In the 2018 European Athletics Champs 4×400 meter races, held on Saturday, 11 August, GBR took the silver in the men and bronze in the women. On the men’s team, Martyn Rooney anchored, and on the women’s team, Eilidh Doyle anchored.
Stuart Weir wrote this column in praise of the two veteran relay runners, who understand the very essence of the word, “team”.
The Rooney Rule, by Stuart Weir
In this article I want to pay tribute to two stalwarts of British Athletics, Eilidh Doyle and Martyn Rooney. I have observed Martin Rooney’s career for several years. I have seen him become European Champion 400m in 2014, a feat which he repeated in 2016. I have seen him win relay medals in Berlin (twice), in Beijing (twice), in Barcelona and in Zurich.
I spoke to him in Loughborough in May this year, just after Robbie Grabarz had announced his retirement. Martyn said that he fully understood Robbie’s position. He too was finding athletics a struggle. It brought him less joy than it used to. Packing it in had crossed his mind too.
I next saw him at Lausanne Diamond League, where he was running in one of the non-Diamond, early evening events. He said of his race that night: “It was a weird one. I felt good but was really disappointed with the time but it wasn’t to be”. That seems to be a phenomenon many athletes experience well into their career. They look good but the clock does not stop soon enough! I asked him in Lausanne where his next race was – a small meet in Bedford, running for his club. A man who has not forgotten his origins.
I was therefore delighted to see him anchor the GB 4 by 400 relay team to the European silver medal. Even then he had time to pay tribute to an opponent saying: “Kevin (Borlee) is a fantastic relay runner, myself and him are quite even on splits now and wins and stuff so I thought it was going to be tough“. He couldn’t catch Belgium but he held off Spain for silver.
I loved teammate, Matt Hudson-Smith’s comment on social media: “What can I say? Yesterday showed people the reason why Martyn Rooney is our 4th leg runner and our captain, it’s been a pleasure working and learning from him”.
The Rooney Rule? It says quite simply if you have a Rooney in the relay team, you have more chance of a medal.
Eilidh Doyle is another great relay runner. And incidentally let us be clear that her name is pronounced “Ay-lee” not “Eye-lid” as the German stadium announcer would have it. Eilidh’s major relay medal collect is in double figures. Traditionally she has been on first leg, as she explains: “I like the first leg because there’s no drama. You’re in your own lane. Nobody is going to cut across you. There are no elbows. You are in the clear and you can have your own race plan and you know that will go to plan”. That said she has run the different legs and was on the final leg in Berlin.
A very thoughtful athlete, she explained to me before the European Indoors in Belgrade: “One of the reasons I am doing the relay is to take me out of my comfort zone. Here it is about being more assertive, more aggressive and getting more competitive experience. Another aspect of relay is that you have a bond with the others and you don’t want to let the others down. I want to win a medal in the relay but I want the others to win a medal as well and that is added pressure”.
Some of her successes have been indoors where the approach is a bit different: “Indoors it’s very tactical and very dependent on lane draw. You really want one of the outside lanes for the first leg because you really want to be in amongst it. A lot more tactical than the outdoor 4 by 400. Outdoor, I think whoever has the fastest athletes will win. Indoor, you can win without having the fastest athletes by getting the order right and getting your tactics right”.
Doyle, recovering from injury, had been disappointed with her run in 400H final this week. A case for leaving her out of the relay team? Not a bit of it. One just knew she would come good in the relay. Receiving the baton out of the medal positions, she used her experience and skill to see the team home with the bronze.
Doyle and Rooney have served British Athletics well, but for me , they would still be the first name on the sheet when it comes to choosing a relay team. And they are both such nice people.