Mark English’s eyes turn to Beijing after European indoor silver

The single-minded 21-year-old’s priority is the World Championships in the summer

The late great Noel Carroll would have been well impressed. There is a tactical art to 800m running which doubles its value indoors, and few Irish athletes knew that better than Carroll, who won three successive gold medals in this event at the former European Indoor Games, before they were made an official championship in 1970.

One of those actually came in Prague, back in 1967, and fitting then that Mark English found himself in the same city, as he first became the first Irish man to medal in the 800m since Carroll, who also won bronze in 1969.

Perfect race

Indeed now more than ever tactics in this event are paramount, and English once again defied his relative youth and inexperience to run the perfect race, at least given his current shape and stage of career development.

His silver medal – another step up on the bronze he won outdoors last summer – may represent some natural progression, and English also admits that at 21 he has plenty more progressing to do.


“I’ve always felt I’m an outdoor runner too, not an indoor runner,” he confirmed.

“Marcin Lewandowski [who won gold] is 27, so I still feel have another good few years to develop.

“I’ve still got the European under-23 championships in July [another reminder that he’s still learning the trade], but obviously the World Championships in Beijing, are the big championships this summer. They were my main aim, coming into the start of the year, and they still are. So I want to go there, with my own expectations.”

English will also be eyeing up the Irish 800m record of 1:44.82, which David Matthews ran back in 1995, and so turns 20 years old later this summer. English’s best of 1:44.84 was actually run in the summer of 2013, and while he’s almost bound to improve on that sooner rather than later, it’s not the immediate priority.

“Medals are always more important, to me, than Irish records. Though I think that will come with time. I’ll just focus on winning medals.”


English is also content to focus on his medical studies, now in his third year at UCD, although there is the option of taking a year out in 2016, when the Rio work starts to take over.

This year he's also turned to Nic Bideau – Sonia O'Sullivan's husband – for coaching advice, although he remains uniquely single-minded about what he wants to achieve, and how to achieve it.

“I’m at the stage now where I know what I want to do myself,” he says of his coaching set-up.

“Nic does a training programme for me and sends it over from Australia, but as an athlete, if you can’t think for yourself, what do you expect when you get out on a track? Someone’s not going to be there with a whistle to tell you when to kick. For me, it’s important to be able to think on your own.”

He’s also unique for athletics at this level in his continued desire to mix his training with his studies: “It’s tough, but it’s about managing your time. I just do my study nine-to-five, and that just frees me up for a few hours in the evening for training, and an hour or two to socialise after that as well. But I like to be busy, and enjoy having something else to do besides running.”

Newfound consistency

Another athlete enjoying his running and on the rising curve is

John Travers

, the popular Donore runner, who at 23 underlined his newfound consistency with a seventh-place finish in the 1,500m final.

His time of 3.41.50 was just off his lifetime best, while the gold medal went to local Czech favourite Jakub Holusa, in 3.37.68.

“I’m starting to believe in myself,” said Travers. “I missed the break, slightly, but just kept pushing, pushing, and managed to claw a few places back. There was no way I was finishing last anyway.

"I've got a World Student Games to look forward to, this summer, and will know that for the next time. But I'm very happy with my set-up, my coach Jerry Kiernan, everything. It's just about getting stronger, and faster, but also getting into faster races. I ran a personal best out here, and that's proof for me that things are working. So overall it's a very good championship."

The championships closed with the Irish 4x400m relay mixing it with the five other best teams in Europe, and although they briefly got themselves into fourth around halfway, the quartet of Dara Kervick, Timmy Crowe, Harry Purcell and Brandon Arrey ended up sixth,with a time of 3.10.67.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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