Mark English books his place at Tokyo Olympics

English breaks Irish 800m record to claim Olympic place

Closing time, and in the last round of orders for Tokyo Olympic qualification several more Irish athletes got their shout in just in the nick of time - and none more impressively than Mark English.

After several weeks, races and indeed close calls knocking on the door of the automatic qualifying time over 800 metres, English lined up at the Meeting Castello near Barcelona on Tuesday evening and by the finish effectively blew the door down - clocking a brilliant 1:44.71 and with that improving the long, long standing Irish record of 1:44.82 which had stood to David Matthews since back in 1995.

More importantly for English right now, that was well inside the 1:45.20 automatic qualifying time for Tokyo, meaning the 28 year-old from Donegal is now sure of his ticket to Tokyo, clearly in the form of his life too.

With midnight on Tuesday being the final cut-off, and English previously sitting nervously in 48th position on the ranking/qualifying spots, with only 48 assured of going, he knew only that automatic time would rest his case - which is exactly what he did, his 1:44.71 also good enough on the night for second place behind Yassine Hethat of Algeria, who ran 1:44.25.


It's certainly just reward for the Finn Valley AC runner. English by-passed the National Championships in Santry on Sunday, and instead raced at the True Athletes Classic meeting Leverkusen, where despite a fourth excellent run in 13 days, he again fell just short, taking third in 1:45.51.

That followed his 1:45.22 clocking when finishing a close second at the Madrid stop on the Continental Tour just last Saturday, that time just .02 of a second off the automatic qualifying time, his fastest time anywhere since 2014, and fifth fastest of all time. Now the 28 year-old qualified doctor, who also ran in Rio in 2016 and just missed out on London in 2012, is poised for his second Olympics, and as Ireland's fastest 800m runner of all-time.

His coach Feidhlim Kelly both backed and believed in this decision, and always reckoned English would run close to his own lifetime best of 1:44.84, set back in 2013, or indeed better that long-standing Irish record of 1:44.82, set by Matthews in Rieti in 1995.

Meanwhile, over at the World Athletics Continental Tour meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, Sarah Lavin was among those to rubbers-stamp their qualifying spots: traditionally, Lucerne presenting ideal running conditions, Tuesday evening provided decidedly otherwise, the soft rain and damp track far from perfect.

Still also maximising the chance no less was Eilish Flanagan in the 3,000m steeplechase, the Tyrone runner nailing second place in 9:42.71, just outside the Northern Ireland record of 9:40.68 set last month while competing in the US for Adams State University in Colorado.

That time pushes her just inside the 56 qualifying places, and with that set to join automatic Irish qualifier Michelle Finn in the event for Tokyo. It also appears there are now three Irish women inside the 48-athlete qualification pool for the 800m: Nadia Power, Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, and Georgie Hartigna.

Also making the most of her last race before the cut-off was Lavin, now virtually certain of her place in the 100m hurdles. The Limerick athlete, after breaking the 13-second barrier last week, took second on the night, clocking 13.16 seconds behind the local Swiss athlete Kambundji Ditaji, who took the win in 13.11.

Likewise with Andrew Coscoran, who has been sitting inside the 1,500m qualifying pool for over a year, and now seems certain to get his just reward for his consistency. Given the conditions fast times were out of the question, Coscoran clocking 3:43.15 in eighth place, no one in that race running the automatic qualifier.

Phil Healy approaches the midnight cut-off inside the qualification quota over both the 200m and 400m, and will also be part of the 4x400m mixed relay. Chris O'Donnell, set to run that 4x400m mixed relay, also improved his 400m best in Lucerne to 45.55, talking second. Others set to get the call up on quota spots are 200m runners Leon Reid and Marcus Lawler, Sarah Healy in the 1,500m, and David Kenny in the 20km walk.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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