Monday 20 January 2020

English joins Irish greats with surge to Euro bronze

Cliona Foley

LAID-BACK Donegal medical student Mark English proved why he's the new great hope of Irish middle distance running with a brilliant dash down the home straight to take European 800m bronze in Zurich last night.

The lanky 21-year-old may, in time, regret getting overtaken for silver in the final strides but he was immediately delighted at finally showcasing his talents on the European stage.

"It's nice not to be known as a time triallist anymore, that I can actually medal!" he said with a broad smile. "That's a big step forward for me."

A top half-miler needs ice in his veins and a smart brain to know when to pounce, and English showed both in last night's thrilling final

The young man who worshipped Seb Coe in his youth displayed clarity and insight again afterwards, recalling: "Usually it (the last bend) is all a haze, but here it just seemed so clear, I could see it all.

"I could see Bosse, Lewandowski, and Kszczot. I knew (the winner) Kszczot was gone, I wasn't going to catch him, but I could see Lewandowski faltering, and after that it was just get to the line as quick as you can."

The rising UCD star, a product of Letterkenny AC, sat in the pack until 200m to go and swiftly moved up from sixth place off the penultimate bend to put himself in the perfect position to drop the hammer in the final straight.

Relaxed

"I felt so relaxed," he revealed. "I was talking to the guy in the taxi the whole way out, just didn't feel any pressure at all.

"I always run my best like that, just relaxed and carefree, and running my own race, according to how I feel, not just going out and sticking to a rigid plan.

"I had beaten the two Polish guys in New York a few weeks ago and (knew that), if I ran a conservative first lap, and see what I had left over the last 200m, I'd have a good chance again. That's exactly what I did!"

It wasn't quite that easy. Poland's Adam Kszczot, a two-time European indoor champion, had to produce a season best 1:44.15 to take gold.

His team-mate Kuciapski ran a personal best of 1:44:89 to pip English for silver, and the Irishman produced a 1:45:03 season's best himself.

Both Poles had long departed the track by the time English had finished his lengthy lap of honour, stopping to hug his sisters Joanne and Michelle and posing for 'selfies' with fans, milking it for all he was worth.

That was at odds with his usual low-key demeanour, but behind English's languid personality there is a sharp intellect that studies his opponents forensically.

When the smoke had cleared, big pre-race favourite Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, who took them through 400m in 50:97, finished last, and 2010 champion Marcin Lewandowski was only fifth.

English is only the seventh Irish athlete to win a European track medal.

Only four men had done it before - Ronnie Delany (1958), Frank Murphy (1969), Eamonn Coghlan (1978) and Mark Carroll (1998) - and Derval O'Rourke's silvers in 2006 and 2010 were the latest of the previous 11, of which Sonia O'Sullivan won five.

English has long been expected to join their vaunted company, especially after finishing fifth in the World Juniors in 2012, when he famously wasn't brought to the London Olympics.

Last night he got his chance and took it brilliantly.

His bronze finally brought some joy for Ireland after earlier seeing World 50km champion Rob Heffernan drop out of his event just before the 40km mark.

He paid the price for racing to win gold again, rather than settling for a Maminor medal, in what turned out to be the fastest 50km walk in history.

After drifting from third out to sixth place, and finding himself over five minutes adrift, Heffernan, surprisingly, quit. It was an untypical decision that will haunt the Togher man for years but he admitted frankly afterwards that he just didn't have the stomach for the fight when fellow-36-year-old veteran Yohann Diniz set a new world-record of 3:32:33 to win his historic third European 50km title in-a-row - smashing the eight-ear-old record by nearly two minutes.

Heffernan looked a shadow of his feisty self afterwards and admitted he had let his head get the better of his body. When he realised that gold was beyond him he lost the will to continue.

Donegal Olympian Brendan Boyce (27) was 19 minutes behind him, but still knocked over three minutes off his lifetime best as he finished 16th in 3:51:34.

Diniz's time was also a full five minutes faster than Heffernan's personal best (3:37:54) from the London Olympics and, even if he had matched that he would still have finished fourth.

Broke

"I feel as if I was beaten up, it broke my spirit, broke me mentally," he confessed. "It was like all the control was taken away from me and I didn't want third, even when I was third."

At half-way Heffernan was only 71 seconds off the leading pair but, 10km later, he was two and a half minutes adrift and suffered a serious psychological meltdown.

That gap increased to over four minutes when he pulled up at the drinks tables around 36km, only for his wife and coach Marian to scream at him to keep going.

"'Get on the road! she says, 'you're to finish!'," he revealed. "I went again but there was just nothing happening."

Irish Independent

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