Great Britain is Bingham's finishing line
The US-based runner pledged his allegiance to Team GB with a 400m win at the weekend. Simon Turnbull hears how hopes of a home run in 2012 draw the athlete back to his roots
Monday 27 July 2009
He was the only British winner in any of the international events on the programme of the concluding day of the Aviva London Grand Prix on Saturday – indeed, he crossed the finish line wearing a Great Britain vest – but home to Michael Bingham happens to be Winston-Salem, the North Carolina twin city that gave the world the Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Only last month the 23-year-old graduated from Wake Forest University, where Professor of American Studies is one Maya Angelou, and where Arnold Palmer, a four-times winner of the Masters, studied on a golfing scholarship.
Having gained his degree in political science and ergo economics and left the amateur American collegiate track and field system, Bingham was making his debut as a professional athlete in the 400 metres here at the south London spiritual home of British athletics. He has joined the roster of the Universal Sports Performance Management group and has Michael Johnson, the fastest one-lap runner of all time, managing him. Luckily for British athletics, he has chosen to make his way in the world as a 400m man for the land of his father.
Norris Bingham, a retired professor, lives in Nottingham. He was not among the capacity 16,000 crowd who saw his son make an instant impression in his first day at the track office but that would hardly have diminished the sense of pride as he watched the television shots of Michael leaving Angelo Taylor, the dual Olympic 400m hurdles champion from the United States, trailing in his wake as he surged to victory in 45.03sec.
It was not fast enough to elevate Bingham Jnr from 15th place in the world rankings but it was an improvement of 0.02sec on his previous best time – and the assured manner of the victory suggested that there will be more to come from the North Carolina man when, after the formality of his selection tomorrow, he gets to the World Championships in Berlin, which start a fortnight this coming Saturday, and to the London Olympics three years hence.
Asked whether the carrot of 2012 meant as much to him as "the other guys" – the British-born 400m runner in the Great Britain team, and the members of the 4x400m relay squad who could well be among the medals in Berlin and London – Bingham replied: "Oh man, absolutely." The accent was more North Carolina than East Midlands, but the young man from Krispy Kreme City insists he will be no transatlantic, two- season one-lap wonder, like Malachi Davis before him.
Davis burst on to the domestic scene in a blaze of disapproving publicity at the Olympic trials in Manchester in 2004, a British passport (for which he qualified courtesy of his London-born mother) having been delivered by Fed-Ex to his Los Angeles home just two days previously. He ran in the 400m heats at the Athens Olympics that year and in the opening round at the World Championships in Helskini in 2005 before dropping off the British radar, despite continuing to receive Lottery funding up to 2007.
Bingham has crept into the spotlight in Britain from under the radar. A bronze winner as a decathlete for the US at the Pan Am Junior Championships in 2005, he gained his British passport two years and ran for Britain in Beijing last summer, failing to gain selection for the individual 400m but helping the 4x400m relay team to fourth place with a 44.61sec split time on the penultimate leg.
"I met Malachi once," Bingham said. "I don't know what he's doing now. It's one of those things. His performances lasted about a year and a half. But I'm not one of those people. I've proven myself. Another thing, I've felt a huge brotherhood with a lot of the British athletes, including [fellow 400m runners] Martyn Rooney and Rob Tobin and some other guys. I trust those guys."
Asked if he is wary of being portrayed in the same way as Davis – who attracted headlines such as "Malachi Malarkey" and "Instant Brit" – Bingham replied: "Yeah. I've tried my best to keep out of the press and just do what I'm supposed to do. I just wanted to compete and a lot of people here supported me. People think it's so easy to switch but it was a long, long process for me. You've really got to want to do it. It took about two years for the whole thing to work out.
"I plan on staying based in North Carolina until otherwise. But I've been over here for a month and half, staying at Loughborough, and I'll be here in the summers through to October every year. I'm half and half – here and also in the US."
Change of pace: Bingham's tale
*Born Sylva, North Carolina, 13 April 1986.
*Coaches Scott Hall (in US) and Michael Khemel (in GB).
*Manager Michael Johnson
*Lives Winston-Salem, North Carolina – home of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and birthplace of actress Pam Grier (pictured), star of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
*Education Graduate of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem.
*As a US athlete Finished third in the decathlon at the 2005 Pan Am Junior Championships.
*As a GB athlete Fourth in 4x400m relay team at 2008 Olympic Games. Winner of 400m at 2009 London Grand Prix in 45.03sec
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