No regrets for Mark English as he bows out at semi-final stage

Donegal runner finishes fifth behind defending 800m champion David Rudisha

No regrets, no disappointment, and no envy, only an acceptance on the night that Mark English didn't quite have the legs to make an Olympic final.

Given the 800 metres is widely billed as the most competitive event on the track right now it was always going to take something very special, English having to settle for fifth place in a semi-final won by defending champion and world record holder David Rudisha from Kenya.

English passed two runners coming down the home stretch, but it wasn't enough to get within touching distance of Rudisha, who took the win in 1:43.88, with the American Clayton Murphy surprising a few people to second in 1:44.30 – including it seemed himself.

With only the top two assured of a place in the final, Poland's two-time European champion Adam Kszczot was among those run out of it, taking third in 1:44.70, with English clocking 1:45.93 in fifth


“Well I certainly wouldn’t have done anything different,” said English. “I ran exactly the way I wanted, felt good, but the legs just turned to sludge in that last 200m.

"And walking off the track there I think it was acceptance, more than disappointment, that this is where it's at. I gave it everything, have absolutely no regrets. You saw Kszczot didn't qualify. But it's the Olympic Games. You expect that."

Missing three months of training earlier in the year didn’t help the preparations of the 23-year-old medical student from UCD, and admitted he did lack a little endurance, especially having given it socks already to get out of his qualifying heat on Friday.

“It probably did, missing a good bit of endurance work, aerobic capacity, that probably told over the two rounds. I’ve got the speed, just the endurance needed to be at a higher end. It’s something to work on over the winter, hopefully come back and give those guys a good fight next year. I was three months out of running completely, and that does tell when you’re trying to put two races together, back-to-back.

“But these things happen. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I gave it everything, ran as fast as I could over the first lap, to put myself in contention, and unfortunately that just wasn’t there on the last lap. I’m still hopeful I can learn from that and move on for next year, and beyond.”

Rudisha took it out, as expected, then slowed it slightly, leading them through halfway in just over 51 seconds, before surging from the front again: he's likely to run a similar race in Monday's final as he looks to become the first man to defend Olympic 800m titles since Peter Snell from New Zealand, in 1960-64.

“I ran 51.6 for the first 400m, and wouldn’t want to run much quicker than that,” said English. “I was nervous. You can’t not be nervous when you’re in a field of runners like that. I tried to stay relaxed. Having Rudisha there probably made it less difficult, because everyone knew how he was going to run, was going to that. And that’s what he hit, about 51 seconds for the first lap.”

“And I knew around 1:44 was going to be needed, after the first two heats were so fast as well.”

English has spoken recently about the sport losing some of its appeal and innocence, given the near constant cloud of doping, but he’ll be just 27 come Tokyo 2020, considered peak age for an 800m runner.

“Of course that’s a goal, but you have to enjoy the day to day as well, the process of improvement. I’m all about trying to get the best of myself. It’s back to the medical studies in September, but I still plan to race and to train. I don’t like to look too far ahead. The 800m is the event you can’t leave anything out. And it’s about putting all the pieces together.

"And I want to enjoy these Olympics as well. I'll get out and visit some friends and have some people over from UCD as well. And it's been a great Games for UCD now, with Ciara Mageean, and the O'Donovan brothers as well. I lived with Paul for three years and he's up every morning, working hard. I don't know anyone who trains harder. It couldn't have happened to two nicer people."

Monday’s final, meanwhile, is now set up to prove just how competitive this event is: after all, this is the race that inspired the single most impressive race of the London Olympics, four years ago, when Rudisha won the gold medal in 1:40.91 – a world record, and still the only time in history any man has run under 1:41.

It may take something similar to win here.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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