BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ON the bus from the Ichan Stadium in New York after the Diamond League meet last Saturday, athletes were shooting the breeze.
American Duane Solomon finished fourth in the 800m at the London Olympics two years ago and Marcin Lewandowski is the reigning European champion. Around the two of them in the final 200m came the man in the orange singlet out of lane four.
“I heard Solomon talking on the bus: ‘I don’t know who that guy was!’ Mark English overheard Solomon observe, “and I’m there: ‘Yeah, some Irish guy!’”
English was second only to David Rudisha, the Kenyan who was a sensation at the 2012 Olympics.
The two had met previously when Rudisha visited DCU during English’s time as a student in the north Dublin college.
English, now a medicine student at UCD, said: “He didn’t recognise me and I let on I didn’t remember him there either!
“He’s a nice guy, very quiet and I think he was a bit more cautious this time. I don’t think he knew I’d finished behind him. I think Solomon, the guy I beat was more shocked.”
English played Gaelic football with Letterkenny Gaels as a youngster, but the track was always his calling.
He said: “I just respond to competition very well. If you put me in there with somebody those GAA instincts that I used to have when I was younger just kick in.”
As he crossed the line with just Rudisha ahead of him in a loaded race English momentarily lost himself.
“I wasn’t on the camera but when I got across the line I was cheering,” the 21-year-old said.
“When I was warming down I was chatting with Michael Rimmer and I was saying ‘Jesus I’m going to get stick for celebrating like that’, but thankfully it wasn’t caught on camera! It was very embarrassing. It was just such a relief, after the last few months, to pull one out of the bag on the big stage.
“I felt that it went well tactically. I actually thought the first lap was quicker. When I was told the splits afterwards I was a bit shocked. I knew we went through the first 200m in 25 and I didnt think we’d slowed down as much in the second 200m, it was 52 seconds. That’s very slow but I just made sure I attacked that segment of the race and knew the rest of it would follow.”
English feels his preparations for the European Track and Field Championships in Zurich are getting better by the week. His time, 1:45.03, was in line with his hopes and keeps the UCD AC athlete on his track as he steps up his bid for a medal in August.
He said: “I’m improving race-to-race this season and it isn’t often you finish five metres behind the man himself. I got a good few scalps in there as well. For me, that’s what it was about today; I didn’t even look at the clock going through at the bell. I just kept my eye on Wesley Vázquez.”
At the World Junior Championships in 2012, English finished fifth in the 800m final. Vázquez was fourth in Barcelona. Not only did English leave the Puerto Rican in his slipstream, but it was the overtaking of Duane Solomon and Marcin Lewandowski with his kick for home that stood out.
Solomon was fourth in the 2012 Olympic final and Lewandowski was the gold medal winner at the last European Championships.
With English finishing ahead of both Lewandowski and fellow-Polish athlete, Adam Kszczot, he is now regarded as medal material, but the Letterkenny man knows he has work to do.
He said: “It was nice to beat Solomon, but significant for me this season, because of the Europeans, was beating Lewandowski and Kszczot. They will be two main contenders for medals in Zurich. It’s a great confidence booster. It lets me know that I can beat them. The important thing for me now going forward is to put races back-to-back.
“It’s great to run fast times, but I think, how fresh I’m feeling after races these days is a good indication of being able to put races back-to-back. Hopefully I can do that in Zurich. That’s the key really. It’s not just about running a once-off fast time, so hopefully I can go to Zurich and put two back-to-back.”
After splitting from long-time coach, Teresa McDaid, English is on the look-out for a new coach, but the Letterkenny man won’t rush into any decision. His agent, Nic Bideau, will give his advice, but the decision will be English’s and the Donegal ace is keeping his options open.
He said: “A lot of these coaches have great sports science knowledge and backgrounds but it’s about finding the right fit for the athlete and that’s what it’s about for me. Who can I work with best, who understands me as a person? Initially you can base that on instinct but it’s going to take time as well, that’s why it’s not a simple one-trick formula where suddenly I get a coach and start running fast.”
He’ll continue to train on his own and hopes to use the Mondo track in Santry during the summer as he steps up his bid for Zurich, while keeping one eye on David Matthews’ 1:44.82 800m record, which he’s within two hundreths of a second of.
“I’m motivated enough to get the most out of myself this summer so it works out fine,” he said.
“I know it’s a strange time but you look at football, managers change mid-season all the time.
I felt that I just needed to change a few things up if I was to achieve the performances I wanted this summer.”
English is next in action at a British Milers Club (BMC) meet at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast on July 2nd before he heads for Lugano, Switzerland on July 8th. English will also compete in the 800m at the Morton Games on July 11th.
He said: “There’ll be a lot of good 1.45 guys. That’ll be another great race as I’ll probably be going in favourite and there’ll be pressure on me and being able to handle that pressure will be a good test.”
* The Morton Games takes place on Friday, July 11, and will have over 80 international athletes, including ten Olympians. Admission is €10 in and U16s free.