Mark English needs to find an extra gear in today’s third heat of the 800 metres

“The 800 metres is one of those events you could spend a lifetime learning the tactics”

Indoor running has always been an exercise in extremely tight margins. One wrong move, one split moment of indecision, and it’s Goodnight Irene – especially when it comes to the 800 metres.

In fact there could not be any less room for manoeuvre when it comes to the 800m heats at the World Indoor Championships, which get underway this morning at the Polish seaside town of Sopot: only the winner of each of the three heats, along with the next three fastest losers, will qualify for Sunday's six-man final. There will hardly be any room to breathe.

No one will be more aware of this than Mark English. He doesn't turn 20 until later this month, but English has maintained his steady graph of progress this indoor season, the 1:46.82 he ran in Athlone last month improving the 13-year-old Irish senior indoor record. Now, he'll probably have to find yet another gear to make Sunday's final.

Drawn in the third of the three heats (set for 12.44 Irish time), English will by then have some idea of what sort of qualifying time might be required, but the quality of opposition is already clear.

Hometown favourite
His heat also includes Poland's hometown favourite and two-time European Indoor champion Adam Kszczot, who has run 1:44.57 indoors, and also Britain's Andrew Osagie, who last month ran 1:45.22, and was bronze medallist at these championships two years ago.


There’s also Kenya’s Jeremiah Mutai, who has run 1:46.77, which means English is only the fourth-ranked runner in his heat. The good news he’s avoided gold medal favourite Mohammed Aman from Ethiopia, but still only a perfect race, tactically and physically, will see English through.

“The 800 metres is one of those events you could spend a lifetime learning the tactics,” said English, who also reckons he’s in around 1:45-shape. “I’m trying to learn as quickly as possible. For me it’s also all about progress, all gearing towards Rio. But I treat every competition as seriously.”

Indeed all five of the Irish athletes qualified for Sopot are in action in today’s opening sessions. David McCarthy also ran a new indoor personal best last month over 1,500m, clocking of 3:39.14, and also goes in the third of three heats (11.43) with no room for error.

McCarthy needs to make the first two, or else be one of the three fastest losers to make his nine-man final, set for tomorrow afternoon.

The three Irish women in action today – Rose-Anne Galligan and Ciara Everard in the 800m, and Claire Tarplee in the 1,500m – all qualified off times run during the 2013 indoor season.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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