Continental athletics fans are still waiting for its first man to go under eight minutes for the 3000m steeplechase but after Fernando Carro’s exploits at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco, for the first time in a few years that target has come back into view albeit, and realistically, at a distance.
Carro, now 27, ran a Spanish record of 8:05.69 in Monaco for the fastest time by a European over the barriers since 2014 and will lead the Team Europe challenge in his specialist event at The Match in Minsk next week.
The Madrileño came of age in 2018 when he went under 8:20 for the first time and confirmed his position as second on the European lists ahead of Berlin 2018 by taking the European Athletics Championships silver medal in the German capital behind France's four-time champion Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad.
This year, buoyed by a boost to his confidence that he can perform at an elite level after his first major championship medal – although he finished second at the 2014 Ibero-American Championships and just missed out on a medal when fourth in the 2011 European U20 Championships – Carro has moved up a notch.
Firstly, he reduced his personal best by more than three seconds when running what was then a European list-leading 8:15.73 in Rome in early June; he was then in the mix with the top steeplechasers in the world when finishing fourth in Monaco and taking almost two seconds off a venerable record which had stood for 17 years.
His next stop will be Brussels for the IAAF Diamond League final on Friday, and his last race before getting on the plane to Doha at the end of the month for the IAAF World Championships will be in Minsk where he will wear a Team Europe vest once again.
“It is a huge honour for me to be able to represent Europe and just like last year at the World Cup (the IAAF Continental Cup) I feel a great responsibility. Of course, you have that responsibility when you represent your own country at a major championships but this is an entire continent. I think it’s important not just to pull on your vest and race but how you portray yourself and your sport because I feel eyes across Europe are watching me,” said the affable and engaging Spaniard.
“To be honest, I’m still getting used to competing in this level of competition, whether it’s the European Athletics Championships, The Match or the World Championships,” he added, aiming to do better in Doha than he did at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the last two world championships when he failed to progress beyond his heat.
“For me, when I go to these competitions my mouth is still completely open and when I am in the meeting hotel, I look with admiration at the many athletes from other countries who are idols to me and reference points. I have grown up watching athletics, and I really like athletics and follow it closely, not just when I am in a championship.
“Certainly, when I am in Minsk, I know we have a lot of Spaniards in the team this time but I will be cheering for the French, Poles and all the other countries that make up Team Europe."
Fernando Carro, Adel Mechaal, Orlando Ortega y Miguel Ángel Sancho, Dani Arce, Héctor Santos, Eusebio Cáceres, Ana Peleteiro y Lois Maikel Martínez participarán en el "The Match" con premios de 7.000 euros para los ganadores.https://t.co/pI1cg2x2J9
— El negocio del running (@Asb71Poeta) August 20, 2019
“However, making it special this time is the fact that my friend Daniel Arce is also in Team Europe (since the interview another Spaniard Ibrahim Ezzaydouni has also been added to the 3000m steeplechase). We are both 27, born in 1992, and raced together many times over the years. He’s an easy guy to get along with and to travel with. He’s a friend but we don’t actually see that much of each other outside of competitions so being together in something as big as this will surely be an unforgettable experience.
“Since Monaco, people have talked about times but I think that there will not be another Spanish record in Minsk. I know some of the American athletes, they are strong, and it will be very interesting to race them head-to-head and measure myself against them but I suspect that in Minsk the race will be more tactical and psychological than physiological.
“However, The Match serves as a very good test before Doha and who knows what could happen there. Yes, it’s a championship but some world championships have been fast.”
Carro is now training back in Madrid, not too far from his family home in the east of the city but spent some of July and August training in the hills near Soria, the home of two other Spanish athletics icons Fermin Cacho and Abel Anton.
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) August 11, 2019
“Soria is at a higher altitude than Madrid (the city itself is at 1060m and the surrounding hills are higher) but there isn’t much difference – although you do notice it just a little bit and the pulse races just a bit more – although I didn’t do it for that reason but to escape the temperatures in Madrid.
“This year has been brutal in Madrid, and we knew it was going to be hot (many days in July the thermometer hit 40 degrees or higher) so we just looked for somewhere cooler and it’s only two-and-half hours’ drive away. At least during the last weeks of August the temperature has dropped a little in Madrid so I'm back in the city again."
Carro’s big concern during the heat of the summer in the Spanish capital was also how his beloved dogs would fare. He owns two: “and they are large, a German shepherd and a mastiff, 40 and 70 kilograms; the latter is heavier than me!”
Fortunately, Carro’s biggest fan, his father, takes care of them while he is travelling the globe as he attempts to prove that he is one of the big dogs of the steeplechase world.