Not many Irish athletes can talk up their medal prospects in such realistic terms as Mark English. At 21, he may still be a student of 800 metre running but he's already passed one major test with honours.
Now he's looking to improve again on that bronze medal won at last summer's European Championships in Zurich, when he leads the 12-strong Irish team to Prague on Friday week for the 33rd European Indoors.
English admits there are important differences between racing indoors and outdoors but he has gained a lot of confidence since Zurich.
“You’re always going to have different expectations, after getting a European medal and that medal has also given me extra confidence,” he says.
“It kind of normalises what you have thought wasn’t possible in the past, or out of reach. It gets you thinking bigger. I’m no longer thinking the way I did, about just making up numbers. I want to go out and perform.”
English is ranked fourth best in Europe behind Polish athletes Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski, who have both run 1:45, and Andreas Almgren from Sweden (who has run 1:46). English has run 1:47.17 this season, yet times mean less indoors.
“Tactics are huge,” he says. “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.
“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 positions, getting into certain positions.
“You might run the perfect split for the first 400 but that could leave you at the back of the pack and it’s so hard to pass on an indoor track, so I will just be tweaking tactics in that department. The two Poles are really experienced, they know what they have to do, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
English has been combining his preparations with his third year of medical studies at UCD. He’s also turned to
– Sonia O’Sullivan’s husband – for coaching advice.
“Nic does a training programme for me and sends it over from Australia, but as an athlete I’m at the stage now where I know what I want to do myself. I coached myself last year almost to the Europeans so I know what I need to do, but I don’t really have the time to make out programmes for myself.
“Nic is a smart guy. He’s got away from the idea of the old coaching philosophies and he’s a bit more open-minded about certain approaches. I have my own methods that I like to apply to my training so he allows me to bring them to it as well.”