth in his 3,000m heat in 7:56.27, a season best, only one place short of making the final. Sadly for him and the rest of the Irish, bar English and Mageean, no real reward in any that.
Irish in action this weekend:
Saturday: Joseph Ojewumi (60m heats 10.25 am);
Molly Scott, Lauren Roy, Ciara Neville (60m heats, 11.13am)
Mark English (800m semi-final 2, 6.33pm, first 3 in each heat advance to the final)
Sunday: Ciara Mageean (women’s 1,500m final 8.12pm)