Wednesday 26 June 2019

Hills are alive with athletics potential

Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

What are they putting in the water up in Donegal?

Last Sunday in the Belgian town of Oordegem, Letterkenny's Mark English set a new Irish junior 800m record of 1:45.77. English has long been regarded as one of the country's most promising athletes but this was an extraordinary step forward. To put it into context, it's just outside the Olympic 'A' qualifying time of 1.45.60.

The last Olympic final was won in 1.44.65. Yet English is still under 19. You have to go back to 2001 to find a faster time by a European junior over this distance. The junior in question was future Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy. This was one of the greatest ever runs by a young Irish athlete. His performance puts English into the world junior top six alongside a host of phenomenally talented Ethiopians and Kenyans, among them Mohamed Aman of the former nation who is a medal favourite for London.

You'd be excused for thinking that a talent like this only comes along once in a generation. But on the same day as English was burning it up in Belgium, Donegal town's Karl Griffin was beating the Letterkenny lad's national youth record with a time of 1.49.63 out in Greystones. Griffin turns 17 this week and last year ran the second fastest time in the world by an under 16. His new record is better than any European athlete managed last year and will probably be the 2012 best unless he betters it himself.

Given that he's so close to the 'A' standard, it makes sense to send English to London given that, on current form, he'll be a medal contender in major championships sooner rather than later. For the moment, however, his target will be next month's World Juniors in Barcelona where he might have to make the 'A' standard anyway to emulate Ciara Mageean and win a medal against the awesome young Africans.

English and Griffin aren't the only rising middle-distance stars in Donegal. Another Letterkenny runner Ruairi Finnegan won the 1,500m at last year's European Youth Olympics while his clubmate Darren McBrearty was just a whisker away from making the final of last year's European senior indoor championships 800m while still in his teens.

They're building their own Kenya in the hills of Donegal.

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