Martyn Rooney had to display grit in spades just to reach these European Championships – so when he felt the hot breath of the chasing pack he was always going to dig even deeper and be stubbornness personified.
His sweet reward was 400m gold, the first athlete to retain this title since Roger Black 26 years ago, as well as the satisfaction of proving British Athletics’ selectors – who had wanted him to miss this event to focus on the 4x400m relay – utterly and completely wrong.
Rooney’s gold took Britain top of the medal table after day three of these championships but there were impressive reinforcements elsewhere, with Jazmin Sawyers smashing her personal best to finish with long jump silver and Danny Talbot and Anyika Onuora taking bronze medals in the men’s 200m and women’s 400m respectively.
But it was Rooney who led the way, judging his race perfectly to rein in Belgium’s Kevin Borlee, who had set off like a hare, before holding off the fast-finishing Czech Pavel Maslak to win in 45.29sec, with the Dutch athlete Liemarvin Bonevacia snatching third ahead of Borlee.
“That last 50 metres felt a bloody long way,” said Rooney, who won by only 0.07sec. “I’ve backed it up and credit to British Athletics for listening to me. Other athletes have come here and they’ve picked up medals and there will be more to come.”
Sawyers, who tried gymnastics and the bobsleigh before settling on the long jump, produced the leap of her life to take silver a mere six centimetres behind the favourite Ivana Spanovic, from Croatia, who jumped 6.94m. “I’m really proud with that performance,” said Sawyers. “The wind was mental, one minute plus four metres a second, the next minus two, but I coped with it and I couldn’t be happier.”
The biggest cheer of the night came for the home favourite Dafne Schippers who stormed to victory in the women’s 100m in 10.90 sec, but there was heartache both for Britain’s Asha Philip, who finished fourth in 11.27sec, and Desiree Henry, who had to be carried off the track after pulling up sharply. Philip, who rushed to comfort her team-mate, said she expected Henry would be fine. “She was in shock, I think she might have spiked her hand because there was blood on her hand,” she explained. “I just calmed her down and made sure she was still OK and I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
But Talbot was the beneficiary of Dutch misfortune when he was upgraded to bronze after finishing fourth in the men’s 200m when the original winner, Churandy Martin, was disqualified for stepping out of his lane. That meant gold went to the Spaniard Bruno Hortelando in 20.45, 0.11sec ahead of Talbot. Britain’s highly vaunted Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who broke 20 seconds earlier this year before getting injured, did not look completely fit as he finished fifth.
There was further good news for Britain in the women’s 400m as Onuora ran 51.47 to take bronze – holding off the former Olympic and world champion Christine Ohurougu, who finished 0.08sec behind in a race won by the Italian Libania Grenot. Onuora said: “I kept fighting and driving and diving through the line and it paid off but I didn’t know until afterwards because they kept us waiting on the scoreboard for a long while. I thought it must have been close and I was hoping and praying I’d get the third spot – and I did.”
However, in the women’s hammer Sophie Hitchon was unfortunate to miss out on the podium, finishing fourth behind the Polish gold medallist Annita Wlodarcyzk after throwing 71.74m. And there was disappointment for the 400m hurdles hope Jack Green, too, who flattened his first hurdle then seven of the next nine before pulling up before the end, and Rhys Williams, who admitted his career was probably over after coming home fifth in 49.63sec.
Meanwhile earlier in the day Morgan Lake withdrew from the women’s heptathlon after the third event, the shot put, citing a tight hamstring. The 20-year-old had been hoping to reach the 6,200 points qualifying mark but had fallen to 10th position when she pulled out. She will still be eligible for Olympic selection inthe women’s high jump when the selectors meet to choose the team early next week.
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