Sunday 4 December 2016

Mark English: Hopefully we get the resources to catch the drugs cheats

The Berkeley tragedy has changed Mark English's perspective on life, writes Marie Crowe, but he is as dedicated as ever to running and the ideal of a clean sport

Published 20/08/2015 | 02:30

European Indoor silver medallist Mark English has joined the Sky Academy Sports Scholarships programme MORGAN TREACY/INPHO
European Indoor silver medallist Mark English has joined the Sky Academy Sports Scholarships programme MORGAN TREACY/INPHO

When Mark English walks into the Santry Crowne Plaza Hotel, heads turn. Dressed from head to toe in sports gear he looks every inch the world-class athlete. From his tall, lean physique to his healthy glow and spiky black hair, the 22-year-old epitomises fitness and health. But of course he's not just fit and healthy, he's talented and determined and shockingly dedicated to the sport of athletics.

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In just a few days he will take to the track at the World Championships in Beijing. He will line up beside the world's elite 800-metre runners and they will be wary of him. He's not just there to compete, he's there to make his mark and to the likes of David Rudisha, Nijel Amos, Pierre Ambroise Bosse and Adam Kszczoa he's a viable threat.

"I think they think I have a lot of potential - they don't know what form I'm in," says English.

"Given my age, they are probably aware that I can run that bit faster so they are always cautious. It's a nice position to be in, to be a bit of an unknown quantity; it's nice that they have that of respect for you. We all look up to them as well but we would all love to beat them."

It's obvious from talking to English that he is a deep thinker. He wants to learn all the time. From biomechanics to all aspects of sports science there is no stone he will leave unturned when it comes to his running.

Disappointing

This season has been far from straightforward for English, a spell of poor form has frustrated the Donegal athlete. In the final of the 800m at the European U23 Championships in Tallinn he had to settle for eighth place, a disappointing outcome given the targets he sets for himself.

However English knew that he wasn't right but didn't feel like there was anything majorly wrong with him either.

"I was experiencing a bit of sciatica pain," he explains.

"But I knew that it wasn't going enough of a reason for me to perform as badly as I was."

It turned out the medical student was right - he had a tight abductor and that was pulling his hip inwards and blocking one of the main arteries going to his leg. He only had 75 per cent blood flow in that right leg, meaning that it wasn't getting enough oxygen so he was cramping much sooner.

"I felt I'd ran 700 metres up to 400 metres so it all made sense; then it was just about freeing up that pathway and making sure I got blood flow back to the leg. Since I've done that and worked on the hip area as well I feel much better now."

The knock-on effect of being hampered by this injury is that he won't be able to work on his strength and stabilisation work for the Rio Olympic Games.

Instead he is working on his nerve pathways and elasticity so that he can run free. He takes solace in the fact that he has the Olympic time in the bag - from running 1:45.49 at the Anniversary Games last month - so he can now focus on peaking for the Games rather than chasing a time.

English has the small matter of his medical studies to juggle with his athletics career.

He's heading for year four in UCD in September and if you consider that he has won two European 800m medals, finishing third in the outdoors last year and second in this year's indoors, it's safe to say that he managing both quite well.

But 2016 is Olympic year so all bets are off, especially for someone like English who is hell bent on making a semi-final at the very least.

He hopes to take some time out in the second semester so that he can focus fully on preparing for the career milestone.

His class in UCD is a close one. They were bonded further back in June when two of his class-mates, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, died in the balcony collapse in Berkeley.

That tragedy stopped English in his tracks and made him think about what's important in life.

"It definitely changed my perspective. This time last year I would have been having conversations with these people and I'd never have thought a year later that their whole lives and dreams would be taken away. It makes you think twice about your own worries."

Jack McCaffrey is also in his class and the Dublin footballer is someone that English would like to race over 100m. Although the race was proposed on Twitter and McCaffrey said he would pick his battles more wisely, English reckons once their seasons are over the race will happen.

The recent revelations about drug use in athletics came as no surprise to English. It just confirmed his suspicions and now he hopes that change will come.

"It's good that we are identifying problems and that there are steps going to be hopefully taken by the powers that be to police this biological passport and hopefully resources will be made available to catch the drug cheats," he says.

"At the end of the day nobody wants to see people drugged up to their eyeballs on whatever it is that they are taking. Is that even fun to watch?

"If I was tuning in to watch the London Marathon or a certain endurance event, I'd want to believe that these guys are really hurting; you want to see it on their faces. You don't want to watch robots who are going flat out and not really hitting any sort of a wall; it's not really enjoyable to watch.

"I think everyone is striving for clean sport. From an athlete's point of view, you don't want to be done out of appearance fees and places in the Diamond League races and things like that and that is why it is frustrating for clean athletes like myself.

"I hope that steps would be taken to eradicate them from the sport, I am never going to be able to name people but you would always have your suspicions."

On the circuit English regularly talks to his fellow athletes about how to clean up the sport. It's the athletes who stay quiet that he wonders about, and also the ones who make unnatural progress.

Progression

"You can tell, you know, you look at progression. If a guy makes a huge jump from one year to the next after being stagnant at a certain time for the previous three or four years that would raise eyebrows; it would never mean that they are doping but it would raise eyebrows."

English has faith in the system. He thinks that if other countries adopted Ireland's strict testing policy that it would be a good place to start in the battle for clean sport. On that note English has to leave, for training of course because for him that's part of living.

Mark English is part of the Sky Academy Sports Scholarships programme, which helps young sporting talent to fulfil their potential on the international stage through funding, media coaching and mentoring

Irish Independent

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