Stefan Holm of Sweden jumping in the 2004 European Cup (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Britain and Russia top day one – European Cup

After the first day of the SPAR European Cup competition in Bydgoszcz, Poland, today, the men from Great Britain join the Russian women in holding leads in the team contest, reports Ed Gordon.

The British men’s team looks remarkably dominant at the halfway point as they found a way to win six of ten events on this first day as well as finding a way to lose a potential seventh winner through disqualification.  They collected 60.5 points to head the teams from Poland and France, which rest in second and third with 55 and 53 points, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the Russian women are putting on a dazzling display of team dominance, and with 69 points to the 46 of both the French and Polish team, their overall win tomorrow is all but assured.

Men’s Competition - Britain dominant

First, the bad news for the British:  It came early in the afternoon as the top entry in the men’s 100 metres, two-time European Cup winner Mark Lewis-Francis, was disqualified for a false start.  That opened the gate for Polish sprinter Lukasz Chyla - second to Lewis-Francis on the competition form chart - to score a win.  It was not an easy victory for the Pole running in lane one, however, as Ronald Pognon of France finished strongly on the other side of the track in lane eight.  The pair fought through a headwind of 3.2 as Chyla barely eked out the victory, 10.42 to 10.43. 

Lewis-Francis, having already suffered the ignominy of disqualification, came close to a second dose of disappointment in the men’s 4x100 relay. Taking the baton for the final leg, the British sprinter almost had his slim lead completely gnawed away by Marcin Urbas’ strong finish.  Lewis-Francis just did hold on against the Pole, as his British squad won, 38.67 to 38.68.  Fast finishes by the Germans (38.76), Italians (38.87) and French quartets (38.87) followed the lead pair of teams.

Rawlinson – 48.59 from lane one

For the second time in his European Cup career, British 400 hurdler Chris Rawlinson found himself assigned to lane one.  But just as he did on the previous occasion, Rawlinson used this bit of bad fortune as a challenge and emerged with a season-best 48.59 in his victory.  Running even with France’s Naman (in lane five) for the first four hurdles, the Briton finally started to edge ahead at barrier five.  Despite the tight turn facing him, Rawlinson put on a determined finish to win against the 49.04 of Naman.

The one-lap race without hurdles also fell into British hands, thanks to a cagey race by Tim Benjamin.  With European 400 champion Ingo Schultz holding a sizeable lead running on Benjamin’s outside coming off the final curve, the former European junior champion overtook the fading German in the final metres for a notable win in the men’s 400 metres, 45.37 to 45.50.  Leslie Djhone of France saved reserve power for the finish and claimed third in 45.73 ahead of Piotr Klimczak of Poland (46.04).

Last round heroics from Myerscough and Tomlinson

Men’s Shot Put winner Carl Myerscough used a dramatic script to pull out yet another British win. The US university student was languishing in third place as his top two rivals had already finished for the day.  The 2.08m-tall giant then released a 20.85 to leapfrog up to the top spot as Rutger Smith of Holland (20.56) and Germany’s Ralf Bartels (20.54) could only watch helplessly. 

Chris Tomlinson also used some late-round heroics to take the men’s Long Jump title.  The British record holder was in third place when he rode a 3.3 wind to 8.28 and his first-ever European Cup title after taking second in 2001.  Finishing second with a PB 8.24 was Salim Sdiri of France, as world indoor bronze medallist Vitaliy Shkurlatov of Russia opened his outdoor season with a 8.13 for third.

Slow pace fell into Mayock’s hands

Not surprisingly, the slow pace of the men’s 5000 metres fell right into the plans of 1500-metre specialist John Mayock.  As a windy downpour accompanied the runners from the third lap onward, the Briton sped away with Russia’s Sergey Ivanov at his side with 300 metres remaining.  Only midway through the final straight did Mayock look to be pulling away, only to have to search for one more gear at the end to elude the Russian’s final surge.  Mayock’s final clocking of 14:44.71 will doubtlessly not enter his memory book, nor will the 14:44.75 of Ivanov’s, but the finish was perhaps the most thrilling of the day.  Even France’s Mokar Benhari took a supporting role in this drama with an all-out final sprint for a 14:44.78 third-place clocking.

Holm versus Sposób - Highest quality event of the day

The exploits of the British almost overshadowed perhaps the highest quality event of the day, the Men’s High Jump.  Competing in only his second outdoor competition of the year, three-time world indoor champion Stefan Holm dared to enter the home territory of Polish standout Grzegorz Sposób for a highly-anticipated duel.  The Swede submitted his usual blemish-free jumping log up through 2.30, which Sposób matched except for a miss a 2.27.  Then, at 2.32 Holm needed two attempts, but claimed the win when the Pole required all three.  Both jumpers exited with three misses at 2.34 as the rain god favoured their event by delaying precipitation until immediately after the end of the contest.  German jumper Roman Fricke continued his outstanding season with a 2.27 performance which took third on a count-back against Nicola Ciotti of Italy at the same height.  Seville World champion Vyacheslav Voronin tied for fifth at 2.20 with a man who has spent more than half his 38 years jumping at the elite level, Britain’s Dalton Grant.

Baala sprints home off slow pace

Mehdi Baala of France won a men’s 1500 metres race that was embarrassingly slow.  It was obvious that tactics would weight heavily in the build-up to the final lap, but the cumulative laps of 66.97 and 2:14.84 were almost sleep-inducing.  Finally, with 500 metres remaining, Holland’s Marko Koers put a stop to this farce by forcing the pace.  Midway through the final backstretch, Baala and Britain’s Michael East jetted away for the final sprint, won by the Frenchman in 3:49.13 to East’s 3:49.53. Third place went to World 800 silver medallist Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia, as he held off Koers’ finish, 3:50.99 to 3:51.35. 

The initial event of the day saw former World and defending Olympic champion Szymon Ziolkowski of Poland win the Men’s Hammer with 77.27, ahead of Markus Esser of Germany (76.97), and Sydney silver medallist Nicola Vizzoni of Italy (76.16).

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Women’s Competition – Russia cruises ahead

The Women’s Triple Jump was the highlight of the women’s competition, and it was also an important win for Russia’s Anna Pyatykh. The titlist in the past two European Cup competitions, Pyatykh looked to be an easy victor after a world-leading 14.85 in the second round.  As it turned out, the Russian barely held on to win, as Greece’s Hrysopigi Devetzi bounded to a wind-aided 14.81 in the third round, followed by a 14.78 by Sydney bronze winner Olena Govorova of Ukraine in the fourth (and final) round. 

The competition also served as a return to outdoor competition for Britain’s Ashia Hansen, after almost two years due to surgery last season, but the comeback was short-lived.  Hitting the runway on the final phase of her second attempt today, the reigning European and Commonwealth champion’s knee gave way and she crumpled to the sand.  No word on her condition was available at the end of the first day of competition. 

UPDATE -  Hansen damaged tendons in her kneecap and will now miss the Olympics and the rest of the year, the British team later announced. 

Kotlyarova stunning again at 400m

Olga Kotlyarova put on a stunning display of long sprinting in the women’s 400 Metres and might have come away with yet another world-leading time herself had she not been so powerful in the Russian Cup two weeks ago (49.94).  Still, her powerful return to action after maternity leave continues to put her in the top rank of Olympic hopefuls, as her wire-to-wire 50.09 today demonstrated.  In the other contest - for second place - Germany’s Claudia Marx looked on her way to the runner-up spot, but she was overtaken in the final metres by both Antonina Yefremova of Ukraine (51.79) and France’s Solene Desert (52.09).  The German faded to fourth in 52.11. 

Although not as heavily favoured as Kotlyarova, teammate Olga Raspopova was clearly the class of the women’s 800 metres.  Her winning time of 2:00.24 bettered the 2:01.27 achieved by Germany’s Claudia Gesell with a strong closing sprint.  Susan Scott of Great Britain just missed clipping Gesell at the end with 2:01.35.

Halkia sets Greek record in 400m Hurdles  

The Women’s 400 Hurdles confirmed the stature of Fani Halkia in the event’s top rank.  Only a week after extracting a national record 54.88 from the new Olympic surface in Athens, the Greek hurdler out-kicked Yekaterina Bikert for another national record (54.16) as the Russian took second in 54.60.  Malgorzata Pskit of the host Polish team stayed ahead of Germany’s Anja Neupert for third, 55.68 to 55.84.

Balakhonova first time clearances

Although one of the oldest competitors in the Women’s Pole Vault field at age 31, former European champion Anzhela Balakhonova of Ukraine waltzed through the competition with first-attempt clearances up through her winning 4.50.  Poland’s Monika Pyrek was somewhat off her usual level today and finished second at 4.40, as Tatyana Polnova of Russia took third ahead of Yeoryia Tsiligiri of Greece, both at 4.30. 

Just as in the men’s sprint, the women’s 100 metres fell victim to a stiff headwind as Christine Arron could only achieve 11.23 against the 1.9 breeze.  The French sprinter, definitely the class of the field, was followed into the finish by Yuliya Tabakova of Russia (11.39) and Spain’s Glory Alozie (11.49). 

Arron certainly was more pleased with the 42.41 to which she brought her French 4x100 relay team at the end of the afternoon, although the time could have been significantly better had it not been for an sub-par exchange between Muriel Hurtis and Sylviane Félix.  Russia (42.93) and Ukraine (43.43) followed the French quartet into the finish.

Voggoli digs deep for final round win 

If there was a rags-to-riches story to be told today, it was by Ekaterini Voggoli of Greece in the Women’s Discus.  The Paris bronze medallist and current European champion found herself placed last at 51.72 with one attempt remaining.  Her solution to the problem was a mammoth 64.25 which pushed Germany’s Franka Dietzsch (61.42) to second place by almost three metres.  Poland’s Joanna Wisniewska held on for third with 60.51, despite the final-round 60.49 of Melina Robert-Michon of France.

Samitova high class on the flat

The World record holder in the steeplechase, Gulnara Samitova, drew an assignment in the women’s flat 3000 metres.  With or without hurdles, the Russian was more than a match for the rest of the field and won in a high-quality 8:49.48 despite the tendency of such races to be tactical.  Going to the front with Samitova as three laps remained was Poland’s Lidia Chojecka, who actually appeared to be gaining on the Russian during the final 600 metres.  Chojecka took second with 8:52.60, ahead of Spain’s Zulema Fuentes-Pila (8:59.20). 

The Women’s Javelin was bereft of any drama after Aggeliki Tsiolakoudi’s opening 62.80, which not only ended up as the winner but was more than three metres better than any other throw of the day.  Defending Cup champion Steffi Nerius of Germany also had her best of 59.42 on her first trip down the runway, and watched it hold up for second place ahead of the 58.88 of Valeriya Zabruskova of Russia.

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