Martyn Rooney’s career has been one of unfulfilled potential. In Zurich on Friday night, he was an athlete reborn.
In 2006, Rooney broke Roger Black’s 20-year-old British junior record for the 400m, leaving pundits salivating about the titles to follow. Eight years on, he finally has a first gold.
The Commonwealth Games had proved something of a disappointment when he finished fourth but, to anyone that would listen, he made it clear the Europeans were always his target. The result warranted his decision to forego the gold-medal-winning relay exploits of his British team-mates, to bring down the curtain on those Games.
In the past, his coach Rana Reider had bemoaned Rooney’s propensity to think too much but his race plan was perfection, completely unfazed even when he found Israel’s Donald Sanford on his shoulder going down the back straight, to win in a time of 44.71 seconds, the fastest in Europe this year.
“I’ve never won anything in my life,” he said, “and it’s nice to be a champion. I’ve asked myself 100 times where the form had gone and the pressure put on me by others is nothing compared to what I’m doing to myself.
“I’m ecstatic. Pulling out of the relay put a big target on my back. I had to get gold. I’m not a superman, I’m very human and very breakable so I have to make these tough decisions.”
The hype before the race had been about Great Britain team-mate Matt Hudson-Smith, who so idolised Rooney growing up he had pictures of him on his kit bag and was too nervous to approach him at a training camp over the winter, instead sending his training partner to make introductions on his behalf.
While Rooney, who has taken something of a mentoring role over the 19-year-old, is very much the present of the 400m, Hudson-Smith is undeniably the future, an athlete who since last season has been transformed from a 200m specialist. The teenager had anchored home the British team to Commonwealth gold, now he has individual European silver.
So unaware is he of his talent that he had to return to his hotel room prior to the final to fetch his presentation jacket, reminded by one of the British team he might be celebrating on the podium later that night. Hudson-Smith was lucky in the final, though, twitching in the blocks but escaping with a yellow-card warning rather than a disqualification.
Christine Ohuruogu’s dip in Moscow last year won her a world title, in Zurich it cost her bronze, just edged out by Spain’s Indira Terrero despite boasting the same time. The chance of completing the set of golds, with Olympic, world and Commonwealth titles to her name, never looked realistic as Italy’s Libania Grenot dominated the race. “I’m disappointed to finish outside the medals but not heartbroken,” said Ohuruogu, who has treated 2014 as something of an off-season. “I was better than the semi-finals but it wasn’t enough.”
Laura Weightman continued her strong season with bronze in the 1500m final behind Netherlands’ gold medallist Sifan Hassan and Abeba Aregaw, making Weightman the only British woman bar Kelly Holmes to win European and Commonwealth medals in the same year.