Rooney picks up the medal baton to save coach's skin


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The Independent Online

In Olympic track and field terms, we are approaching what the Knight of Govan would call "squeaky bum time". Charles van Commenee, the gaffer of the British athletics team, now knows how Sir Alex Ferguson feels.

Ever since he took on the task of leading Britain's runners, jumpers and throwers into a home Games, early in 2009, the Dutchman has been gunning for a win-or-bust target of eight medals (including one gold) at London 2012. Like the rest of us, he must have thought it was going to be a relative walk in Olympic Park as Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah swept to a glorious 45-minute golden hat-trick on "Super Saturday".

Since then, however, the gold rush has come to a halt and the other medals have come at a trickle – silver for Christine Ohuruogu in the 400m on Sunday, bronze for Robbie Grabarz in Tuesday's high jump.

The likes of Dai Greene, Holly Bleasdale, Yamile Aldama, Shara Proctor, Lawrence Okoye, Goldie Sayers, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Phillips Idowu and Tiffany Porter having come to grief, Van Commenee now finds himself needing three medals from the last two nights of track action. The man from Amsterdam has said from the start of his mission that he would walk away from his job as head coach of UK Athletics if his squad fell short.

It has come down needing Farah and the women's 4x400m relay team to finish in the top three in their finals tomorrow night – and for another medal to materialise from elsewhere. Hence Van Commenee, like Sir Alex before him, will pray for Rooney to come good.

The "Roon-eee" chants that reverberated around the arena last Sunday evening, spreading much amusement, were not quite enough to help Martyn Rooney through to the 400m final but a repeat tonight might lift the 6ft 5in Croydon Harrier and his fellow 4x400m relay men on to the podium.

In the heats yesterday the British four – Nigel Levine, Conrad Williams, Jack Green and Rooney – qualified as joint third-fastest overall for the final. They were second to Trinidad & Tobago, Rooney being outdipped on the line by Deon Lendore, with both countries clocking 3min 0.38sec. "I want to apologise to the guys for not winning it," Rooney said. "The Trinidad guy was a sprinter and he dipped at the end. Tomorrow we will do better."

In the second heat the Bahamas edged out the United States, both clocking 2min 58.87sec. The bonus for Britain was that Jamaica, who might have tried to draft in Usain Bolt for the final, failed to get the baton round.

There are longer-shot medal chances for Britons in individual events tonight, with Lisa Dobriskey and Laura Weightman in the women's 1500m and in-form Steve Lewis in the pole vault.