Mark English went in to the European Indoor Championships in Prague as Ireland’s main medal hope and he proved he could handle the pressure by delivering a silver medal in the 800m in 1:47.20.
“I think this championships proved that I can medal under pressure,” confirmed the 21-year-old who went one better than his bronze medal at the European outdoor championships.
“In Zurich I wasn’t under much pressure to medal. It’s nice to know now going into Beijing (world championships in August) when there is that bit of expectation that I will perform.
“Ireland’s a small country and we aren’t going to produce as many athletes as Great Britain and there’s always going to be that bit of expectation with a chance of getting a medal . I’m delighted with the result.”
Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski was the hot favourite going into the final with a season’s best of 1:45.78 and looked supreme in qualifying. “He was always the man to beat,” admitted the UCD student who at one point in the opening 400m looked that he may not have the strength to back up three races in three days.
“I was worried that you were worried,” joked English as to whether he had any doubts in the opening two laps in the O2 arena. “I knew at 400m I had to stay in contention. I just had to bide my time. I kind of had this, and I don’t know where it came from, well of energy over the last 150m and it was just there.”
Lewandowski was in control at the bell for the final lap and was on course for victory in 1:46.67. There was a lot work still left to do for English and along came his surge which pushed him past Sweden’s Andreas Almgren and on to Thijmen Kuper’s (Netherlands) shoulder on the final curve.
Around he came using the undulation to edge Kupers at the finish for a fine silver – the Dutchman having to settle for bronze in 1:47.25.
“Part of it is from the training I’ve been doing working on speed, acceleration and endurance,” explained the silver medallist. “All those boys overcooked it this season and I think I came in at the right time.”
Nic Bideau took over the coaching reins in September and the Australian has challenged English to become a better athlete and fulfil his undoubted potential.
Bideau, husband of Sonia O’Sullivan, has had a major influence on Irish athletics in the last few years.
“I like the pressure” he commented from Australia when asked about the pressure to produce results after English’s performance.
His proven track record is rubbing off on the Letterkenny man who has delivered at his last two major championships.
Bideau is conscious that bigger challenges await to become world class and admitted, “He (English) has to get much better.”
English was Ireland’s only medal hope of the championships but there was still some solid performances by the team. John Travers made his first major final in the 1500m running a personal best of 3:41.37 in the heats.
He backed up his performance with a 7th place finish (3:41.50) in the race of the championships. Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa produced a national record to edge the gold on the line in 3:37.68. Turkey’s Ilham Ozbilen had to settle for silver in 3:37.74 with Great Britain’s Chris O’Hare third in 3:38.96.
Ireland’s 4x400m relay team (Dara Kervick, Timmy Crowe, Harry Purcell and Brandon Arrey) rounded out the last action of the championships and put up a spirited effort but had to settle for 6th in 3:10.61.
Belgium won in a European record of 3:02.87 with the help of the Borlee brothers: Dylan, Jonathan and Kevin.
France’s Renaud Lavillenie was one of the stars of the championships and he took three attempts at the world pole vault record of 6.17m. He came up short but cleared an impressive 6.04m championship record for his fourth European indoor title.
Pavel Maslak gave the Czech’s their first gold medal on Saturday in the men’s 400m and delivered on his favourite tag winning by a clear margin in 45.33.
For the Irish it was always about Mark English and he moved from man of bronze to man of silver.
The next challenge is to produce a golden moment.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved