June 25, 2018

The Strength of British Men’s 800m Running

800m Rankings

Almost two years ago, I wrote a rather naive post regarding the lack of strength and depth of British middle distance running. Looking back now, I could not have been more wrong.

It is now early June and some of the top elite runners are just opening up their 2018 season; athletes are getting in some early ‘rustbusters’ before heading onto the European circuit or further afield with Diamond League and IAAF World Challenge meetings.

Despite it only being early in the season, here in the UK, in the 800m, we have seen seven men run 1:45 this year with eight inside the European Championships qualifying time of 1:46.50. Andrew Osagie leads the rankings with his recent return to form, running 1:45.09.

This level of depth within the men’s 800m is unprecedented in recent decades. You have to go all the way back 26 years to 1992 to find a year where seven men ran under 1:46. The Power of 10 UK ranking only go so far back as 30 years, but I am sure Jon Mulkeen would be able to provide a year (if there has been one) when more than seven men ran under 1:46!

800m Rankings
U.K. Men’s 800m Rankings over 30 years

Note: I have chosen the mark of sub-1:46.00 not arbitrarily, but rather as the boundary to which marks the elite level of men’s 800m running. Coming through the junior ranks, one aims for the 2:00 mark first, then sub-1:50, then the leap into competitive, elite 800m running is marked by sub-1:46.

This resurgence in British middle distance running has not happened over night; nor is 2018 an anomaly. If you look at the list of leading 800m times and the number of athletes sub-1:46, both 2016 and 2017 were equally unprecedented as 2018. In 2016, four men ran were under 1:46, with a greater number of five in 2017. This depth has not been seen since the late 1980s/ early 1990s where Sen Coe and Peter Elliot were still leading the way.

I think it is also potent at this point to say what a force Michael Rimmer has been in pushing forward middle distance running in Britain. Out of the last twelve years, Rimmer has been the No.1 ranked British 800m runner in seven of those years; representing Britain a multitude of times; attending three Olympic Games and proving to be the most recent bastion of 800m dominance.

But now we are seeing the passing of the baton with the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics coming through. For example, Kyle Langford was still only an U17 athlete in 2012 during the Olympics when Andrew Osagie famously ran one of the fastest ever last place finishing times in an Olympic final of 1:43.77. These two athletes are now 1-2 on the UK ranking list and apart from Osagie the other six sub-1:46 are in their early twenties.

With such a young and talented cohort of runners coming through to the top end of British 800m running, they are pushing one another to challenge for the British vests at the championships. As demonstrated by Mo Farah in recent years, what matters most to many athletes is to win a medal at a major championship with running fast times not being the salient ambition.

It cannot be postulated that running fast times will win a medal at a championship given he nature of the races we tend to see when so much is at stake. Championship races have, in fact, tended to suit the likes of Kyle Langford who dramatically won Silver at the Commonwealth Games in April.

Kyle Langford
Kyle Langford a close second place in the Commonwealth Games. (Kyle Langford, Twitter)

So 2018 has already been a turning point in British 800m running. Seven men have run under the much eluded 1:46 barrier and championship medals are becoming ever more an expectation rather than a dream.  

2018 is a slightly different year to most on the athletics calendar with their being no major outdoor championships: namely an IAAF World Championships or Olympic Games. However, there was still the spectacular Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham and the upcoming European Championships in Berlin this August.

For the Brits, the European Championships will be a real opportunity to show 800m dominance to rival the best in Europe. But for the rest of the year, a lot is still to come and I believe times will only get faster and even a few more athletes could still dip beneath 1:46 by the end of the season. There is a lot to be optimistic and excited about in men’s 800m running here in Britain.

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