Ostrava, Czech Republic - The eighth edition of the European Athletics Under 23 Championships started off in fine fashion with championship best of 20.45m in the men’s Shot Put by Germany’s David Storl on the opening evening and ended spectacularly with Ukraine’s Sheryf El-Sheryf bounding out to a phenomenal 17.72m in the Triple jump, the final field event to finish on Sunday (17).
In between, across four days of enthralling action in the Czech Republic’s third largest city, another four more championship records were set.
Storl was the prohibitive favourite as he started the event more than a metre ahead of his nearest rivals in the Shot Put but the 20-year-old Chemnitz policeman initially had his many fans biting their fingernails as he fouled his first two attempts in the final.
However, a safe third round effort of 19.79m calmed the nerves and put him comfortably in front and then he sent his implement out to 20.45m in the fifth round.
It wasn’t the best performance of his career - he threw 21.03m in Göteborg last month - but it extended his winning streak to nine competitions and Storl - who was one of 10 winners at the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships at the same venue who returned to compete in Ostrava this year - hasn’t thrown under 20 metres at any meeting all year.
“I was thinking about 21-metre barrier because I managed to throw it already a few weeks ago but after I started the competition with two faults, I became a little nervous,” reflected the amiable Storl, who is a prodigious talent in an event where the top contenders usually mature in their late 20s.
Double gold for Abdullayeva..
The second day on Friday saw Layesh Abdullayeva get Azerbaijan’s first medal of any description in the history of the Championships when she loped around 25 laps, lapping every single runner on the track at least once before stopping the clock in a 10,000m championship best of 32:18.05.
She sliced nearly 20 seconds off the previous best and finished more than a minute in front of the Ukrainian silver medallist Lyudmyla Kovalenko.
“I know I missed just a few seconds to the European under 23 record, but I was to tired to push in the end,” said Abdullayeva.
Nevertheless, she recovered quickly and returned to take the 5000m title in an absolute national record of 15:29.47 on Sunday.
.. and for Arzhakova
However, Abdullayeva wasn’t the only woman to notch up two individual titles, with Russia’s Yelena Arzhakova firstly winning a thrilling 800m in a personal best of 1:59.41, the best time by a European under 23 runner this year, and then triumphing in a tactical 1500m in 4:20.55.
Arzhakova had to dig deep to hold off Turkey’s impressive Merve Aydin in the shorter event but the runners in the latter final on Sunday almost gifted the gold medal to their Russian rival with a sedentary first 1100 metres; whereas anyone brave enough to test her from further out might have been rewarded for their courage.
Another title for Perie
Romania stole the show on Saturday with hammer thrower Bianca Perie adding to her ever growing list of accolades - she has won twice at the World Youth Championships, World Junior Championships and European Junior Championships - by taking her latest title with a championship best of 71.59m in the fourth round.
For good measure, she also had a backup throw of 70.57m which would also have sufficed for the gold medal.
“The conditions were very good in Ostrava, so I have been able to show my shape. I am glad I managed to throw the championship record but my biggest dream now is to win the Olympic Games. I am preparing hard for that and that is my priority,” said determined Perie.
Who would dare to dismiss the possibility that by next summer, in London, and with her formidable record in major age-group championships, the ever-improving Perie might be able to challenge the likes of Germany’s World record holder Betty Heidler,
Petrie improves to 1.98m, Klishina to 7.05m
Possibly the best event for depth in the whole of the Championships was the women’s high jump in which the top six all set personal bests but the plaudits went to the pencil-thin Romanian Esthera Petrie who started the day with a best of 1.92m but finished it with 1.98m to her name after improving three times during the competition.
Petrie joins Russia’s Svetlana Lapshina and Croatia’s 2010 World Athlete of the Year Blanca Vlasic as the co-holder of the championship record.
The final day the spotlight was on the horizontal jumpers and Russian long jumper Darya Klishina is making a name for herself both on and off the track.
She consolidated her growing celebrity status by flying out in the first round to a championship best of 7.05m, which also added two centimetres to the personal best she set last summer.
Ostrava is clearly on of Klishina’s favourite tracks because, like Storl, Perie and also Germany’s Discus winner Julia Fischer, she was a winner four years ago as a teenager when the World Youth Championships came to town.
17.72m breakthrough for El-Sheryf
There could also not have been a better way to bring the curtain down on the Championships than the fireworks provided El-Sheryf with the last attempt of the last field event.
There was a prevailing feeling that the Triple Jump might be a bit anti-climactic after France’s Teddy Tamgho, who had been very much the headline act of the whole event in the days beforehand, limped out of the qualifying rounds without a valid jump after slightly injuring his ankle.
However, it transpired that nothing was further from the truth.
El-Sheryf, who decided to give the Long Jump a miss despite being a potential contender in that event as well, had been in command of the competition from the start with personal bests leaps of 16.99m and 17.04m in the first two rounds.
Either of those two efforts would have sufficed for victory but, able to relax and give it everything he had, the son of a Syrian doctor just exploded during his three phases to 17.72m to add no less than 80 centimetres to his pre-Championships best.
The question is now, can he repeat his performance at the World Championships in Daegu later this summer?
“I have been training for this result for last three years. Without Teddy Tamgho, the competition was perhaps not so interesting for the public and I was so sorry because he is my friend and we have been competing together for five years. Now, I am looking forward to Korea and I would really like to win a medal there,” commented El-Sheryf.
As so often on the continental stage, Russia topped the medal table with 10 gold medals and 21 places on the podium in total. However, the 44 gold medals on offer were spread between 16 different countries and 26 had athletes in the top three of an event, demonstrating that breadth of talent across Europe.
The next European Athletics Under 23 Championships will be held in two years time when the Finnish city of Tampere is the host.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF