Looking forward to a bright future on several fronts
Niggle-free and with his ticket to Rio booked, Mark English is optimistic about 2016
Ireland's top athlete Mark English was at a race meeting in Dusseldorf recently where he sat around with other clean athletes and openly discussed the runners they believed to be cheating.
The progress some of them have made raised eyebrows and made English and company sceptical about how they achieved such rapid improvements. But chats like that one give English faith that his sport is now beginning to acknowledge and vilify the cheaters in their midst.
"It's got to the stage where the dirty athletes are snubbed at championships. People don't say hello or talk to them, that's how bad it's gotten. But you can't blame us," explains English.
The Olympics are just six months away and English is very much focused on himself. He can't go into the biggest race of his life, the day he's been dreaming of since he started running, thinking about those who aren't clean.
"If I were to go into the Olympics with the mindset that everybody out there is cheating . . . it would be hard to get motivated thinking like that. If I want to go out and run my best I have to believe everyone I am competing against is clean, even if I am fooling myself, that's what I have to do to perform my best."
It's an interesting time for athletics in the aftermath of the drugs revelations in Russia and claims of corruption in the IAAF. And English hopes that it is the start of a better time for his sport.
"It's important that these revelations have taken place because it all goes towards protecting clean athletes. It's also frustrating to read how much cheating was taking place and how much was covered up. Seb Coe has the ultimate duty now to get into gear and do something about it. I hope he follows through and sets up an independent anti-doping body, one that will be able to test athletes in all these countries that there have been rumours about.
"That's what I'd like to see. Only by being more transparent with the testing will there be any improvements. You will never totally eradicate it from our sport, or any sport, but I think that is the best way to move towards a clean sport."
When English puts his mind to something he more often than not achieves it. As well as being an elite athlete, he is studying medicine in UCD. Splitting his year in two to have maximum preparation time for Rio, he didn't want to sideline his studies completely because he feels that having something to engage in aside from running is extremely beneficial. So for the foreseeable future he will do both.
"Everyone is different but for me it's very important to have something to take my mind off athletics.
"I think if I were just training full-time I would get caught up thinking about it all the time and even the smallest niggle would get me down. It's just healthy I think to have something else to focus on."
English can regularly be found running around the pitches and trails in UCD. He does his track sessions in Santry and some of his strength and conditioning at the new National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. English likes to train alone as it suits his personality and enables his goals.
"I know what I have to do and I'm motivated. It hasn't hampered my progress in any way. I like doing my own thing and I feel that when you train with someone else you are kind of forced into doing the coverage that they want and you have to make compromises. I feel by doing it myself I can totally individualise it and do training that will suit me down to the ground.
"I trained on my own for my most successful season when I won the European bronze medal. I trained in groups when I was younger with Teresa McDaid and Darren McBrearty; it was fun but I also think there are a lot of advantages to training on your own."
It's the first time in a long time that English has had no niggles and his form is testament to that. He recently won the 500 metres at the Galan Indoor meeting in Sweden, clocking an Irish record of 1:00.93.
He ran the 800 metres qualification time for Rio last summer so the pressure is off. For the next few months he plans to do some foundation training, to build up an aerobic base again and start racing outdoors around May and June. The European Championships are on in July and then it will be full steam ahead for the Olympic Games.
English would like to make the 800 metre final in Rio and thinks he is capable of it, but he's not going to put too much pressure on himself. If he can walk away from the Games having done his absolute best he will be happy. And it's hard not to believe with English that the best is yet to come.
Mark English is supported by the Sky Academy Sports Scholarship scheme, helping young athletes fulfil their potential on the international stage and achieve their goals for Rio 2016: skysports.com/scholarship
Sunday Indo Sport