Mark English first of the Irish track athletes in action

Mark English will be the first Irish athlete to take to the track in the Olympic Stadium this afternoon, the 23-year-old getting his campaign under way in the sixth heat of the men’s 800m at 2:55pm Irish time.

English, who has been blighted by injuries for much of the year, is ranked fourth out of eight competitors based on his season’s best of 1:45.36, but will need to finish in the top three to advance automatically to tomorrow night’s semi-final.

“All I can do is focus on producing the best version of myself,” he said. “The rounds are going to be extremely tough but I would like to make it through the heats and give it a good lash in the semi-final. The 800m is extremely tough this year. It’s more competitive than it was in 2015.” English, who finished 10th at the World Championships in Beijing last year, missed out on the 2012 Games after only securing the B standard for 800m, so will make his Olympic debut when he takes to the track this afternoon. “I certainly wanted to be out there in 2012 and I knew I could be competitive because there were guys who made that semi-final who I had been beaten,” he said. “But it made me hungry. If I made London, who knows where my motivation would have been at that young age? It kept me striving for Rio.” The UCD medical student took time out from his studies earlir this year, halving his academic workload in a bid to reach peak form in time for the Games, but he has faced a race against time to recover his fitness after suffering a stress fracture in his metatarsal in March. However, he returned to form on his most recent outing in London, running 1:45.36, a repeat of which should be enough to see him through to the semi-final.

Ciara Mageean is another set to make her Olympic debut today, the 24-year-old toeing the line in the first heat of the women’s 1500m at 12:30am tonight. The Portaferry native reports she has progressed well since winning the European 1500m bronze medal in Amsterdam last month.

“Training has been good and everything has been tipping over nicely, so I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” she said. “With every session you get stronger and every race you get stronger. The Europeans brought me on.” Mageean is ranked 10th of the 14 competitors in her heat based on season’s bests – her fastest time this year is a relatively modest 4:08.05 – but she if she runs to her ability, she should finish in the top six and secure one of the automatic qualifying spots for Sunday night’s semi-final.

“I’ll treat each race as a final, every race like it’s my last race at the Games,” she said. “Most people think you’ll just go straight there and do it, but to make the final of an Olympic Games is a big task. I’ll give it my all to get there. I hope to walk off the track happy. That’s all I can hope for, to give a good measure of myself.”

Alex Wright will be the third and final Irish competitor in action on the first day of the athletics progamme. The Leevale athlete will take to the roads near Pontal Island on Rio’s southern coast for the 20km race walk at 6:30pm Irish time today.

Fionnuala McCormack has decided to bypass the women’s 10,000m final this afternoon in favour of the marathon on Sunday morning, where she will be joined by teammates Lizzie Lee and Breege Connolly.

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