Beijing Stories: The curious case of Martyn Rooney and the stacked 400 meter rounds, by Alex Mills

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Rooney_MartynFH1-Euros14.jpgMartyn Rooney winning European Champs, August 2015, photo by PhotoRun.net

Watching the 400 meter heats this past morning session, I was lulled into the normal, taking notes, and watching some guys run just fast enough to get into the next round. Because, that is what you do, right?

Well, then, someone forgot to tell Yousef Masrahi and Rusheen McDonald, who ran 43.93, setting national records for Saudia Arabia and Jamaica. Third is 44.19, and fourth, in 44.45 is Martyn Rooney, European champion and one of GBR's finest 400 meter runners ( now, I think Martyn should someday try the 800 meters, but that is another story and probably requires me buying a few beers for Mr. Rooney to hear me out).

Alex Mills was challenged by me to find a unique angle, and he did. Here is his piece on Martyn Rooney, who just ran a fine PB, getting under 44.5 for the first time. Luckily he did move on.

That 44.45 has to give him lots of encouragement.

This is a story about how an athlete ups their game and then, seeing the playing field continue to change, ups their game once more.

Good luck, Martyn.

The Curious Case of Martyn Rooney and the stacked 400 meter heats, by Alex Mills

With the evening session on day two at the IAAF World Champs about to get underway, I challenge you to think back to this morning's track session and to try to put yourself in Martyn Rooney's shoes. However difficult that probably would be to do so literally, given they're probably at least a size 12 or 13. but hey that's irrelevant, so try it...

It's the heats of the men's 400m, you are running at the Bird's Nest stadium, the venue where you made your Olympic debut, setting a lifetime best in the process, you have been struggling for form, but you are the European champion and have successfully appealed your non-selection to get here. You are under pressure, needing to prove a point, needing to prove the selectors they should never have doubted you. You step onto the track, it's warm, it's fast, the fields are stacked and the stadium is filled, somewhat, this is going to require a mammoth effort to get through, but you can do it!

Rooney_MartinQ-OlyGames08.JPGMartyn Rooney, 2008, Beijing, photo by PhotoRun.net

Action time...you get out good, you're cruising, in fact it's better than cruising, you're flying faster than you've ever done before! The line approaches, you cross it, you look up, it's official, 44.45s, you've run your best time ever! Breaking 44.5 for the first time in the process. This is awesome right?

But wait, what's that? You've finished 4th and outside of the automatic qualifying spots. In the frickin heats! What the hell 400m? This can't be possible!

Except it is. That's how good the discipline is right now.

While Rooney was made to sweat on his place in the semi-finals in more ways than one, he was ultimately rewarded for his superb performance with a non-automatic spot. Coming through as the sixth fastest qualifier and one of the 18 athletes to run sub 45!

Nevertheless this must be the first time at this level that he would ever have been put in such a position.

"Every start list for the heats was incredible, you looked at them and it was like world class, world class, world class. I knew people had come here to run fast so I didn't expect anything other than that." Rooney said afterwards.

"No one's come to the champs to just be here. Everyone has come here to perform and I think it's the perfect setting. It's the best stadium in the world, it's a new surface, you could probably run fast in your flats, it's just an incredible stadium." he added.

That's what is so great about the two rounds to come, you could probably get fairly low odds on almost any of the 24 semi-finalists to qualify for Wednesday's finale and even more open predictions on who will actually win the competition now. Sure Wayde Van Niekerk, Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt looked impressive in their first races, but the unheralded Yousef Ahmed Masrahi and Rusheen McDonald looked even better.

Then there's the case of times, to have had what we've had already so early on only points to great things on Wednesday! Maybe even a world record!

At least that's what Rooney believes could happen: "Everyone looks good, the main players look good and on that track eight best guys in the world all together you've got to look at Michael Johnson's record we've got the calibre of athlete in this field to run that time."

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