Rio 2016: Mark English smooth and composed on debut

Ayana wins gold medal in the women’s 10,000m, crushing controversial world record of 29:31.78

So much for the nerves, the long wait, and the lost time, because Mark English ran one of the most perfectly smooth and composed races of his young career to book his place in the semi-finals of the 800 metres - widely billed as one of the most competitive races of these Olympics.

It all made for an exciting start to the athletics programme, his race soon followed by a world record, as Almaz Ayana from Ethiopia ran from the front to win the gold medal in the women's 10,000m in 29:17.45, crushing the controversial world record of 29:31.78 which had stood to the Chinese runner Wang Jungxia since 1993.

English, running in the sixth of seven heats - with only the top-three sure of progressing - also ran with considerable confidence, sitting at the very back of the eight-man field for the first lap, before moving up with immaculate timing to move into third down the homestretch, running 1:46.40, just down on race winner Brandon McBride from Canada, who took the win in 1:45.99, with Marcin Lewandowski from Poland second in 1:46.35.

“I knew at about 500m people might be a little bit worried about where I was,” said English, who missed out on London four years ago by .17 of a second, and earlier this season missed almost three months of running through injury.


“I knew Brandon would take it out, because that’s the way he’s raced all year. I just wanted to run relaxed, the first 500m, and knew if I didn’t give them too much of a jump, I could close as quick as anyone.

"But you just have to believe in your own strengths at that stage. I knew I was good enough for that last 200m, just trusted my own race plan. I felt good, especially the last 200m, and you know when you're passing guys the likes of Jeff Riseley (the Australia who finished fourth) you know you're in good shape, so I'm just delighted it went to plan.

“We’d been up in Uberlandia the last two weeks, training in the sun every day, and that went very well. I was practising the early morning racing too, treating that heat as a final. I knew I’d have to, ranked fourth, with the top three to qualify.”

English will now go into Saturday evening's semi-finals looking to go better again, given only the top two are assured qualification for Monday's final (along with the two fastest losers): all the big guns made it safely through as well, including defending champion David Rudisha from Kenya.

“There were nerves, definitely,” added English. “It was a little easier given it wasn’t a full stadium, but I kept telling myself this is the Olympics, I wanted that adrenaline rush.

“It’s about recovering now as much as I can, before tomorrow night, then run my own race again, and do what I’ve got to do to run 1:44. I’d day it will take that to make the final. It’s only top two, for sure, but it will take a little bit of luck too, and I got that today. But I want to go out and leave it all on the track.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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