Some ten defending champions will gather in Gothenburg as the port city hosts the 32nd European Indoor Championships – which takes place from March 1-3 – for the third time.
On the last occasion the prestigious event visited Sweden’s second city – some 29 years ago – the host nation failed to secure a medal. Yet hopes are high that disappointing statistic is not repeated with middle-distance star Abeba Aregawi bearing the burden of expectation.
The Ethiopian-born Swede has made only one solitary outing this winter but showed blistering form, running the second-fastest women’s indoor 1500m in history with a stunning 3:58.40 in Stockholm.
Entered for the metric mile in Gothenburg, the 22-year-old (who has an outdoor best of 3:56.54) is a class act and with a season’s best more than 11 seconds superior to the second-fastest woman in the field, Sweden will be confident of gold.
Lavillenie out to extend winning streak
Of the ten returning champions from the 2011 edition in Paris, two are seeking to secure a history-making hat-trick of titles.
Arguably, the most high-profile athlete on view in the Scandinavium Arena is Olympic Pole Vault champion Renaud Lavillenie, who will be confident of a third straight European indoor gold medal.
The French athlete has been invincible so far this winter, boasting eight wins out of eight, not to mention the world-leading vault of 5.94m. The Olympic silver medallist and German champion Bjorn Otto may be the man best equipped to stop him.
Otto’s compatriot Sebastian Bayer will also be seeking an historic third straight European indoor title in the men’s Long Jump, but he may find it a tough assignment. The European indoor record-holder has a relatively modest season’s best of 7.97m and faces strong opposition in the shape of World indoor bronze medallist Aleksandr Menkov (8.22m) while Swede Michel Torneus, who recently equalled the national record of 8.20m in Stockholm, will also be in the mix.
In the women’s Long Jump, Russia’s high profile Darya Klishina will seek to mount a successful defence, although she faces powerful opposition in the form of her compatriot and world leader Olga Kucherenko (7.00m).
Of the other defenders, Antionette Nana Djimou Ida of France will not have it easy in the women’s Pentathlon, where she faces world leader Ekaterina Bolshova of Russia.
Meanwhile, on the track, returning 800m champions Adam Kszczot of Poland and Great Britain’s Jenny Meadows will face fierce rivals in their respective events. Kszczot takes on the likes of Spain’s Kevin Lopez and Great Britain’s Michael Rimmer. Meadows will face Russian’s Elena Kotulskaya (née Kofanova).
One of the most keenly anticipated events will be the women’s Pole Vault. Here Anna Rogowska hopes to defend her title but the Pole has been a little inconsistent this season and Great Britain’s European leader Holly Bleasdale and rising Russian talent Anastasiya Savchenko will form a strong challenge.
Future stars to challenge for medals
Traditionally, the European Indoor Championships have been a breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow and the latest edition could witness the emergence of a number of stellar names.
One such athlete could be World junior champion Alessia Trost, who features in the women’s High Jump. The Italian teenager has emerged as one of the breakout stars of the indoor season – advancing her personal best by eight centimetres to 2.00m, the world-leading mark. Spain’s four-time European indoor medallist Ruth Beitia and 2008 Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut of Belgium will present her chief opposition.
Trost’s compatriot Michael Tumi is another relatively new name who could make a big impact in the men’s 60m. The sprinter has set two national records over the distance this winter – a best of 6.51 is the European lead – and he hopes to become the first Italian since Stefano Tilli 30 years ago to take this title. European 100m silver medallist Jimmy Vicaut of France and former European 60m champion Dwain Chambers of Great Britain are also entered.
Staying on the theme of young emerging stars, reigning European 110m Hurdles champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia will start favourite in the men’s 60m Hurdles. The joint world leader posted a personal best of 7.50 to land his national title. The French duo of World indoor bronze medallist Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and Dimitri Bascou are likely to be among his main rivals.
Dutch multi-eventer Eelco Sintnicolaas, the world leader in the Heptathlon, looks a good bet in the two-day seven-discipline challenge.
The men’s 400m is often one of the most thrilling of indoor disciplines and European outdoor champion for the distance Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic will try to become the first man to hold both titles at the same time since Great Britain’s Du’aine Ladejo some 19 years ago. Lying in wait to wreck his ambitions are Russia’s Pavel Trenikhin and European leader Brian Gregan of Ireland.
In the women’s sprints, watch out for European leader in the 60m Mariya Ryemyen of Ukraine, who will be looking to upgrade the silver medal she won in Paris two years ago. Former European 100m champion Verena Sailer of Germany will look to stand in her way.
Back to the middle-distances, the men’s metric mile looks set to be a thriller. The showdown features Turkey’s World indoor 1500m silver medallist Ilham Tanui Ozbilen, European steeplechase champion Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad and the 2010 European outdoor champions for 800m and 1500m, respectively, Marcin Lewandowski of Poland and Spain’s Arturo Casado.
Steve Landells for the IAAF