WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Twenty-eight months have passed since he transferred to compete for Great Britain and a fortnight ago, 400m runner Michael Bingham finally captured his first individual medal for his adopted nation, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 24-year-old North Carolina-born sprinter’s decision to switch allegiance from the United States in the spring of 2008 paid off last month when he sped to one-lap silver in the European championships ahead of combining with his new team-mates to scorch to second in the 4x400m relay in Barcelona.
Reversing the finishing order in which he placed runner-up behind his Team GB rival and friend Martyn Rooney in the European trials, Bingham’s 45.23 clocking in the Spanish city signalled his arrival as an international medallist and came just two-years out from the London 2012 Olympics; an event where the new Brit will seek a career-defining medal on home turf.
Bingham, who was fourth behind Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner of the USA in the Crystal Palace leg of the IAAF Diamond League last weekend in 45.49, said of his performance:
“This year has been a growing experience. I switched coaches, I moved training bases, and I felt the pressure to follow up last year’s success with another strong year. Up until the European Championships, I found it hard to find my rhythm but I think I’m on the right track.”
As his training partner in the US, Kevin Borlee sped to victory in the continental final; Bingham led the British one-two but is disappointed he missed out on the gold;
"I panicked," Bingham reflected, "I think I had the race won, but I knew the others were coming and I panicked. If you panic in the 400m, you lose all technique. Luckily, worst-case scenario, I got a silver. But it definitely should have been a different colour."
Bingham; whose father is from Nottingham, recognised after graduating from Wake Forest University that life as a professional athlete would be tough in the notoriously hard US sprint squad so he instead took a chance on the British system – and luckily for him, he has been welcomed with open arms after a bumpy start.
“I switched to the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team because I felt compelled to run for the country of my father, and now, the country of mine as well,” Bingham explained.
“I genuinely and wholeheartedly wanted to run for the Great Britain and my dreams came true and thankfully I’m running decently. The entire team supports me and they have completely accepted me. I’m happy that the media has now accepted me as well. I think people were a little skeptical at first, but eventually they accepted me and supported me. I enjoyed hearing the cheers while I lined up for each race in Barcelona.”
After gaining a degree in political science and economics, Bingham joined the roster of the Universal Sports Performance Management group, run by 400m record-holder Michael Johnson and, under the tutelage of Ken Harnden: the former Zimbabwean international 400m hurdler who won bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games - Bingham has rapidly progressed in his first year as a pro athlete.
The 2005 US junior decathlon champion, Bingham placed third in the 2008 Olympic trials just a few days after receiving his visa by FedEx in the US and thrust himself into his new team when helping them to finish fourth in the Beijing Olympics. 2009 saw another upward curve for Bingham, as he improved to seventh in the World championship final in lifetime best of 44.74 – his first clocking under the magical 45-second barrier.
“I’m not motivated in the way most athlete’s are,” Bingham explained. “Most get angry and pumped up before training and major races trying to force their goals. My only goal is to progress each year, in most aspects of my life.
I don’t want to train harder, just smarter. I don’t want to lift harder, just cleaner. I don’t want to merely run fast, I want to run easy and do it right. I just can’t run angry, I’ve tried. I’ve never been one to hate my competitors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously.”
From May to October, Bingham is based at the UK Athletics High Performance Centre in Loughborough where he trains alongside Rooney. The other half of the year, he spends at the Florida State University track in Tallahassee with Harnden.
His training group in the States includes Borlee and the Belgian runner's identical twin brother, Jonathan, who lined up the clear favourite for the European Championship final but ended up seventh.
“Basically, I have seven hard sessions in two weeks,” Bingham revealed, “On the other days my coach conjures up all sorts of tormenting activities and calls them active rest.
In a typical day, you’ll find me on the sofa, with my face halfway inside a big bag of Thai Sweet Chilli Crisps. Jokes aside, I always forget things so I sometimes rely on my coach, manager and anyone else that takes it upon themselves to drag me to where I need to be. Ken actually started fining me for being late to training. A $1 a minute fine - needless to say, I filled his sweets fund two or three times over!”
The outgoing athlete, who states music and golden syrup as his addiction, competes in the Zurich Diamond League on Thursday before representing Europe in the Continental Cup in Split next month and gave his thoughts on the 400m in Britain:
“The 400m has lulled since Mark Richardson, Roger Black and Iwan Thomas left, but in the past two years we have seen a steady return of the event.
I am very optimistic that we all should be ready by 2011 and experienced to take on the world in 2012. Martyn, Conrad (Williams), Steely (Andrew Steele) and myself all look forward to running quick and making the final. The real tests are championships and the more finals you make, the more you learn, and the better your chances are to medal.”