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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Athletics: Why the Irish 800m record is always on Mark English's mind

A second place for 800m runner Mark English, pictured here with the Dr.Tony ONeill Sports Person of the Year Award, helped the Irish to sixth place – their best ever – at the European Team Championships League 1 in Heraklion, Greece over the weekend
A second place for 800m runner Mark English, pictured here with the Dr.Tony ONeill Sports Person of the Year Award, helped the Irish to sixth place – their best ever – at the European Team Championships League 1 in Heraklion, Greece over the weekend

One set of numbers never too far from Mark English’s mind is the 1 mins 44.82 secs run by David Matthews twenty years ago.

That figure remains the Irish 800m record – and two years ago, English came within three-hundredths of the seconds of breaking it when he ran 1:44.84 in London.

“Yes, it’s always on my mind and I’d love to break the record, if only to stop the slagging!” says the UCD medical student. 

For that to happen, conditions have to be right –  the weather,  the track and the nature of the race can all play their part. 

“The 800m can be unpredictable and that’s why I love it. It’s not like the  400m, where if you run consistently under 45 secs, you know you’re going to make semi-finals and probably finals. In the 800m, things can go wrong and the favourites don’t always win – look at last year’s European Championships in Zurich for instance.”

In Zurich, France’s Pierre Ambroise Boss was the favourite to win, but went out too hard, blew up and finished last. English, who had made the final only as a fastest loser,  ran a smart race to finish third behind the Polish pair of Adam Kszczot and Artur Kuciapski. His time of 1:45.03, equalled his season’s best.

Tracks likely to  produce fast times include Monaco, Zurich, Rieti and London. “They’re all Mondo tracks which are good for fast times. I’ll be running in Monaco so we’ll see what happens there.”

First up is next Tuesday’s Cork City Sports, which English will use as a final blow out before the European U23 Championships, starting on July 9 in Tallin, Estonia.

Although currently ranked third U23 in Europe, he’s playing down his chances of a medal. Ranked ahead of him are Artur Kuciapski, the Pole who took silver ahead of him in Zurich, and Sweden’s Andreas Almgren.  The three are well matched for times,  all of them running under 1 min 46  secs this season so far.

After that comes Monaco on July 17, the Morton Games a week later, the Glo Health National Championships on August 8/9 and then the World Championships in China. So far, only English and 400m hurdler Thomas Barr have qualified for the World Championships.

There’s also a chance of the Irish 4x400m  team making it.  With English as anchor, the team ran 3:05.07 at the European Team Championships in Greece a few weeks ago.

“We  have to finish in the top 12 in the world and we know a time of 3 mins 3 secs would probably do it. Brian Gregan was not at his best in Greece and he can run a lot faster, so we’ll see.”

One thing is certain: despite his slim build, English has no plans to move up to the 1500m. “It’s not all about size you know!”

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