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A command performance by Phillips Idowu and two surprise victories for Germany capped an action-packed programme on the third day of competition at the 20th European Athletics Championships.
Idowu on a roll
Five titles in all were decided on an evening that began with dark looming clouds, thunder, lightning and rain but ended with relatively clear skies and a cool refreshing breeze, a perfect setting for Idowu, the reigning World champion in the Triple Jump, to rise to the occasion and claim his first continental crown at Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.
Idowu was on form from the outset, setting the tone with his 17.46m leap in the first round, which he improved a notch to 17.47m in the second, just shy of his 17.48m season’s best. A 17.40m in the third round followed before he nailed the biggest jump of his career, a 17.81m hop, step and jump that added eight centimetres to his previous best and moved him to the doorstep of the all-time top-10.
“My build-up to the championships was not great but I was very happy to have been able to jump consistently today,” said the 31-year-old Olympic silver medallist, whose sole big meet victories this season came in Rio in May and at the Gateshead Samsung Diamond League fixture 19 days ago. “With the World championship and European championship under my belt, I am just missing one title – the Olympics.”
The man he tied in position No. 13 on the all-time list, Romanian Marian Oprea, bounced into the medal picture with a season’s best 17.51 in the fifth round, overtaking France’s World indoor champion Teddy Tamgho to strike silver. Tamgho’s 17.45m best also came in the fifth round, good enough for the bronze.
Stahl surprises in the Javelin...
Linda Stahl knocked the women’s Javelin Throw competition on its ear in the fifth round when she blasted a career best 66.81m to clinch an unforeseen gold. A two-time World Championships finalist – she was sixth last year – the 24-year-old arrived in the Catalan capital with a modest 62.65 season’s best, a distance not deemed too threatening to the more favoured Barbora Spotakova the World record holder and Olympic champion, Christina Obergfoll, Germany’s Olympic bronze medallist, and Russian Mariya Abakumova, the Olympic silver medallist.
Instead Stahl inspired her teammate, who reached 65.58m in the same round to secure a German 1-2 finish in the event. Both surpassed Spotakova, who led from the opening round with what turned out to be her best throw of the day, 65.36m. Spotakova came close in the fifth round, throwing beyond the 65-metre line to 65.09m, but fell well short. Fourth place went to another German, Katharina Molitor, who moved up the rankings with a final round 63.81m. Abakumova was a well-beat fifth with a 61.46m best.
... and Sailer stuns in the 100m
Stahl also likely made an impact on the women’s 100m, with the finalists settling into their blocks just moments after her winning throw. The timing must have inspired German champion Verena Sailer who produced the race of her life to take surprise gold.
Sailer looked the champion in waiting in the semis earlier, where she cruised to a marginally wind-assisted (+2.2) 11.06. She wasn’t as powerful in the final, and needed virtually every bit of ground before inching past the field to stop the clock in 11.10. It was close though with just 0.01 separating her from runner-up Veronique Mang of France. Myriam Soumare, the quickest out of the blocks and the early leader, finished third in 11.18 for a French 2-3 finish. Both Sailer and Mang dropped their PBs significantly, from 11.18 and 11.20 respectively. Ezzine Okparaebo was fourth in 11.23, a Norwegian national record.
Shustov out-duels Ukhov in the High Jump
The early evening’s wet conditions most affected the 12 soggy men who embarked on the High Jump final just as the rain was falling the hardest. That didn’t faze Alexander Shustov, this year’s Russian champion, who sailed clear at 2.19m, 2.23m and 2.26m on his first go, and 2.29m with his second. Shustov need all three at the next height, 2.31m, before going clear while the favourite, his compatriot Ivan Ukhov, cleared with his second to take the lead.
But Shustov reclaimed it immediately with a first attempt clearance at 2.33m, putting the pressure on Ukhov. After missing once, Ukhov passed to 2.35m and missed twice more, giving the victory to Shustov.
“From the beginning it was not going well because of the rain but I found the courage to jump,” said Shustov, this year’s European Team Championships winner. “When Ukhov cleared 2.31 I was thinking to skip my third attempt but my coach insisted that I didn’t. And he was right because (after clearing 2.31) I went over 2.33 with my first.”
Swede Linus Thornblad matched Shustov’s card exactly through 2.29m but then bowed out with three misses at 2.31m. His first miss at 2.29m was enough to give Briton Martyn Bernard, who cleared the height with his first attempt, the bronze.
Barras outpaces Sintnicolaas in the Decathlon
Coming down to the final event, the Decathlon was hardly bereft of drama. Romain Barras of France led Dutchman Eelco Sintnicolaas by just five points heading into the final event but finished more than two seconds ahead to tally 8453 points, adding nearly 50 points to his previous best of 8406 from 2006.
All things considered, the 23-year-old Sintnicolaas was enjoying the performance of his career, and ended his exhausting two days with 8436 points, eclipsing his previous best of 8159 by more than 250 points.
Barras, sixth after the first day, moved into third after clocking 14.22 in the 110m Hurdles, and didn’t take the led until after his 65.77m effort in the Javelin. Sintnicolaas, seventh after day one, improved to fifth after his 14.33 in the hurdles. Then, A big 5.45m clearance in the Pole Vault really helped matters, elevating him from fifth after seventh events into gold medal contention.
Andrea Krauchenko of Belarus, the reigning Olympic silver medallist, was third after the first day and ended in bronze medal position with an 8370 tally.
Double duty begins for Lemaitre and Farah
Less than 24 hours after taking the 100m title, Christophe Lemaitre found himself carrying the favourite’s roll in the 200m as well courtesy of his 20.39 run in the semis, the fastest of the round by nearly two-tenths of a second. Appearing to labour into and around the bend, the Frenchman trailed nearly the entire field as he entered the straight, only to blast by over the final 60 metres. Briton Christian Malcolm was second in 20.58, while Norway’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure (20.50) and Marlon Devonish of Great Britain (20.55) were the quickest in heat one.
Likewise, 10,000m champion Mo Farah breezed into the Saturday's 5000m final after winning the second of two rain-washed heats in a blanket finish. The Briton clocked 13:38.26, just ahead of Spanish favorites Jesus Espana, the defending champion, and Sergio Sanchez. Hayle Ibrahimov was the fastest on the day, his 13:32.98 clocking in the first heat a national record for Azerbaijan. European Cross Country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh breezed through as well, giving the hosts a 1-2-3 punch in the final. Chris Thompson and Daniele Meucci, the silver and bronze medallists in the 10,000m, moved on as well.
Two Spaniards advance from 800m semis
There was little to differentiate the two semi-finals in the men’s 800m, and little to indicate who the favourite might be in Saturday's final. In a pair of blanket finishes – the first with several bodies sprawled on the ground beyond the line – the heat winners were Spaniard Kevin Lopez (1:48.11) and Michael Rimmer of Great Britain (1:47.67). European leader Marci Lewandowski of Poland also advanced as well as Luis Alberto Marco of Spain to give the hosts two men in the final.
Britons David Greene and Rhys Williams look to be the men to beat in Saturday's 400m Hurdles finals after the pair cruised to victories in their respective heats clocking 49.48 and 49.61 respectively. Defending champion Periklis Iakovakis finished fifth in heat two in 50.33, but scraped through on time as the eighth qualifier.
Alekhina triples windy 14.93 in qualifying
The morning’s qualifying round in the Triple Jump witnessed the farthest leap ever in an opening round at these championships when Nadezhda Alekhina broke the sand at 14.93m – with a little help by a +3.3 m/s wind. After a pair of modest efforts, the three-time Russian champion needed the final round boost to advance to Saturday’s final. In an otherwise lacklustre competition, Slovak Dana Veldakova had the morning’s second best leap at 14.59m, with Russian Alsu Murtazina reaching the final with a leap of just 14.07m.
Eight men reached the 5.65m automatic qualifier in the Pole Vault in an opening round where 5.60m was enough for some and not enough for others. Italy’s Giuseppe Gibilisco was the only vaulter with a perfect card, sailing clear at 5.50m, 5.60m and 5.65m. Favourite Renaud Lavillenie of France needed a pair of attempts at 5.65m as did other podium favourites, his compatriot Romain Mesnil and Germany’s Raphael Holszdeppe.
Notables not making the cut were Russian Alexander Gripich, who was fifth at last year’s World Championships, and Ukraine’s Olympic bronze medallist, Denys Yurchenko, who both no-heighted.
The big news in the 110m Hurdles qualifying was the false start disqualification of Latvia’s Stanislav Olijar, the defending champion. The 31-year-old hasn’t run faster than 13.36 since 2006 and wasn’t seen as a strong favourite to defend, but he didn’t expect to pack his bags before lunch on day three of the championships. This year’s crop of medal defenders all did however move on without incident. Hungary’s Daniel Kiss was the fastest on the day at 13.44, with Briton Andy Turner (13.48), Czech record holder Petr Svoboda (13.50) and Frenchman Dimitri Bascou (13.65) winning the other three heats.