Martyn Rooney ensured his place among the greats in British athletics history last night when he retained his European 400 metres title in Amsterdam, and promptly stirred another row with officials over selections for the relay squads this weekend.
The Croydon Harrier had defied the British selectors by demanding the opportunity of defending the championship he won two years ago in Zurich.
Eventually, the selectors relented. But Rooney’s early season form had been so off-key that on arriving in Amsterdam, the European champion was not ranked in the top 12 for his event, and so had to run the preliminary round on Wednesday.
But come last night’s final, and Rooney proved his point emphatically, as the 6ft 6in-tall sprinter unleashed his long stride off the last bend to seize the gold medal in 45.29sec.
By winning the 400m European title for a second time, Rooney matched the achievement of Roger Black, who won golds for Britain in 1986 and 1990.
And even before Rooney had a chance to catch his breath after his race, the 29-year-old from Thornton Heath was challenging the athletics authorities again.
Asked whether he would be part of the British quartet for the 4x400m, the final of which is staged tomorrow, Rooney said, “That’s not part of the deal.”
Rooney anchored the British team to gold in Zurich in 2014, and has silver and bronze world championship relay medals. As of last night, though, he did not know whether he would be asked to race again in Amsterdam. “I was just picked for the individual 400m. But if Nick Dakin, the relay coach, wants to speak to me, I’m here.”
Dakin is Rooney’s former coach and part of the official British coaching set-up. The Croydon man has worked under the supervision of the American coach, Rana Reider, since before the 2012 Olympics. Reider was hired by British Athletics in 2012 but had his five-year contract terminated under controversial circumstances in October 2014; Rooney spoke out on behalf of Reider then and has continued to be coached by him since.
Yesterday was Reider’s birthday, and the evening session in the stadium which staged the 1928 Olympics saw him celebrating a second European championships gold for one of his athletes when the Dutchwoman, Dafne Schippers, took the 100m title in emphatic style in front of a packed and delighted stadium.
Rooney’s European victory should now guarantee him selection for the Rio Olympics next month. It will be the former John Fisher schoolboy’s third Games.
Rooney’s insistence that he should be allowed to compete in Amsterdam – effectively determining his own competitive build-up for the Olympic Games, rather than doing what the governing body’s professional staff wanted – eventually led to the British selectors choosing more than 90 athletes to compete at the European championships.
“When it comes to championships, this is where I peak and seem to do well,” Rooney said.
“This is a great opportunity for a British athlete to do well. People realise that this is a great opportunity to win medals and prepare for the Olympics.
“Credit to British Athletics for listening to the athletes and giving people the option to come here and perform.
“The Olympics might be a bit hot for me, running 43sec might be a bit out of my reach. But if I go to the Olympics and can build on this, then making the final is realistic.”
“I’m very happy. Very happy,” Rooney said. “To defend a title is great. Last time I won I was relieved, this time I’m elated.
“I’ve backed it up and fortunately a lot of other people have as well here.
“A couple more athletes have come here and picked up medals and there will be more to come. It’s great for us, going to Olympics with confidence.
“Roger Black is a good person to follow. I’ll take this – the double – because defending a title is great.”
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