Stockholm, SwedenRussia had a big overnight lead of 29.5 points in the defence of their SPAR European Team Championships crown and there were three events with world-leading performances on Saturday (18).
Ukraine High Jumper Dymtro Demyanyuk went over 2.35m, Germany’s Christina Obergföll tossed the women’s Javelin out to 66.22m while both Poland’s Anna Rogowska and Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg cleared 4.75m in the Women’s Pole Vault.
Russia in command again
There were suggestions that the Russian team was not as strong as the one that won in Bergen, Norway, 12 months ago but that looked to be a fallacy on the first day in the Swedish capital as they ended with a tally of 213 points, four points more than in 2010.
They also had an even bigger advantage over their nearest rivals, which this year is the 2009 champions Germany with 183.5 points, after 21 of the 40 events.
Russian victories were achieved by 400m man Maksim Dyldin, long jumper Aleksandr Menkov, 800m and 3000m runners Mariya Savinova and Olesya Syreva as well as 3000m steeplechase World record holder Gulnara Galkina.
Among the quintet of first places, arguably the most notable was the 20-year-old Menkov’s leap of 8.20m in the third round of a closely fought contest and Savinova’s majestic triumph over two laps of the track in 1:58.75.
The 2010 European 800m champion showed that she has still got all the attributes that took her to gold in Barcelona last summer, despite missing the indoor season, after showing a fine burst of acceleration down the home straight to hold off Great Britain’s Jennifer Meadows.
Savinova’s win after just six events, with Menkov getting maximum points just a few minutes later, put Russia in the overall lead in the team competition and they never relinquished it.
Demyanyuk defies the odds
If Russia’s pole position could have been easily foreseen it would have taken someone with remarkable powers of foresight to have predicted the performance of Ukrainian High Jumper Dymtro Demyanyuk.
After failing to qualify for the final at all the six major global or continental championships he had been sent to since 2007, few rated the 27-year-old despite him boasting of a best of 2.32m.
However, he had a stunning competition, twice improving on his four-year-old personal best with first time clearances at 2.33m and 2.35m, only coming down to earth at 2.39m.
“This is the first season for many years I’ve been injury-free and I’ve been training really well since March,” said Demyanyuk.
At 2.31m, there were still four men left in the competition but only Demyanyuk and Russia’s Aleksey Dmitrik, who has also cleared 2.35m this season, went clear.
Dmitrik failed at his first attempt at 2.33m before Demyanyuk flew over. The Russian then opted to take his next attempt at 2.35m but failed again.
However, Demyanyuk slithered over, gently touching the bar, and he the secured the victory when Dmitrik had another failure, this time at 2.37m.
Obergföll on form again
German Javelin thrower Christina Obergföll seems to have a special affinity for these championships.
She was the only women to have won an individual event at the first two editions and she made it a hat trick when became the first woman over 66 metres this year with her first round effort of 66.22m.
Three other women went over 64 metres in a very good quality contest but the former European record holder, and one of the very few women to have thrown over 70 metres in their lives, ended up winning by nearly two metres.
“I was actually a little tired after coming back from the United States as I’d competed in the Samsung Diamond League meeting in New York last week, I guess that eased any tension I might have felt,” joked Obergföll.
Great Britain’s Goldie Sayers finished second. She threw 64.31m in the first round and then 64.46m with her fourth and final attempt, her best throws since she got fourth place at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing with a national record of 65.75m.
The latter effort was a timely response to Czech Republic’s Barbora Špotáková after the world record holder had gone out to 64.40m two throws before in the final round, which temporarily dropped Sayers to third place.
Rogowska reigns supreme again
An outstanding women’s pole vault contest saw a repeat of the sharp end of the 2011 European Athletics Indoor Championships with Poland’s 2009 world champion Anna Rogowska again prevailing over Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg.
The gold and silver medallists from Paris were both over a world-leading height of 4.75m but Rogowska went clear at the first time of asking while her German rival needed two attempts.
Clearly feeling confident, Rogowska then passed the next height of 4.80m, at which Spiegelburg took two attempts before having to retire, and finished her day having three unsuccessful attempts at improving her own Polish record to 4.86m.
Among the other notable performances was Ukraine’s 2010 European Athletics Championships Triple Jump gold medallist Olha Saladuha bounding out to a 14.85m in the second round, a distance only she and Cuba’s Yargelis Savigne had reached this year before Saturday.
In fact, all four of her jumps in an excellent series – 14.51m, 14.85m, 14.44m, 14.53m – were better than her nearest rival with Italy’s 2011 European indoor championships gold medallist Simona La Mantia a distant second with 14.25m.
Fast track helps Hejnová and Lemaitre to national records
Stockholm’s famously quick track in the 1912 Olympic stadium helped Zuzana Hejnová produce a Czech 400m Hurdles record when winning in 53.87 to make her the second fastest European, and fifth fastest world, performer of the year.
Russia’s 2010 European champion Natalia Antyukh hasn’t been quite in the same form that she showed last summer but finished second in a season’s best of 54.52.
France’s Christophe Lemaitre, who only turned 21 a week ago, again showed that he is currently peerless among Europe’s sprinters as he sped to a new national record of 9.95, the fastest time by a European for seven years.
Helped by a 1.0mps following wind, Lemaitre got his long legs moving very quickly and was the fastest man out of his blocks.
“Everything was very good. I got a good start and accelerated for 50-60 metres before I got to my top speed. I didn’t think I was going to get a record here, but obviously I’m glad I did,” said the delighted Lemaitre.
However, with the World Championships looming it’s important to put things in a global perspective and Lemaitre’s time still only ranks his equal 11th on the 2011 world lists.
Relegation beckons for last three
By contrast to those who grabbed the glory on Saturday, at the foot of the table at the end of the first day were Belarus, Portugal and hosts Sweden, who were unable to muster a single win between them.
The trio will be battling on the second day, primarily with Italy who are one place above the three relegation positions, to avoid going down to the First League in 2013. The European Team Championships will skip a year owing to the presence of the 2012 European Athletics Championships on the calendar.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF