With a thoroughly composed, classy and confident display, the 29-year-old Donegal native won a brilliant bronze medal in the European 800m final tonight, clocking 1:45.19 to finish third.
With a thoroughly composed, classy and confident display, the 29-year-old Donegal native won a brilliant bronze medal in the European 800m final tonight, clocking 1:45.19 to finish third. It was a measure of his performance that it took two current world champions to beat him, with world indoor champion Mariano Garcia of Spain taking gold in 1:44.85 and world 1500m champion Jake Wightman of Britain second in 1:44.91.
English ran with absolute authority from the outset, positioning himself towards the front and passing 200m just behind the leaders in third. He moved up to second by halfway, reached in 52.06 seconds, and from there he hugged the inside rail throughout, saving energy to conserve it all for a home-straight battle.
While English couldn’t quite summon an extra gear to edge past Garcia and Wightman, his effort brought him home to a brilliant bronze, his first at a major outdoor championship since finishing third at the 2014 Europeans in Zurich – when he was just 21.
“It’s just relief, I definitely felt a lot of pressure to medal because I know I was probably expected from a lot of people,” he said. “I definitely felt that weight so it is nice to have it off my shoulders now.”
What was he thinking up that home straight?
“Hold on for dear life,” he said. “I couldn’t catch the two anyway. There was nothing I could do about that so I just had to hold on the best I could. I just kept looking at the screen. I could see no one was making moves to keep up with me and I was really happy with that.”
This latest feat adds significantly to English’s legacy, making the first Irishman in history to win medals at multiple European Championships. In addition, English has won silver and bronze at the European Indoor Championships.
At times over the years, English has struggled at major events, getting knocked out in his heat at last year’s Olympics when so many believed – himself included – that he can be a finalist at that level.
Did he ever think he’d make it back to a European podium? “I never doubted it,” he said. “That’s the thing about 800m. It’s up and down. Sometimes you’ll be on form, and it’s just about being thankful and grateful for all the support you get along the way. I’ve had a lot of people who stuck by me, my family have been rocks, my girlfriend, my training group, those close to me. That’s been brilliant to have.”
English, who works full-time as a doctor for much of the year, has appeared revitalised over the past year after linking up with his old mentor Feidhlim Kelly, who coaches him as part of his Dublin Track Club training group. The Finn Valley athlete clocked a national record of 1:44.71 last summer and at this year’s World Championships, he narrowly missed the 800m final, finishing 10th.
Looking ahead to next year’s World Championships and the 2024 Paris Olympics, English knows he can be a contender at global level after the year he’s had.
“Leading into the year I have done absolutely everything right,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Even after the Worlds I didn’t party, I just got the head down, got training for this. As soon as I took time off in the hospital in May and June I just have been 100 per cent focused on my athletics. I wanted to come here and get silverware and I have done that and I’m really happy.”
Elsewhere, Sarah Lavin had a night to remember in the 100m hurdles, even if the end result – fifth in the final in 12.86 – wasn’t quite everything she’d hoped for. Earlier in the night Lavin had smashed her PB of 12.84 when clocking 12.79 to finish third in her semi-final, advancing as a time qualifier. Gold in the final went to Poland’s Pia Skrzyszowska in 12.53, with Lavin finishing just 0.12 outside the medals – close enough to wonder what might have been.
“I have to be so proud to come to a championship and go quicker than before,” she said. “I clearly wanted to go faster in that final and to know a medal was within my capabilities tonight and just not to put it out there, does hurt. Yet I've come so far in 12 months and I have to be so appreciative.
“The last time I was at a European Championships was 2014 where it almost broke me. That was eight years ago and I finished dead last in my heat. I've overcome so many different things since then and tonight was a performance up there at the best in Europe.
"I will keep going and I hope if there's any young kid watching or struggling at the moment, coming through that junior to senior transition, that they keep going. Because I'm going to get what I want.”
In the men’s 10,000m, there was an outstanding performance from Efrem Gidey, who finished sixth in a PB of 27:59.22, a race won by Yemaneberhan Crippa in 27:46.13. Gidey, still just 21, had come to Ireland as an asylum seeker in 2017, having fled Eritrea in 2016 and he then spent six months at the refugee camp in Calais before arriving in Dublin.
In 2019, under the guidance of coach Joe Cooper, he won a bronze medal at U-20 level at the European Cross Country in Lisbon, with Cooper passing away just a year after that.
Gidey endured a rough time in 2021 but this run – against the best in Europe – marks a highpoint in his career. His teammate Hiko Tonosa was also in contention for a top-10 finish through much of the race, but faded over the final kilometre and came home 18th in 28:38.82.