Less than two weeks out from the World Championships in London, this was always going to be a fact-finding mission for Ciara Mageean, Mark English, Brian Gregan, and Thomas Barr, and though each of them faced a test of differing degrees of difficulty, they all passed with flying colours.
None was more impressive at the Irish Life Health National Senior Championships in Santry yesterday than English, who had struggled with injury problems in recent weeks but proved once again the permanency of his class, showing off an ample range of gears to sprint away from his rivals in the men’s 800m and win in 1:50.89, the overall time less relevant than a scorching 25-second last 200m.
“To close like that is the territory you need to be in going to a world championships,” he said.
“I’ve had an injury all season, then I strained my quad before the London Diamond League so it hasn’t been perfect, but I just have to manage it as best I can.”
English was eliminated in the semi-final at the last world championships in Beijing, and after finding his speed again at the right time, that should prove the very least of his ambitions in London.
“These are the closest to home the world championships will ever be so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“It’s nice for me to get to run in the Olympic Stadium after missing the Olympics five years ago. I’ll try get as sharp as I can these last two weeks, which I’ll need to be to get through that first round.”
Brian Gregan was equally dominant, and though his mind was only fixed on taking gold, he managed to also raise several eyebrows with his winning time of 45.74. “I went out aiming to win and to cruise a 45.7 means I’m in better shape than I thought,” he said. “It felt very relaxed.”
Gregan came home well clear of Andrew Mellon, who was second in 47.44, and it was a run that convinced the Dubliner that a sub-45-second clocking may be on the cards in London. “That was the easiest 45.7 I’ve ever run,” he said.
“I haven’t tapered for a race yet properly, so now I’ll taper for a week and the goal in London is simple: Running fast.”
Ciara Mageean endured a much closer battle in her bid to take the 800m title, having to dig deep over the final yards to hold off the challenge of Claire Mooney, who was second in 2:04.23 to Mageean’s 2:04.06.
Much of that, however, could be attributed to an over-zealous start to the race from Mageean, who passed 200m in under 28 seconds and hit 400m in 58. “Standard me,” she said after. “It was a good hard race and I made it harder for myself the way I went out, but I’m happy to have a weekend’s racing in the bag.”
She will compete over 1500m in London, and will be keen to improve upon her showing at the Rio Olympics, where she was eliminated in the semi-final. “I’m feeling confident,” she said. “This season is the best season’s racing I’ve had in a long time. To start my season with a 4:04 1500m and a 4:22 mile, I’ve really been coming from strength to strength. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do in London.”
One athlete whose weekend did not go to plan, however, was racewalker Alex Wright, who was disqualified in the men’s 10,000m race walk after three cautions for lifting.
The Leevale man was left questioning his decision to cut short a warm-weather training camp in Spain — where he had been with fellow London-bound athletes Brendan Boyce and Rob Heffernan — to compete at the national championships. He was forced to step off the track at 8K, a less than ideal way to prepare for his tilt at London.
“I haven’t been DQ’d in over a year now and have barely got any cards in races internationally this year, so this is disappointing,” he said. “I came here from my training camp to do this and support the event so it’s annoying.”
Wright, however, was adamant that little needs to change ahead of the world championships, where he will compete over 20km. “Training has been brilliant and very strong,” he said.
“It’s just a little knock but I’m sure I’ll be fine in London. I’m definitely capable of the top 16, given the way I’ve raced all year. I want to go out there and continue my good form.”
Elsewhere, Amy Foster impressed when winning the 100m title, her sixth, in 11.43, just shy of her PB and national record of 11.40. Emma Mitchell of Queen’s University unleashed a flying finish to win the women’s 1500m in 4:31.55, adding to the 5000m title she won in even more convincing fashion on Saturday. Sean Tobin of Clonmel was fastest in the men’s event, taking victory in 3:53.90 in a race that boiled down to a last-lap burn-up.
Cliodhna Manning shocked everyone, including herself, to win the women’s 400m in 53.25, coming home well clear of Sinead Denny in what was a new event for the Kilkenny City Harrier. Gerard O’Donnell of Carrick-on-Shannon clocked 13.94 to win the men’s 110m hurdles, while UCD’s Sarah Lavin took the women’s 100m hurdles in 13.62. Adam McMullen continued his dominance in the men’s long jump, soaring out to 7.74m to take gold ahead of Colm Bourke (7.46m).
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