Nearly down but not out! After a classic case of an indoor race where anything can and did go wrong, Mark English found himself tripping over and impeded in his 800 metres semi-final – his place in Sunday's European Indoor final later decided by the track referee and inside the jury of appeal room.
Justly so. It was the right decision and in truth the only one: English always had a clear case. With just under half the race to run, coming into the backstretch for the penultimate time, English was tripped over – just about saving himself from falling over – by Britain's Guy Learmonth, who had fallen onto the track directly in front of him, and not long afterwards was disqualified by the track judges for obstruction.
English, already 20m in arrears, chased the remaining four runners, but clearly in vain: Mariano Garcia from Spain took the win in 1:48.84, the fastest of the two semi-finals, English finished fifth in 1:50.70. Only the top three progressed straight to Sunday's final (set for 6.57 pm). Crucially, English finished the race as fast as anyone else.
Calm but not entirely conceding some fury, English was adamant he was taken out unfairly: “I’ll put in the protest, definitely, see what happens,” said English, at that point unsure the track referee would rule in his favour.
There was also precedent here, to run run a seven-man final if necessary, and it was ultimately be up to the track referee and jury of appeal to decide whether or not he was sufficiently obstructed to be prevented from qualifying. Learmonth, incidentally, had also fallen at the Birmingham Indoor meeting.
At that point, with 350m to go, English looked primed to make his move into the top three: “Yeah, I was feeling really good, and that’s the frustrating thing. All I remember is him [Learmonth] pushing on the inside of me, tried to claim it was my fault, put his arms up in the air, then tripped up, and I fell over him.”
English had run the perfect race on Friday to ease his way into the 800 metres semi-finals, winning his heat in 1:49.38, looking every bit the athlete who won European Indoor silver in Prague four years ago, although he did sit at the back for the opening two laps here. At 25, his experience should have stuck to him over those closing laps, before the obstruction presented itself.
“I know what I wanted to run for the first 100m, then come through 200, not overkill it. I knew there would be some movement, as there always is, so I don’t think staying back was inviting any more trouble.”
It would have been a bitter blow to English had he failed to get through to the final. What happened the last two times he made a championships 800 metres final – and in quick succession – was that he won a medal, outdoor bronze in 2014 and then silver outdoors in 2015, reflecting an upward trajectory which began with his schoolboy days in Donegal.
The tactical element often doubles along with the number of laps in indoor 800m running, and English now gets the chance to put all his experience to full use. Winning the first semi-final was the other Spaniard Alvaro de Arriba in 1:50.70, and English’s return to form this season is certainly as good as anyone in the now seven-man final.
Still only 25, his 1:46.92 from Athlone last month ranks him fifth fastest in Glasgow. After hitting something of a plateau since 2015, the UCD medical student had been quietly confident coming to Glasgow. “Call it Mark II, Mark B, whatever you want to call it, but I’m just excited to get back out there and give it socks.”
Also primed for Sunday's final, meanwhile, is Ciara Mageean, her 1,500m showdown set for 8.12pm. The nine-woman field features gold-medal favourite Laura Muir, looking to complete her 1,500m/3,000m double, is the fastest with her 4:01.84, but Mageean was the third fastest qualifier across Friday's three heats, running 4:01.15, and even if realistically chasing silver or bronze, it promises to be a thrilling race nonetheless.
Earlier, all three Irish 60m sprinters – all three making their senior debuts – fell short of their semi-finals. Molly Scott came closest, sixth in her heat in 7.43 seconds (7.40 went through as the fastest loser). Lauren Roy, only 18, was seventh in her heat 7.62, while Joseph Ojewumi, unhappy about his start, ended up sixth in 6.97, outside his best of 6.77.
There was a sort of crash landing at the finish of the men’s 3,000m, 18 year-old Jacob Ingebrigtsen continuing his inexorable rise through the senior ranks to win gold for Norway in 7:56.15, halfway to that golden double, with the 1,500m final to come on Sunday.
Older brother Henrik was poised to make it an Ingebrigtsen one-two, only for Chris O’Hare delighting his home Scottish crowd to sneak silver, both athletes given the same time, 7:57.19.