Mark English has potential to medal at Tokyo Olympics, says Eamonn Coghlan

Eamonn Coghlan believes Mark English has the potential to medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Mark English has potential to medal at Tokyo Olympics, says Eamonn Coghlan
Mark English was still only 20 when he recorded what is still his personal best of 1:44.84 for the 800m but he has declared an ambition to hit the 1:44 and even the 1:43 mark. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Mark English was still only 20 when he recorded what is still his personal best of 1:44.84 for the 800m but he has declared an ambition to hit the 1:44 and even the 1:43 mark. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Eamonn Coghlan believes Mark English has the potential to medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

English has made the podium three times at European level but he is now training full-time after completing a medicine degree in UCD and will hope for a clear run through to the Games after overcoming a handful of years that were badly compromised by injury.

The last of those European medals was claimed at the Indoors in Glasgow last March although his most recent appearance at a major championship was at the Worlds in Doha in September when he finished seventh in his heat just a week after being told he was to compete.

“I would still have great faith in the likes of Mark English,” said Coghlan, a world champion over 5,000m in 1983 who twice finished fourth at the Olympics. “I have known Mark since he was 11-12 years of age competing in juvenile going into junior athletics.

“I always felt, even in the last couple of years, he should have achieved more than he has but he's still only a young man and I've no doubt that if he gets his act together he can certainly medal when it comes to the Olympic Games.”

English has spoken in the last year about his determination to make the very most of his talent. He was still only 20 when he recorded what is still his personal best of 1:44.84 for the 800m but he has declared an ambition to hit the 1:44 and even the 1:43 mark.

Achieve those times and he will be in the conversation. The USA's Clayton Murphy claimed the bronze at the 2016 Olympics with a time of 1:42.93 but third at the two world championships held since, in London and Doha, has been earned with figures of 1:45.21 and 1:43.82 respectively.

At 27, English still has plenty of time on his side.

Ciara Mageean is just a year older than English and the Portaferry runner is another who Coghlan believes can go on to bigger and better things. She already has a pair of European medals to her name, the latter coming in Glasgow last year as well.

Based in Manchester, Mageean put in a superb 2019 season and she had a much better experience in Doha when posting a PB of 4:00.15 for a tenth-placed finish in a final won by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands with a championship record of 3:51.95.

“Ciara has got the right calibre,” said Coghlan. “Again, I saw her win the national indoor 1500m title up in Belfast when she was only 15 years of age. Ciara has been training out of Ireland similar to Mark all those years.

“I think now this past year that she's got a really good coach, a really good set-up with the quality of people training with her. She's regained a new confidence and I think the year out will really help her towards her Olympic dreams for next year.”

That year out will have reverberations in every event if Tokyo gets the go-ahead next summer. Coghlan saw how the sands can shift back in 1980 when, with the favourite Don Paige absent due to the USA's boycott, Seb Coe claimed the 800m title in Moscow.

The one-year postponement – as things stand – will hurt some athletes who were at or near their peak right now but it will open the door for others who would have been that bit too young or raw to reach a high enough bar for a first shot at the Olympics.

Irish 800m champion Nadia Power is among that latter cohort but there are many more on this island who could benefit from the extra time, the women's 4 x 100m relay team among them. All told, Coghlan is encouraged by the talent coming up through the ranks.

"I'd be very positive about the state of Irish athletics. We probably went through a small low, okay, and that's bound to happen. It has happened in other countries if you look at the New Zealanders who have produced great middle-distance runners.

“You look at the Finns who produced great distance runners. When you look at Great Britain even, what they produced during the Coe-Ovett-Cram era and what we achieved during my era, John Treacy's era, Frank O'Meara, Ray Flynn, who were competing at the highest level.

"It goes through cycles and we're coming out of a cycle alright now because of the broad range of talent from sprints to distance running that's available in Ireland now compared to the eighties. When I was there it was only really mainly middle- and long-distance runners who were competing at the highest level.”

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