Mark English emhpasises role of tactics in European Indoor Championships

800m runner has final hopes as do several other Irish competitors in Prague

There is a tactical element to 800m running which doubles its value indoors. No one knows this better than Mark English, which is a good thing, because tactics are what his next three races are all about.

The most important of those, naturally, will come in Sunday’s final, although to get there, English must first negotiate a heat and semi-final, beginning this morning in Prague’s swanky O2 Arena. Only after that can we truly start talking up his medal chances at these 33rd European Indoor Championships.

What is certain, for now, is that English hasn’t come here for the experience: he’s here to take another step up from the bronze medal he won at last summer’s European Championships in Zurich. At 21 he may still be a student of the event, but already a student of honours.

The withdrawal of defending champion Adam Kszczot from Poland – who also won gold in Zurich – has certainly helped his prospects, although English still can't look past this morning's heat. Indeed the men's 800m has attracted one of the largest entries, with 40 athletes, resulting in seven first-round heats, where only the top two progress (along with the four fastest losers).


Decent competition

English is drawn in the first heat (11.40am), his 1:47.17 this season ranking him the fastest, although with decent competition, including

David Palacio

from Spain, and Thijmen Kupers from the Netherlands. Still, as long as he stays out of trouble, English should get through comfortably to tomorrow’s semi-final – which may mean running from the front.

“Tactics are huge,” confirms English. “Front running is not as dangerous on an indoor track, because you don’t have as much air resistance. Also, because you’re running four laps, you’re hitting more bends, and that means you are running wider, if you are on the outside all the time. So it is more important to be on the inside.

“And you just have to be wary. It’s all about intuition, from learning the event over the years, that you make these decisions. So it’s more about getting into position. On an outdoor track I would just be thinking splits, because you don’t want to run the race too fast. On an indoor track it’s more about getting into certain positions.”

Other Irish contenders

Irish team-mate

Declan Murray

goes in the sixth heat, his season best of 1:48.32 giving him a good chance of progressing. Poland still have the gold-medal favourite

Marcin Lewandowski

, drawn in the second heat, but English beat him in Zurich last summer.

Ciara Everard sets off in the equally strong women's 800m, and having made the final in Gothenburg two years ago, her ambitions should also extend into Sunday. Drawn in heat one (11.15am), Everard's season best of 2:03.39 ranks her fourth fastest, and with only the top two sure of qualifying for the semi-finals, tactics will be paramount.

Day one is particularly demanding for Dara Kervick as he makes his senior international debut in the 400m, having run an impressive season best of 46.53. Kervick goes in the last of six heats (11.05am), again needing to finish in the top two (or six fastest losers) in order be out again later in the day, in the semi-finals.

At 24 Kervick is no kid anymore, and 10 years after David Gillick struck the first of his back-to-back gold medals in the event, Kervick believes he can mix it: "You can't really control what everyone else runs," he says.

“For me, when I race I only know that I will run the best I can. If that means I make a final then I make a final. If I don’t then there’s not much more I can do. You can’t really affect what anyone else runs, so I don’t think there is any more pressure. Pressure is what you do to yourself, isn’t it?”

Adam McMullen was part of the preliminary qualifying in the long jump on Thursday, his best of 7.53m – coming in the last of his three jumps – not enough to see him through.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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