SINCE they teamed up together for Great Britain at last month’s World Athletics Championships the way that Guy Learmonth and Martyn Rooney have publicly goaded one another has generated concern among those who do not know better.

After the pair stared one another down outside the prime minister’s house it has been Borders-based Scottish 800 metres man Learmonth who has raised the ante, claiming to be the “real life Alf Tupper”, before threatening to tackle England’s two-time European 400 metres champion into the River Tyne during their quayside 500 metre race which looks set to be among the highlights of today’s Great North City Games.

No-one should be in any doubt that the rivalry will be very serious when they line up against one another, both genuinely savouring the prospect of a showdown over a compromise distance which would seem, arithmetically, to favour the single lap specialist, but obviously nothing untoward will happen.

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“A few people, not people that I know,have out of the blue on social media asked me if the crack is getting a bit too fiery and stuff like that, but me and Rooney are great pals,” Learmonth said. “I’m back home now, but when I was in Loughborough at Uni he was always someone I looked up to when I was making teams and stuff. We’ve just formed a good friendship and we’ve always teased each other about wanting to race.

“For the past three years we’ve been trying to race each other over a 600. I’ve jokingly told him he wouldn’t stand a chance over that and I’ll destroy him, so when this 500 came about we were both like ‘this is it, we’re finally getting our head to head so let’s make something out of it’.

“Obviously the jibes have escalated quickly, so when we were at Downing Street we decided to go for it and get a boxers’ face off.”

What is evident is that for all that Rooney has courted controversy and attracted considerable criticism over the years he is popular among his peers on the track.

“I don’t think Rooney gets the accolades he deserves,” Learmonth reckoned.

“I looked up to him when I was 18 and I moved down to Loughborough. Look what he’s won. Barring the Commonwealth medal he’s got every major medal you could possibly think of and probably more than one. On top of that he’s two time European champion and been to three Olympics as well. In my eyes he’s a legend who has done it all and as much as when we get there on Saturday I want to give him the race of his life and make it hell for him, I have a lot of respect for Martyn Rooney.”

However that is only all the more reason to want to beat him today it seems and Learmonth demonstrates an understanding of the nature of what stimulates interest in individual sports where rivalries can generate the sort of allegiances among devotees that are created by the tribalism of team sports.

“We need to see more head-to-heads like this,” he said.

“I’m not saying we have to be disrespecting each other, but it’s a bit of crack that generates interest. We’re saying things on social media and then he’s texting me saying ‘one nil to you today,’ and I’m sending it back. It’s all in good humour, but it’s serious at the same time because we both want to beat each other. However our sport should really encourage more of this.

“It’s a street meet, a city games over 500 metres so we just took it upon ourselves to go for it and see what happens. We didn’t even know who else was in the race at the time. All we were bothered about was racing each other and beating one another.

“I wouldn’t mind it being a 550, but I think the 500 will come down to the wire. Me and Rooney have the same agent as well, so we both wanted to be in it and have a head to head. I think it will be very, very close.”