English wins 800m at National indoor championships

IAN O’RIORDAN

Only a medical student could talk about recruiting as many fast twitch muscle fibres as possible in such exact terms. For Mark English that's also what the next two weeks are all about.

It could be the difference between making the medal podium or not at the European Indoor Championships, set for Prague on March 6th to 8th. As a dress rehearsal, his victory in the 800 metres at the National Indoor Championships in Athlone went smoothly, although there will be more rough and tumble in Prague – and faster twitch muscle fibres, too.

English didn't have it all his way, but after containing the early surges of Declan Murray, then Niall Tuohy, he accelerated hard down the final backstretch, and rounded home the comfortable winner in 1:51.34. Murray closed up for second (in 1.51.53), with Tuohy third (1.52.35), and having also run in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon, English will now begin the tapering process for Prague.

“The race here was exactly what I expected,” said English, still only 21, and now into his third year of medical studies at UCD. “Declan is in great shape, ran 1:48 from the front this year, and is in very good nick. And Niall is a very good indoor runner, the defending champion, always motivated. So there was some good competition there, so I’m very happy just to get the win.

“It was just about keeping control, up the homestretch, but yeah, I really wanted to practice that kick going down the backstretch, because it has to be decisive, when you run past guys likes that, to kill their spirit. I’m trying to get used to doing that. And I felt good.”

His performance in Birmingham on Saturday, where he ran 1.47.17 for sixth place, wasn't nearly as smooth, but a useful "rust-buster" nonetheless. Two of Poland's best (Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski) have already run 1:45 this season, and English knows further improvement is necessary if he's to repeat, or better, his bronze medal run at the European outdoor championships in Prague last Summer.

Fine-tuning

“I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and it’s just about fine-tuning the speed now, and recruiting as many fast twitch muscle fibres as possible. My first race outdoors last year I ran 1:46.2, came fifth, and some guys beat that me I thought never would. Six days later I went out and ran 1:45.03. So I know what I need to do, and I’m just looking forward now to getting out to Prague, and give myself every chance.”

It was an otherwise mixed championships in terms of revealing any further potential contenders for Prague: Dara Kervick did reinforce his excellent indoor form by winning the 400m in 46.53 seconds, an indoor best and fifth fastest on the Irish all-time list, and the Clonliffe athlete – and Kilkenny native – now has a chance of making the final.

Kervick's training partners Paul Murphy (Ferrybank AC) and Harry Purcell (Trim AC), both still 19, followed him him in second and third, with their 47.62 and 48.33 respectively – and that trio will also lead the Irish 4x400m relay team.

There was another addition to the Irish team when Adam McMullen produced a lifetime best in the long jump, his 7.80m the exact standard for Prague, and now second on the Irish all-time list. The 24-year-old from Derry, who competes with Dublin club Crusaders AC, certainly has the potential to improve further.

Waterford's Kelly Proper did complete yet another hat-trick of indoor national titles – winning the 60m, 200m and long jump, bringing her indoor total titles 19 in all. With the 200m no longer at international indoor championship level, her best hope to make Prague was in the 60, but her winning time of 7.36 was just shy of the standard of 7.38. Running her second best there was 15-year-old Ciara Neville from the Emerald AC club in Limerick, who finished second in 7.46 having set a new Irish Youth Record in the heat of 7.45.

Collapsed

John Travers

from Donore won the 1,500m thanks to a sweet final lap kick, and is also Prague bound, although

Claire Tarplee

fell short – literally – in the women’s 1,500m, as she collapsed just 5m before the finish, with victory there going to Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) in 4.16.49. Tarplee did get back in her feet to finish third.

Still, with Ciarán Ó Lionáird calling time on his indoor season due to poor form, and with Ciara Mageean also withdrawing from the 3,000m due a foot injury, Ireland's medal prospects in Prague now begin and end with English.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics