Sandra Perkovic of Croatia during the Discus Throw final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 27 Juluy 2009

Euro Junior Champs, Final Day

Novi Sad, SerbiaLocal internet sites and news agencies didn't waste any time broadcasting the news - 'Zlato' za Tatjanu Jelacu! - Gold for Tatjana Jelaca.

The Serbian Javelin thrower memorably brought the curtain down of the final day (26) of the 20th European Athletics Junior Championships by winning very last gold medal to be contested over the four days, throwing a national record of 60.35m, the best mark in the world this year by a junior.

The best for last

Jelaca hadn't been the Serbian hosts only hope for a gold medal but she had arguably been their best, having won the bronze medal in at the 2008 World Junior Championships, so an astute piece of scheduled meant that she   was centre stage as the championships came to an end.

Under intense pressure to deliver in front of an excited home crowd who had yet to see a Serbian victory at these championships, although two silvers had been won, Jeleca rose to the occasion.

Her throw added almost two metres to her previous record of 58,77m set when she finished third in Bydgoszcz last year.

Nevertheless, after four rounds it looked as she was going to be a party pooper as she struggled to find her best form.

At the start of the penultimate round, Jeleca was in second place behind Poland's Karolina Mor with her relatively modest first-round effort of 53.41m.

However all the anxiety among the crowd dissipated as she unleashed her monster throw, the crowd roaring it on as it flew through the darkening evening sky.

“I know what everyone wanted and, yes, I was a little afraid I wasn't going to get the gold and everybody would be disappointed. Perhaps I was a little nervous and tense in the early rounds and not throwing with my best technique so there was a little bit of relief when I got a good throw (in the fifth round),” said Jelaca later.

“The competition was also running late and I don't think I warmed up properly. Immediately after the competition with the crowd cheering, it was so exciting, but I think you saw the the relief at the medal ceremony.”

For good measure, Jelaca finished with 55.86m which would have also taken the title before being paraded around the track on the back of a truck, taking the plaudits from her adoring fans.

Relay drama as Britain and the Ukraine win

Often it is the 4x400m relays that end championships and the two races in Novi Sad would have provided an equally fitting conclusion.

Ukrainian individual 400m champion Yuliya Baraley  ran a tremendous anchor leg in 52.22, the fastest lap of the race by more than half-a-second, to give her country the women's 4x400m gold medals for the first time in the history of the European Athletics Junior Championships.

Ukraine ran a national junior record of 3:35.82. Baraley received the baton 10 metres behind Russia's Liliya Gafiyatullina but overhauled the 400m silver medallist 20 metres from the line to win by a stride.

“After winning the 400m I felt confident that I could have a good run and although everybody was talking about the Russians, we had three girls in the final of the 400m so we knew we had a very good chance,” reflected Baraley.

The Ukrainian victory put an end to the winning streak of their neighbours Russia, who had won the event at the last five championships.

For the third successive European Junior Championships, Great Britain got the last track victory, this time winning in 3:07.85 after a thrilling neck-and-neck battle with Germany from the gun to the line.

The pair handed over together at the end of the first leg before Germany's Benjamin Jonas ran a great 400m to get a two-metre advantage.

Nathan Wake kept Britain in contention on the third leg and even though he handed over to individual 400m winner Chris Clarke three metres behind Germany's Marco Kaiser, sixth in the 400m final on Friday, he still gave Clarke just the chance he needed.

Clarke waited until the 200m from home before he swung past Kaiser and although the dogged German never threw in the towel, chasing his British rival all the way to the line.

“At 100m (from home) I was dead. After overtaking and having to gradually force myself in I used more energy to do that, and I was gone on the home straight. All I could think was I didn’t want to let the guys down, I’m so glad but so beat,” said the exhausted but delighted Clarke.

German top medal table

Germany may have had to settle for second place in that event but they came out on top in six of the 18 events to be decided on the final day for an overall haul of 10 gold medals. They topped the medal table for the first time since 2003, with one gold medal more than Russia.

It was a hugely successful championship for Germany, who won 25 medals in total - 10 gold, eight silver and five bronze - a total only bettered once since 1991, the last time the former Soviet Union competed as a team.

Germany's well-practised relay squads took both of the 4x100m gold medals with the men zipping round in 39.33, the third best time in the history of the European Athletics Junior Championships.

The German women, with individual 100m winner Yasmin Kwadwo leading off, won in 44.86.

In similar fashion, the German pair of Tobias Giehl and Inga Muller convincingly took the honours in both 400m Hurdles events, despite both winners admitting to some technical problems in the heat of the moment, crossing the line in 50.85 and 57.16 respectively.
“I was just going too fast between 200m and 300m so I had problems over the final hurdles,” reflected Muller.

“I was in the lead coming into the home straight but then seemed to lose my rhythm. At least I couldn't see what was behind me so I just kept driving and hanging on,” added Geihl, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Saturday.

Nico Weiler won the men's Pole Vault with 5.25m and Carolin Schäfer took the Heptathlon with 5697 points to complete the German gold rush.

Russia jumpers impress as well

Among the Russian athletes who impressed was men's Long Jump gold medallist Aleksandr Menkov.

Menkov jumped 7.98m with the very last jump of the competition but had also flown out to 7.95m in the second round and held the lead from that point.

He was going to be seriously challenged although Poland's Lukasz Maslowski improved his personal best by 20cm after jumping 7.85m in the final round  to improve his standing from seventh to second.

Curiously, considering Russia's overall excellence in technical events it was also their first men's Long Jump gold at the European Junior Athletics Championships since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Russia's Natalya Mamlina also jumped a personal best of 1.91m to win the women's High Jump, the best height by a European junior this year.

Perhaps the most impressive distance victory on the final day was the 3000m Steeplechase win by Spain's Antonio Abadia, who got his gold medal thanks to a courageous move with more than 900m to go.

He accelerated hard for 200m, leaving the rest of the field wondering how to respond, and then gritted his teeth and dug deep over the final two laps to win in 8:47.45, a personal best and the fastest time by a European junior this year.

Norway's Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal added the 5000m gold medal to the one she had won in the 3000m steeplechase on Saturday, winning in 15:45.45.

Grøvdal shot into the lead straight from the gun and was never had any company after the first kilometre, eventually winning by 60m despite easing up on the final lap.

Croatia's Sandra Perkovic now has a full set of major championship medals in her collection after taking the Discus Throw gold with a national junior record of 62.44m. It was also the best performance in the European Athletics Junior Championships for 20 years.

She got her big throw out in the first round to add nearly two metres to her previous national record of 60.66m and nobody else could get within seven metres of the 2007 European junior silver medallist and 2008 World junior bronze medallist.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF

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