Most indoor 800m races unfold at such breakneck speed there is no time to think. Although some of us watching this one did think Mark English had missed the break that would decide the European Indoor medals.
Fifth at the bell, with only 200m of track left to run, there was certainly no time to lose – and with that English suddenly demonstrated some considerable neck and speed to come through for a brilliant silver medal.
It’s this belief in his own ability that has always set the Donegal youngster apart, and now helped him take another consecutive step up the major championship medal podium, having won the bronze medal in the same event outdoors, last August, at the European Championships in Zurich. Not bad for a 21-year-old still some way off his physical peak, and still in the midst of his medical studies at UCD.
Indeed silver was probably as good as it was going to get here in Prague, given the gold medal was won in utterly convincing style by Poland's Marcin Lewandowski, who at 27 is very much at the peak of his powers, and had previously won the silver, himself, four years ago in Paris.
English certainly had no regrets, later standing on the medal podium with a smile of delight, relief and deep satisfaction all rolled into one.
All the medals had been hard earned, Lewandowski pouring everything into his victory, in 1:46.67, while English only swept past Thijmen Kupers from the Netherlands to take second in the last few strides, his 1:47.20 just .05 ahead of bronze.
Pieces came together
“I was worried that you were worried,” English said afterwards, when hearing that at one point we did think he’d missed the break.
“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, 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, all the pieces just came together.
“In fairness Lewandowski was very strong, running well all season, and he was always the man to beat. I had to play to my strengths as much as I could, and thankfully that worked out for me. Coming up to the finish, I knew Lewandowski was a bit too far ahead 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.”
Truth is English did briefly appear to be out of contention, allowing a small gap to open at the bell, after Kupers, and the young Swede Andreas Almgren had surged to the front, with Lewandowski on their shoulder. English had to first get past Guy Learmonth, the British hope, then swept past Almgren, before finishing perhaps the strongest of anyone.
“I didn’t actually think I was in my absolute best shape, coming into these championships,” said English. “I always felt I could get a medal. But I felt so strong over the last 200m. In some ways I surprised myself here, with how good I ran, to win that medal, with the pressure on me as well.”
That pressure, he admitted, comes with the territory, and if anything English was determined to improve again on his bronze medal won in Zurich last summer – not that he made any direct comparisons.
“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 this summer and the World Championships in Beijing, 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 for everyone else.”
Indeed English should be, and should get some time to enjoy it too, given he’s on mid-term at UCD. Then it’s back into training, and the medical books, although with a medal collection that is growing fast. He already had a bronze, now has a silver, so no prizes for guessing what colour will complete the collection.
At 21, English also has plenty of years ahead of him to think about how he will go about that, although the way his running career path is going, it may only be a matter of time.