WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
As a youngster, he was a prodigious talent who swiftly turned into an Olympic finalist when barely out of his teens and now, over recent injury woes, 400m man Martyn Rooney is preparing for a big year, writes Nicola Bamford.
The past two seasons have been polar opposites for 22-year-old Rooney. 2008 saw the Croydon Harrier unbeaten in eleven straight races before the Beijing Olympics; where at aged 21, he clocked a scintillating 44.60 in his semi-final and went on to place sixth in the final.
He also ran a breath-taking 43.73 to anchor home Team GB in fourth in the 4x400m relay. They were the performances dreams were made of and which still send shivers down Rooney’s spine.
Eager to capitalise on such phenomenal form with the 2012 Olympics fast-approaching, the following year however, was certainly one to forget. Rooney; coached by Nick Dakin at the Loughborough High-Performance Centre, suffered an injury-ravaged season, though he still managed to place seventh in the semi-final stage at the World Championships in Berlin and collect relay silver. 2009 though, was still a very disappointing year by Rooney’s standards:
Months of rehab
“I had a rubbish time,” explained the former European and World junior medallist. “I went from the form of my life to getting injured in the twitch of a muscle during a race preparation session in LA where we had been training.
“I had a grade-two tear of 5cm in my left Biceps Femoris. It was a really bad time for me as I really felt that I could have won an individual medal at the world’s and ran close to 44.0. I tried to convince myself that I was still going to run very fast and got frustrated when I didn't.”
Months of rehab followed for the 6ft 5 speedster, who lives with his partner; the British pole-vault record-holder Kate Dennison, and now Rooney is back stronger than ever, brimming with confidence and eager to pull on his racing spikes and to hit the track.
Training motoring along
With the European Championships in Barcelona this summer, Rooney hopes to return to his 2008 form when he makes his senior continental championship debut and it is because of this that he chose to focus on training hard rather than targeting the World indoors in Doha last weekend, like the majority of Team GB:
“I'm feeling great. Training has been difficult this year, as I’ve been working on strengthening my hamstrings which has been tedious and frustrating, as it has affected my running. Thankfully I've completed all of that work now and training is now motoring along massively!” explained Rooney.
“During the winter, very few of the top 400m runners will compete indoors and the 400m is such a tough event; you need a longer winter to really get the best out of the summer. 2010 is going to be an interesting year - in Barcelona, all the top guys will be very close on personal bests but I have beaten all of them on numerous occasions so I think I'm going to have a good chance of success.”
‘Awesome training group’
The man who broke Roger Black’s national junior record when sprinting to 45.35 aged just 18, when placing fifth in the 2006 Commonwealth final, is in the best environment for achieving such goals, too.
In the East-Midlands university campus, Rooney trains daily with a collection of British and Irish international one-lap medallists and thrives under such fierce yet friendly competition:
“Our group is awesome,” he explained. “Every session, you have to really step to the plate otherwise you'll get torn apart! This keeps me on my toes and gets the best out of my training.
“We spent a month is South Africa this January, and we will spend the same amount of time in California in April. The facilities at Loughborough are world-class and the support from UKA and the EIS (English Institute of Sport) we receive is unbelievable. We are very fortunate and thankful.”
Golden age for Brits
Sponsored by Nike and managed by Joe Rafferty of InMotionSport, Rooney is well aware of the upward curve his event has experienced in his absence from top-shape but his eyes remain firmly on the prize:
“I think British 400m running is coming into a golden age with Michael Bingham, Andrew Steele, Chris Clarke and I heading towards 44-lows; the British and European records are up for grabs.
“My long term goal is the same as most athletes, win an Olympic gold medal. When I finish athletics I want to retire knowing I pushed myself as hard as I could and done the best I physically could.”
Those are certainly the post-injury words of a determined man, who may well return to global status quicker than imagined.