Student and middle-distance running sensation Matthew Stonier reflected on his meteoric rise last Sunday over 18 holes of golf, savouring his shock victory in the Nike Emsley Carr Mile from the night before. This Saturday the dream continues for the Loughborough student with his Diamond League debut at just 20 years old in a stacked men’s 1,500m field in Birmingham.
Stonier is Great Britain’s latest young star to emerge amid a renaissance in the 800m and 1,500m, headlined this weekend by Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson and Olympic bronze medalist Josh Kerr. Domestic competition is fiercer than ever and a tantalising prospect ahead of this summer’s main attractions: the World, European and Commonwealth Championships.
Stonier eclipsed Piers Copeland, a European Indoor finalist, in a photo finish at Parliament Hill to log a blazing 3:54.89. While he would be forgiven for admiring his impressive time, focus has immediately switched to Saturday and another leap in competition, with Kerr among eight Olympic finalists, while Samuel Tefera, the World Indoor champion, also features.
“It’s fairytale stuff,” Stonier tells the Independent. “That’s the dream, to compete in Diamond Leagues and against the top guys. Josh Kerr and Jake Wightman [who competes in the 800m on Saturday] are the kind of people you’d ask for an autograph or a photo with. But next thing you’re racing against them. It’s a different mindset, you’re one of them but you don’t feel like it. To race against them now is crazy.”
Last weekend’s breakthrough has left Stonier reconsidering his trajectory to the top of the sport, as he prepares for second-year exams in his geography and sport science degree. There is the temptation to seize every opportunity that will soon come his way, particularly given how his event is fast becoming a young man’s game after the dominance of Norway’s Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 21, and early success for American phenom Cole Hocker.
“You feel like your career almost has to be fast-tracked with the likes of Jakob, even Kerr, he’s a young guy and should be around for the next two Olympic cycles probably,” Stonier adds. “Hocker, he was fifth at the Olympics and he’s only 20 years old, you feel like the age has shifted down.
“But there is time. I’m 20, I have two years left at university, two years of getting better. It’s nice, people at my age are competing at the top level. It means I can do it. But I think I’m a few years until I get to that level. I don’t think because I’m 20 now, I have to peak at 21 or 22.”
The beauty of the 1,500m racing is the need to balance strength, raw speed and strategy, which naturally comes with age and experience. And Stonier looks to sharpen his tactical repertoire with his love for other sports too.
“You have to be adaptable,” he says. “That’s the joy of 1,500m racing, you have to be able to win it in different ways to be at the top.
“Races are getting faster, you have to be able to run on your own to run a similar time, more often than not it’s tuck into lane one and follow the guy in front. My strongest suit is coming around about 1:50 down the home straight, but only if it’s a fast race. I have an aerobic base, I can do that off sub 60-second laps, that’s my ideal race, but I’m sure it’ll be different at times this season.
“I’m a massive sports fan. It’s an unwinding thing, when your life revolves around running. It’s important to switch off and discuss something else. I have a fantasy F1 team. I pick up tactics from races and other sports too, like cycling, how they follow moves and breakaways, pelotons. It’s how I see the 1,500m, I get a different perspective being able to incorporate from other sports. I just love it.”
The last week has been a blur for Stonier, which should emerge as a theme to Saturday’s race and the changing nature of the 1,500m, which has disposed of the sit-and-kick tactic that enabled Matt Centrowitz to snatch gold at Rio 2016 in a ponderous 3:50.
While Stonier’s breakthrough race has proven the importance of timing at the elite end of sport, leaving him both excited but determined to relish every second.
“I would love to go sub-3:37 (Commonwealth Game standard), that’s as good as I can ask for, anything quicker would be a bonus, along with beating people. The two work together,” Stonier concludes.
“This weekend is a massive opportunity. I know the racing will be quick, a full stadium, lots of supporters. It’s there to go out, have fun and, hopefully, I know I’m in good shape, go and enjoy it.
“It’s the perfect Diamond League to do it too. The new stadium, BBC One, an amazing field, I couldn’t ask for much more.”