By Will Downing, Prague
Mark English is through to tomorrow’s 800m final at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Prague.
The Letterkenny athlete clocked 1:50.54 in a heavily tactical semi-final at the O2 Arena in the Czech capital, in finishing second behind Britain’s Guy Learmouth.
Brice Leroy of France had led for most of the race, but found himself overtaken by English, who himself was edged out on the line for victory by Learmouth by four-hundredths of a second.
The UCD AC talent said: “You don’t get anything for winning a semi-final, so not crossing the line first doesn’t bother me. It means I can go out and try and beat him tomorrow in the final.
“I did exactly everything I wanted to, and second place is as good as first to me in a semi-final.”
Declan Murray of Clonliffe Harriers found himself involved in a much faster semi-final, and though finishing fifth, recorded a time faster than the winning marks from the other two semis.
A strung out semi started closing in on the final lap, but Murray had too much ground left to make up.
His time of 1:48.09, a season’s best, beat the other two winning times by two clear seconds.
The in-form Swede Andreas Almgren won Murray’s semi-final in 1:47.24, marginally ahead of Dutchman Thijmen Kupers.
Ciara Everard also bowed out in the semi-finals of the 800m, finishing sixth in a semi won by Selina Büchel of Switzerland in 2:01.92. Everard’s time was 2:06.14.
There will be three finals with Irish interest on the final day, with English in the 800m, a straight 4-x-400m men’s relay final including Ireland, and John Travers will have a hope of a high finish in the men’s 1500m final as the Donore Harriers athlete from Athlone IT put in a terrific display to finish third in his semi-final.
With the stakes majorly high, only the top two from each of the four semi-finals would progress to tomorrow’s final, and Travers, in finishing third behind Homiyu Tesfaye of Germany and Poland’s Artur Ostrowski, would have to wait for each of the other races to finish before learning that he had gone through as the sole fastest-loser.
His time of 3:41.37, a new personal best by over a second, in fact beat the other three winning times and was the third-fastest time of the entire round.
Travers said: “You can never give out about a personal best. I’m a little upset I didn’t get automatic qualification. It was definitely there.
“It’s a pity considering how the race panned out, but I stayed calm and didn’t panic.
“I didn’t get uptight and just ran as good as I could. This is probably my best ever performance in a Championships.”
Letterkenny’s Danny Mooney finished sixth in his semi-final in a time of 3:48.96.
In the night’s big action, Pavel Maslak brought the house down in bringing home the first Czech gold of the week, winning the men’s 400m, while Ukraine’s Natalia Pyhyda led from start-to-finish in the women’s equivalent.
Renaud Lavillenie of France won the men’s pole vault yet again with a new Championship record of 6.04m, but an attempt on his own world record of 6.16m was unsuccessful three times at 6.17.