It wasn't gold but Mark English has taken another step up the major championship medal podium, winning a European Indoor silver medal over 800 metres after a typically thrilling finish to a desperately close run race in Prague.
Indeed English found himself chasing hard around the final bend in order to seal that medal, and while he couldn't catch Marcin Lewandowski from Poland – the race favourite – he swept past Thijmen Kupers from the Netherlands to take second, his 1:47.20 just .05 ahead of bronze.
"I was worried that you were worried," English smiled afterwards, when hearing the suggestion that at one point he appeared to be well out of medal contention, allowing a small gap to open on the penultimate lap, after Kupers, and the young Swede Andreas Almgren had surged to the front.
Almgren later faded to fourth, and while Lewandowski certainly looked impressive when winning in 1:46.67 – the 27-year-old improving on the silver medal he won four years ago – English was perfectly satisfied with his race. Once again he had the tactical brain and courage to believe in himself.
“Look, I knew at 400m that I just had to stay in contention. Kupers had made his move, and he’s a very strong front runner, and knew he wouldn’t falter. So I just had to bide my time. Then I felt a big well of energy over the last 150m, it was just there, and I think part of that is the training I’ve been doing, the speed and endurance, and the pieces came together.
“In fairness Lewandowski was very strong, running well all season, and he was always the man to beat them. I had to play to my strengths as much as I could, and thankfully that worked out for me. I didn’t want to waste any energy. Coming up to the finish I knew he was a bit too far to catch. At that stage, I was just trying to catch Kupers, and I felt I could, once I timed it right. And thankfully I did, using my acceleration over the last bend.”
Indeed it represents another step up on the bronze medal that the still 21-year-old won in Zurich last summer in the European outdoors, although he was slow to make any direct comparison.
“In some ways Zurich will always be special, because that was my first medal. But this is certainly right up there, because I was probably under a little more pressure here. There was no pressure at all in Zurich last summer. No one really expected it. It’s nice to know now, going into the summer and the World Championships in Beijing, and that I can perform when I really need to perform.
“And Ireland is a small country, and we’re never going to produce as many athletes as say Britain, so there will always be pressure on anyone who can win a medal. That’s just the way it is. So I’m just delighted to win this for my country and my family and everyone else.”
Dubliner John Travers finished seventh in the final of the 1,500 metres in what proved a dramatic finish as Czech Republic athlete Jakub Holusa lifted the roof on the O2Arena as he chased down fading Turkish runner Ilham Tanui Ozbilen to win in a new Czech record time of 3:37.68.
European Indoor Men's 800m final: 1 Marcin Lewandowski (Poland) 1:46.67; 2 Mark English (Ireland) 1:47.20; 3 Thijmen Kupers (Netherlands) 1:47.25; 4 Andreas Almgren (Sweden) 1:47.78; 5 Robin Schembera (Germany) 1:47.83; 6 Guy Learmonth (Britain) 1:47.84.