It is, in case you had not noticed, Olympic year, and last weekend saw three local athletes put down strong markers for the London Games, with Martyn Rooney and Lawrence Okoye both setting world-leading performances, and wheelchair racer David Weir winning the London Marathon for a record-equaling sixth time.
It was mission accomplished for Croydon Harriers Rooney and Okoye, both in early season action in Walnut, California at the Mount SAC Relays meeting, where they notched A standard qualifying marks for the Olympics, as well as getting a world No1 ranking at 400 metres and discus respectively.
Rooney ran 44.92sec, his fastest 400 since 2008, the year he finished sixth in the Beijing Olympic final and anchored the British 4x400m relay squad to fourth place. Not only is that an exceptional time so early in the season – usually, runners expect to get faster through the summer – but it also saw the 25-year-old from Thornton Heath beat top American Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist.
The performance has already delivered a lucrative race opportunity, with Rooney being booked to run at the first Diamond League meeting of the season in Doha, Qatar, on May 11, when he will be up against two Olympic champions, 400m gold medallist LaShawn Merritt and Angelo Taylor, the 400m hurdles champion in Beijing.
Okoye, 20, in only his second full season in the discus, threw a world-leading 66.67 metres. His British record, set last year, is 67.63m.
“It’s great to produce that sort of distance at this time of the year. It gives me a great base to build on, with the big competitions coming up over the next few months,” Okoye said.
Okoye launched himself on the international athletics circuit last summer when he set the British record 67.63m and won the European under-23 title. But his performances lacked consistency.
Last Friday’s victory was the third successive meeting in the United States where the Waddon giant – he is 6ft 6in tall – has thrown beyond the 60-metre mark.
“Last year I wasn’t technically ready to produce big performances week-in week-out. We’ve worked very hard over the winter to ensure that isn’t the case this year.
“I’m ready for the added pressure this year. I am the British record-holder, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think if I can produce my best in the Olympic Stadium, then anything can happen.”
Weir, the wheeler from Wallington, will be defending two track titles at the Paralympic Games in September. On Sunday, he completed the 26 miles and 385 yards of the London Marathon from Blackheath to The Mall on a blustery morning, bursting clear of the leading pack of seven to power away in the final 100 metres. His sixth victory matches the career wins of Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Weir, 32, has admitted there will be no greater year in his career, and he must deliver. Weir, who won his first London Marathon title 10 years ago, said: “Winning today feels as good as the first time. It was very tough. I tried to break from the pack after Tower Bridge with Marcel Hug, but it was too windy. Then I just had to sit in the pack and work hard for the 400m. It was a fast start, very tough, very tactical.”
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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