By Charlie Talbot-Smith
FOUR-TIME Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson believes Hampshire’s Rob Tobin can be part of an unlikely GB 4x400m relay medal hunt at London 2012 – but only if star turn Martyn Rooney can deliver a world-class display in the capital.
Rooney is the star attraction of a workmanlike but far from spectacular GB relay quartet in the capital who have won a host of Championship medals in recent years but have rarely done so on the global stage.
A solitary silver from the World Championships in Berlin in 2009 is the only gong that can count itself to be truly global with World Indoor Championship and European Championship (both indoors and out) not quite stacking up.
The squad reached a worrying low at last year’s World Championships in Daegu, coming home in a distant seventh as the USA, Jamaica and South Africa took the medals.
Johnson knows all about what it takes to win 4x400m medal – having topped the podium in Barcelona in 1992. And the American has warned that Tobin and co might be powerless to create Olympic history of their own unless Rooney is on song.
“It’s not the strongest field for the 4x400m relay,” he said. “The Americans of course are going to be tough, the Bahamians, the South Africans will be tough.
“They’re still going to find the British team aren’t favourites but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get a medal because they’ll still be in the final.
“Other than Martyn Rooney who’s been running well, there isn’t a guy on that team who will guarantee you a 44 leg on that relay.
“That puts a bit of pressure on Martyn as he knows he will have to produce something special if they are to have any chance of a medal.
“Nigel (Levine) and Conrad (Williams) have had OK seasons but like the 4x100m this is a relay team that is not as strong as in years gone by.”
Johnson’s crowning glory in came in Atlanta in 1996 when i n front of a home crowd he stormed to gold in both the 400m and 200m, a double that has never been accomplished before or since at the Games.
And the 44-year-old, whose world record for the 400m set in Seville in 1999 still stands to this day, has called on Basingstoke-based Tobin and co to use the home support to help them spring a surprise in the Olympic Stadium.
“I think the biggest advantage of being at home is in the lead up to the games,” he said. “The British athletes are trying to be at their best every day so they can be at their best at the Olympics – it’s the pinnacle for them.
“They are reminded every single day because of the build-up to the Games that’s been going on for the last few years, of what they’re training for.
“Every day you’re not going to be motivated 100 per cent. It’s great motivation if you’re not feeling quite right, when you see an Olympic billboard reminding you of what’s coming, that it’s a great opportunity you have. I had that in 1996 at Atlanta.
“For some athletes it may actually be more pressure than they can handle at a home Games. For me it was great having that American crowd.”
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