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Martyn Rooney leads spitfires home but another is shot down

It was not quite Stuttgart revisited, although when the European Championship 400 metres finalists rounded into the home straight in the Letzigrund Stadium last night there were three British men at the head of the field, in arrow-formation.

Britain's Martyn Rooney celebrates after taking 400m gold in Zurich. Picture: Getty Sport
Britain's Martyn Rooney celebrates after taking 400m gold in Zurich. Picture: Getty Sport

There was a rainbow in the sky above, but only a pot of gold and silver for the boys in red, white and blue - not bronze, sadly.

Hopes had been high of a 1-2-3 to match the clean sweep from the 800m in Stuttgart back in 1986 by Sebastian Coe, Tom McKean and Steve Cram - a sight that Ian Wooldridge memorably described as: "like three spitfires coming out of the sun." Last night the towering Martyn Rooney and the teenaged Matt Hudson-Smith completed two-thirds of the British mission, finishing first and second respectively, but the challenge of Conrad Williams was shot down within sight of home.

"I let the side down, not getting one, two, three," confessed Williams, after fading to fifth, crossing the line in 45.53sec, "but it's great to see the guys celebrating."

It was another night of medal celebrations all round for the British team. As well as 400m gold for Rooney and silver for Hudson-Smith, there was a stunning 200m gold for Adam Gemili, a 200m silver for Jodie Williams, and a 1500m bronze for Laura Weightman.

All of which took the great British medal tally to six gold, four silver and three bronze with two days of promise still to come and the record haul from Split in 1990 (9 gold, 5 silver, 4 bronze) destined to be eclipsed.

The one-two in the 400m was impressive enough but the winning blow Gemili delivered in the 200m was truly breath-taking. A little over two years ago the 20-year-old was a right-back with Dagenham and Redbridge, on loan to Thurrock. Last year he cracked the 20sec barrier for 200m, clocking 19.98sec in the World Championship semi-finals. Last night - a fortnight on from his 100m silver at the Commonwealth Games - he matched that time and claimed his first senior major championship title.

And Gemili did so in style, leaving three-time European sprint champion Christophe Lemaitre of France a distant second in 20.15sec and becoming the first British winner of the title since Edinburgh's Dougie Walker in Budapest in 1998.

"I'm so happy to be the European champion," said Gemili. "It was a big target for me this year. To run sub-20 seconds and beat Lemaitre is a great feeling."

Like his footballing namesake, the running Rooney has long been regarded as a rare talent in his particular sporting sphere, but since finishing sixth in the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing the 6ft 5in Croydon Harrier has been held back by injury.

The 19-year-old Hudson-Smith started favourite but a combination of nerves and his boyhood hero got the better of him after being green-carded for a false start.

At 27, Rooney had just enough experience and strength to hold off his double-barrelled team-mate. He won in 44.71sec, 0.04sec ahead of Hudson Smith, with Israel's Donald Sanford taking bronze.

"It's been a long time coming," reflected Rooney, the first British winner of the title since Iwan Thomas in Budapest in 1998. "I've never won a championship in my life, only British trials. To win the European title, I'm ecstatic."

Hudson-Smith confessed: "I've got mixed emotions, but at least I got beaten by my idol. I'll get him back."

Williams surged from fourth to second in the home straight of the women's 200m final, claiming silver in a lifetime best of 22.46sec - albeit in the distant wake of the stunning Dafne Schippers. The latter day Flying Dutchwoman emulated Fanny Blankers-Koen's sprint double of 1950, improving her national record by 0.21sec to 22.03sec, the fastest time in the world this year.

There was disappointment for the other two young Brits in the field, Bianca Williams missing out on a medal in fourth place and Dina Asher-Smith pulling up injured. It was the same, too, for Christine Ohuruogu in the women's 400m, the far from fully race-fit world champion missing out on a bronze medal in a photo finish with Spain's Indira Terrero, both women clocking 51.38sec. "I'm disappointed but not heartbroken," she said.

Weightman, though, rose to the occasion of the 1500m final admirably, as she had done when claiming silver in Glasgow. The Morpeth Harrier was no match for Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Abeba Aregawi of Sweden, the two favourites finishing first and second respectively but Weightman's attack, 250m out, pulled her clear of the rest of the field and she held on for bronze in 4min 06.32sec.

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