Mark English takes bronze in the 800m final in Zurich

‘Coming off that last bend, it’s usually all a haze, but here it just seemed so clear, I could see it all’

Not long before Mark English toed the line for his 800 metres final a perfect rainbow broke out over the Letzigrund Stadium. English always said he needed to run the perfect race to have any chance of medalling here, and so it proved.

It wasn't gold, and for a while it looked like silver, but in winning the European bronze medal - in what was his first championship final as a senior athlete - English also proved what's been said about him since he schoolboy days in Donegal: his obvious running talent, coupled with his great tactical intelligence, was someday going to shine.

That it came not long after turning 21, in a loaded championship field, suggests there is plenty more to come, although for now English was justifiably elated by, and in, the moment, sharing a lap of honour with the other two medallists, as any youngster would do on a night like this.

Victory went to Adam Kszczot from Poland, twice a European Indoor champion, who ran season best of 1:44.15 to strike gold, with team mate Artur Kuciapski just getting past English in the closing strides to take silver, running a lifetime best of 1:44.89.


By then, English was already safe for the bronze - his 1:45.03 equalling his season's best. Gold medal favourite Pierre-Ambroise Bosse from France, who ran 1:42.53 just last month, fell right back to finish last. Poland's other big threat, Marcin Lewandowski, also faded after his early strike for glory, finishing fifth.

“Coming off that last bend, it’s usually all a haze,” said English, who also ran with the prefect courage. “But here it just seemed so clear, I could see it all. I could see Bosse was gone, and Lewandowski was faltering. I knew Kszczot was gone from me, I wasn’t going to catch him, but the rest of them were up for grabs. After that it was just get to the line as quick as you can.

“But just coming out here, earlier this evening, I felt so relaxed. I was talking to the guy in the taxi the whole way out, and just didn’t feel any pressure at all. And I know I always run my best like that, just relaxed, and carefree. I always felt Kszczot would be the strongest, which he was. I thought Lewandowski would be a bit stronger, but it just shows again, that anything can happen, once you’re in a final.”

Not that these European medals are easy to come by: in 80 years of these championships, Irish athletes had only ever won 12 medals, and nearly half of those belong to Sonia O’Sullivan. In winning bronze, Ireland’s first ever medal in the 800 metres at any major outdoor championship, English also helped make amends for the disappointment earlier in the day, when World Champion Rob Heffernan failed to finish the 50km walk.

Yet in many ways the lack of expectation on English, including by his rivals, played perfectly into his hands.

“Yeah, and running my own race too, according to how I feel, not just going out and sticking to a rigid plan. I knew with 80m to go that Lewandowski was shot. I knew Bosse was faltering as well, and I still had a lot left. I felt I’d so much energy, over the last 200m, yeah, but it’s fantastic to win a medal. And sometimes they say bronze medallists end up happier in the long run. So really I can’t complain.”

Indeed he can’t - because English did run the perfect race: Bosse took it out, as expected, hitting the bell in 50.97, and was still leading at 600m, before his wheels came off.

“And I was saying to myself, just beforehand, that I’d beaten the two Polish guys in New York, a few weeks ago,” said English. “And if I run a conservative first lap, and see what I had left over the last 200m, I’d have a good chance again. And that’s exactly what I did. Anytime I’ve been in that mid-pack, at the last bend, I’ve always come through strong. I’ve never had half-negative experiences from there. All the past negative experiences were coming backwards, not going forwards.

“But I knew as well I had to go wide, couldn’t take a chance on something opening up on the inside, and just played the percentage game, really, and guessed I’d have enough to get a medal at that stage.”

Indeed English has always known what he wanted, and now, having just completed his first year in medicine in UCD, aims to go even higher again.

“And I suppose it’s nice not to be known as a time-trial runner anymore, that I can actually medal. That’s a big step forward for me, that I can go to championships in future and know I can put rounds back-to-back, which is the real key.

“But the plan is to go back to medical studies too, for the moment. I enjoy that lifestyle, having something else to do during the day, but maybe before Rio I might take some time out.”

Plenty of time for now, however, to enjoy this one.