Rio Olympics

Mark English gets underway at Rio Olympics

Letterkenny 800m runner Mark English is the first Irish competitor into the action as the athletics begins in Rio today
Malcom McCausland

Well it has finally arrived. No more sleeps! The months, even years, of anticipation are over. The athletics kicks off at the Olympics in Rio today and a number of Irish athletes make an early debut in the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange.

Named after the man who was president of FIFA from 1974 – 1998, it is a multi-use stadium located in the neighbourhood of Engenho de Dentro and is the home ground of the football club Botafogo.

Mark English will be the first Irish athlete to come under starter’s orders when he lines up for the first round heats of the 800m this afternoon. The Letterkenny man is drawn in a tricky sixth heat of seven with probably only the first two guaranteed advancement to the semi-finals.

The UCD student missed three crucial months of training this spring after breaking a bone in his foot. But he looked to be getting back to his best with a 1:45.36s clocking in July’s Diamond League fixture in London at the end of July.

The race will not be a dawdle for English by any means with him only ranked fifth on times this season of the eight competitors. Only Pol Moya of Andorra looks out of his depth in the field.

English is drawn in lane one and comes up against long-term rival Marcel Lewandowski from Poland who can always be relied on to run a sound tactical race. The inside lane should not pose any problems for the Donegal man who will probably drop to the back of the lead pack before making a strong run from 300 metres out.

Canada’s Brandon McBride is the fastest man in the heat with a 1:43.95s mark he recorded in finishing second at the NCAAs in the United States. Australia’s Jeff Riseley (1:45.13s) and Qatari 19-year-old Abubaker Haydar Abdalla (1:45.28s) also boast better times this year while Morocco’s Abdelati El Guesse (1:45.78s) and Ghanian Alex Amankwah (1:45.91s) are no slouches either.

Fionnuala McCormack is next up for the Irish in the final of the women’s 10,000m where it looks to be a straight shoot-out between the Ethiopians and the Kenyans, with Almaz Ayana and Vivian Cheruiyot the main respective protagonists.

McCormack ran well to take fourth in the Europeans at the distance but will probably be focussing more on the marathon this Sunday morning. It is not clear why she has chosen to do both. A top 10 place would be a huge success for her.

Alex Wright and former World 50K champion Rob Heffernan carry the flag for Ireland in this evening’s 20K Walk. Wright, who formerly represented Britain, has improved significantly since his switch of nationality but expect the Chinese, in particular Zhen Wang, to be in a class of their own.

Highlight of the day, if you stay up late, should be the entrance of the Star of the County Down Ciara Mageean who is down to run the opening round heats of the 1500m. The Portaferry woman goes in the opening race of three, where only World record holder Genzeba Dibaba and the United States’ Brenda Martinez stand out. No less than 14 athletes line up meaning that it could be a bruising affair if the early pace is slow. No matter how it is run, the UCD student has the artillery to see her through and make up for the disappointment of missing London four years ago.

The only other final today is the women’s shot putt where New Zealand’s Valerie Adams is expected to defend the title she won in London although China’s Lijiao Gong has thrown further than the Kiwi this year.


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Rio Olympics