A dramatic finish in the women’s 10,000 metres and a come-from-behind victory in the men’s Shot Put capped a thoroughly enjoyable evening on the opening day of the 19th European Athletics Championships.
Abitova leads PB parade
Unleashing a sustained 500 metre kick that shocked even herself, Russian Inga Abitova knocked more than minute from her personal best en route to her 30:31.42 victory, leading the deepest-ever race over the distance at these championships.
“I surprised myself,” said the 24-year-old whose previous best was 31:32.24. “I was very afraid of the fast pace of the race.”
Doing that honest pacing was Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat who assumed the lead soon after the gun sounded, one she didn’t relinquish until just before the pair reached the bell. In an extremely competitive race, a tightly knit pack of a dozen were still in contention when Kiplagat reached the half in 15:16.38. With just over four laps to go, that pack was reduced to seven; two laps later, six women still remained – Kiplagat, Latvian Yelena Prokopcuka, Abitova and her compatriots Lidiya Grigoryeva and Galina Bogomolova, and Norwegian Susanne Wigene. But when Abitova made her move and opened up a quick four metre gap, her teammates along with Wigene moved past Kiplagat as well, leaving the Dutchwoman in the proverbial dust.
A Russian sweep was in the making until Wigene, running the race of her life, brought the Scandinavian crowd to their feet when she moved past the Russians and into second place heading into the final turn. While she couldn’t catch Abitova, her considerable closing strength suggested she was capable of going even faster than her 30:32.36 runner-up performance.
“It was just fantastic,” Wigene said, finding it difficult to express herself after eclipsing her previous best by nearly a minute and-a-half.
Grigoryeva (30:32.72) and Bogomolova (30:35.90) followed, a personal best for the former. Kiplagat hung on for fifth in 30:37.26, just ahead of Prokopcuka whose 30:38.78 was a national record. Farther back seventh, Spaniard Marta Dominguez (30:51.69) set a national record as well. In all, 12 of the 23 finishers achieved personal bests, while world leader Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey dropped out with about six-and-a-half laps to go.
Bartels’ last round shocker
In the men’s Shot Put, Germany’s Ralf Bartels displayed his flair for the dramatic after producing a 21.13 heave in the final round to snatch the win from 2003 World champion Andre Mikhnevich of Belarus.
“I guess I still haven’t realized that I’m the European champion,” said the ecstatic winner, whose final round effort catapulted him from fourth to first. “My victory might be very close, but who cares! During the entire final, even when I was fourth, I believed in myself and know I could beat them.” Bartels won the bronze four years ago in Munich
Mikhnevich led the competition from the second round, when he reached 21.11, just ahead of Dane Joachim Olsen’s 21.09 throw from the same round. Meanwhile, with a 20.90 from the third round, Rutger Smith was firmly planted in third. After Bartels’ blast, a season’s best for the 28-year-old, Mikhnevich’s balloon was deflated. He closing effort of 20.68 was well short, while Olsen, the reigning Olympic bronze medallist, kept up the drama when he went beyond the 21 metre mark again with a 21.04 throw.
Bartels’ win was the first by a German since reunification, ending a Ukrainian win streak that begin in 1994.
Kluft with 124 point overnight lead
Most of the nearly 20,000 enthusiastic fans that attended the opening evening came to see Swedish star Carolina Kluft, and the Olympic and two-time World Heptathlon champion didn’t disappoint.
Opening with a 13.35 clocking in the hurdles and a 1.89 clearance in the High Jump in the morning session, Kluft followed up in the evening with a 14.56 effort in the Shot Put and a 23.86 in the 200 to tally 3990 points, 124 ahead of Great Britain’s Kelly Sotherton.
“I wanted to break the European record, but after my bad 200 I don’t think it’s possible anymore,” said Kluft, whose personal best of 7001 points from 2003 is six points shy of Larisa Nikitina’s continental record.
In turn, Sotherton has a narrow five point margin over 20-year-old compatriot Jessica Ennis, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.
Kluft’s quest for a title defence received a big boost when Eunice Barber of France dropped out of the competition after just two events. A minor hamstring strain she developed on Sunday grew worse over the course of competition, forcing the 31-year-old to retire despite a strong start. Barber, who finished second to Kluft in the last two World championships, began the competition with a 13.11 clocking in the hurdles and a 1.89 clearance in the High Jump, both the top performances of the morning.
With 3820 and 3819 points respectively, Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine and Dutchwoman Karin Ruckstuhl remain in contention for podium positions as well.
Holm, Thornblad advance
The remainder of the programme consisted of qualifying rounds, with the men’s High Jump attracting the most attention as both Stefan Holm and Linus Thornblad of Sweden easily moved on to Wednesday’s final. The Swedish pair, along with Italy’s Nicola Ciotti, Czechs Tomas Janku and Svatoslav Ton, and Oskari Frosen of Finland, each enjoyed a short evening of four clearances over four heights that topped out at 2.26.
No surprises in the men’s 100
There were no major casualties in the opening rounds of the men’s 100 metres.
Defending champion Francis Obikwelu and Ronald Pognon, two of the three sub-10 second performers in the field, led all qualifiers, taking the second and third of the evening’s four quarter-finals.
Reserved and comfortable, Obikwelu took his heat in 10.28, well ahead of Slovenian record holder Matic Osovnikar (10.37), who in turn had plenty of daylight on Belgian Erik Wijmeersch (10.49).
Ronald Pognon was the easy winner of heat two, easing through the final 15 meters en route to a 10.19 performances, by far the quickest of the day. Briton Mark Lewis-Francis (10.33), Pole Lukasz Chyla (10.42) and Germany’s Ronny Ostwald (10.48) also moved on to tomorrow’s semi-final.
Dariusz Kuc of Poland took the first heat, finishing a hair ahead of Spaniard Angel David Rodriguez, with both credited with a 10.32. Never recovering from a sluggish start, Dwain Chambers, the third competitor in the field with a career sub-ten to his credit, finished fourth to take the final qualifying spot.
Andrey Yepishin, the World indoor 60m silver medallist, pulled away from the pack just beyond the midway point to win heat four in 10.40, while Oudere Kankarafou of France, Pole Marcin Jedrusinski and Jam Zumer of Slovenia moving on as well.
8.33 for Howe
Andrew Howe solidified his role as favourite in the men’s Long Jump after sailing to an 8.33 leap in a surprisingly solid qualifying round. The 22-year-old Italian’s jump came under perfectly still conditions in the second round, while Viktor Kuznetsov of Ukraine reached 8.25 with his first leap, although with the assistance of a hefty 2.5 m/s wind. Five jumpers went beyond eight metres, including Louis Tsatoumas of Greece (8.09) and Briton Greg Rutherford (8.07). 7.85 was the cut-off to reach Tuesday’s final.
Likewise, the semi-finals of the men’s 1500 concluded pretty much as expected. Defending champion Mehdi Baala of France was the fastest on the day, clocking 3:39.74 in the faster second heat, holding off the strong closing Mykola Labovsky of Ukraine. In the slower first heat, World indoor champion Ivan Heshko out-kicked Spain’s Arturo Casado by 4/100s of a second in 3:47.12.
The opening round of the men’s 400 was equally without incident. Daniel Dabrowski of Poland was the morning’s fastest with his 45.58 win in the first of four heats, with the French duo of Marc Racquil (45.65) and Leslie Djhone (45.67) the next fastest. Briton Tim Benjamin (46.10) and Russian Vladislav Frolov (45.73) were the other heat winners.
Lysenko and Heidler over 70m in the Hammer Throw
In the women’s Hammer Throw, World record holder Tatyana Lysenko dispensed with the qualifying formalities very quickly. Her 73.23 throw in the first round was the farthest of the morning, and only one of two beyond the automatic 70 metre qualifying distance. German national record holder Betty Heidler had the other, a 71.40 effort, also in the first round. Russian Gulfiya Khanafeyeva, who briefly held the World record at 77.26 this summer before Lysenko extended it to 77.41, reached 67.53, to take the 10th of the 12 spots in the final.
The most notable among the non-qualifiers were Russian Yekaterina Khoroshikh, who in June threw beyond 76 metres, and Oksana Menkova of Belarus, this year also a 76 metre thrower. The best the former could produce was a disappointing 62.97 throw after a pair of fouls, while Menkova managed a throw of just 62.85.
Norway’s Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen led qualifiers in the men’s Javelin Throw with his second round 86.55 effort, marginally farther than Group B winner Ainars Kovals of Latvia, whose spear reached a career best 85.95. His teammate Vadims Vasilevskis, Finn Tero Pitkamaki, and World record holder Jan Zelezny, were among the qualifiers for Wednesday’s final.
As expected the four races of the opening round of the women’s 800 were largely tactical affairs, and again no major contenders bowed out early.
Spain’s Mayte Martinez kicked from fifth to first to take the first heat in 2:01.71, a step ahead of Russian Svetlana Cherkasova (2:01.82). Briton Rebecca Lynn outleaned Ukraine’s Tetyana Petlyuk to win heat two by 3/100s of a second in 2:01.87, Olga Kotlarova won the third heat in 2:01.08, just ahead of Slovenia’s defending champion Jolanda Ceplak (2:01.08), and the third Russian, Svetlana Klyuka won the fourth heat in 2:02.92, ahead of the second Slovenian Brigita Langerholc (2:03.17).
Nine women ran under 56 seconds in the 400 metre hurdles, with Russian Yevgeniya Isakova (55.21) and Olympic champion Fani Halkia (55.42) leading the pack. The semi-finals are Tuesday, with the final on Wednesday.
The day two programme includes finals in the men’s 100m, 10,000m, 20 Km Race Walk and Long Jump, along with the women’s Hammer Throw and Heptathlon.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
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