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Dramatic victories by sprinter Christophe Lemaitre and thrower Sandra Perkovic, along with a dominating run by distance ace Elvan Abeylegesse capped a thoroughly entertaining second day at the 20th European Athletics Championships.
Clearly, there was no shortage of sporting entertainment in Barcelona on the day when bullfighting was officially banned in Catalonia, beginning with the battle in the men’s 100m which capped the evening’s finals before a vociferous crowd of 28,232 at Olympic Stadium.
Lemaitre comes of age
It was billed as a showdown between Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, the latest entrant into the sub-10 club, and Briton Dwain Chambers, the World indoor 60 champion. Lemaitre illustrated that he was up to the task with a brisk 10.06 run into a steady 1.2 m/s win in the semis, and followed through as well in the final where Chambers in the end wasn’t much of a factor.
Regrouping well from a lacklustre start, the 20-year-old drew even with the field by midway before bursting away by 80 metres to add the European crown to his World junior 200m and a continental junior 100m titles.
“I didn’t have a good start but picked up very well on my speed,” said Lemaitre, who made waves last month when he clocked 9.98 at the French championships.
At 10.11, the time wasn't lighting fast – it was the slowest winning performance since 1994 – but the performance did display Lemaitre’s growing maturity and confidence. How mature and confident he is will be made more clear in Thursday’s opening round of the 200m where he will now start as the clear favourite.
Behind him a blanket finish for the remaining medals required several minutes to sort out. After several rereads of the photo, the silver was given to Briton Mark Lewis-Francis, and bronze to Martial Mbandjock for a French 1-3. Defending champion Francis Obikwelu was given fourth and Dwain Chambers fifth. Remarkably, all four were credited with a 10.18. How close were they? Only two one-thousandths of a second separated spots two and four, with Chambers another six one-thousandths back.
Abeylegesse dominates 10,000, as double beckons
Unlike last night’s men’s race, the battle in the women’s 10,000 was apparently down to just four women by the midway point, but it was already clear by then that this would finally be Abeylegesse’s night. Running comfortably at the front before the end of the fourth kilometre, the 27-year-old Turk pounded away and added to her lead lap by lap before reaching the finish in 31:10.23 to finally win the first major gold medal of her stellar career.
“I gave everything and finally reached that gold medal,” said Abeylegesse, the reigning double Olympic silver medallist. She'll return on Friday for the first round of the 5000m to try and make it double gold. She will certainly start with a target on her back.
In the battle behind her, Portugal’s Jessica Augusto ran by herself in second for much of the contest until she was passed by Russian defending champion Inga Abitova in the waning stages. Abitova clocked 31:22.83, comfortably ahead of Augusto's 31:25.77. Dutchwoman Hilda Kibet was a distant fourth in 31:36.90.
For Perkovic, an historic win for Croatia
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic might be remembered as one of these championships’ biggest success stories. After qualifying only 10th of 12 yesterday, the 20-year-old recharged her batteries to capture a thrilling come-from-behind victory to become the youngest ever women’s Discus Throw champion.
Sitting in second behind Romanian Nicoleta Grasu since the opening round – the latter opened with a 63.48m throw to the Croatian’s 62.98m – last year’s European junior champion pieced together one of her more consistent series before unleashing a 64.67m throw in the final round, second best of her career to steal the lead. Throwing last Grasu, the most senior in the field at 38 years, and 319 days old, simply couldn’t respond and came up more than six metres short, Giving Perkovic Croatia’s first gold since its independence in 1991.
“It’s unbelievable that I achieved the gold with my last throw,” said Perkovic, who improved her own national record to 66.85 this year, the second farthest throw in the world this year, and won at the Samsung Diamond League stop in New York. “I had a good feeling before the last throw.”
Joanna Wisniewski of Poland reached a 62.37m season’s best in the fourth round to take a surprise bronze. Germany’s Nadine Muller, the world leader, had a disappointing outing, reaching just 57.78m to finish eighth.
On the roads, Kaniskina as expected
Opening the day’s competition, Olga Kaniskina added to her already legendary resume by adding the European crown to her Olympic and two World 20Km Race Walk titles.
Kaniskina, the heavy favourite, took the lead for good in the eight kilometre en route to her 1:27:44 performance and led the first-ever podium sweep in the event at the European championships, with her compatriots Anisya Kirdyapkina and Vera Sokolova following her home in 1:28:55 and 1:29:32 respectively.
“It feels great to win here,” Kaniskina said. “We trained together very hard and now climbed the podium together.”
Germany's Melanie Seeger, 10th four years ago in Gothenburg, finished fourth in 1:29:43, nine seconds ahead of Spain's Beatriz Pascual (1:29:52), who was fifth.
Radevica surprises in the Long Jump
As expected the women’s Long Jump proved to be highly competitive, but the eventual winner, Latvian Ineta Radevica, wasn’t on too many short lists as gold medal favourite. The 29-year-old, who began the competition with a 6.80m personal best from 2005, improved that twice, first with a third round 6.79m to take the lead and again with a 6.92m national record to secure it. The former was crucial, enough to break a tie with Portugal’s Naide Gomes who equaled Radevica’s 6.92m in the same round, but had a second best effort of 6.68m.
World leader Olga Kucherenko sailed to 6.84m (+2.2) to save Russian honour with a third place finish.
Charfreitag rises to the occasion
Libor Charfreitag, the world leader at 80.59m, lived up to his favourite’s role with a convincing victory in the Hammer Throw. The Slovak who threw to World bronze three years ago, reached 80.02m in the second round, the only throw of the evening to sail beyond the 80-metre line.
Italy’s Nicola Vizzoni added nearly a metre to his season’s best with his last round 79.12m effort to snatch the silver from Hungary’s Krisztian Pars, who topped out at 79.06m in Round two. Vizzoni, the surprise Olympic silver medallist back in 2000, was the oldest man in the final at 37 years, 204 days old.
Kasyanov the overnight leader in the Decathlon
With strong performances in the 100m (10.60) and the Long Jump (7.66m), Oleksiy Kasyanov of Ukraine carries a narrow 20-point lead into tomorrow’s second day of the Decathlon with 4409 points. Lithuanian Darius Draudvila sits in second with 4389, with Andrei Krauchenko, one of the pre-meet favourites, in third with 4309.
J. Borlee improves to 44.71 on day loaded with full-lap action
With each race this summer, Jonathan Borlee is looking more and more like the next European champion. The 22-year-old lowered the Belgian record for the second time in 12 days: at the Samsung Diamond League fixture in Paris, he eclipsed his own standard by 0.01; tonight he chiseled a further 0.06 from the mark, lowering it to 44.71 in the first of three semi-finals. And he looked to have plenty in reserve when he crossed the line. His was the fourth fastest ever performance at the Europeans, and the fastest ever in a semi-final. Frenchman Leslie Djhone was second with a season’s best 44.87 to automatically move on as well. Briton Martyn Rooney, who was third in 45.00, advanced on time.
The second heat was nearly as fast, with Irishman David Gillick edging Nriton Michael Bingham, 44.79 to 44.88. Borlee’s twin brother Kevin took the third head in 45.32, setting up another milestone for these championships: the first time twins will contest the same final.
On the women’s side, Runners from Russia cruised to victory in each of the three women’s semis, setting up the prospect of the first podium sweep ever in this event. Antonina Krivoshapka took heat one by more than half a second in 51.52, Tatyana Firova was faster in the second heat with 51.11, and Kseniya Ustalova faster still in the third heat, clocking 50.96. Italy’s Libania Grenot appears poised to take on the spoiler’s role judging from her easy 51.03 behind Ustalova.
Natalya Antyukh, the 400m flat runner turned hurdler, underscored her woman-to-beat role as she cruised to the quickest time in the semis, clocking 54.28. Her most serious threat for gold, Romania’ Angela Morosanu, took heat one in 54.67, a season’s best. Czech Zuzana Hejnova (54.61), reigning 400m champion Vania Stambolova (54.73) and Russian Yevgeniya Isakova (54.81) also advanced.
Keeping with the full-lap theme, the opening round of the men's 400m Hurdles passed without major incident. Briton Rhys Williams was the fastest in the early afternoon races in 49.35. Second to Williams in heat two was defending champion Periklis Iakovakis of Greece, who clocked a season's best of 49.49. Another Briton, the favorite David Greene, had a stress-free outing, taking the fourth heat in 50.11. The semi-finals are tomorrow evening.
Women’s 100m gets underway
Germany’s Verena Sailer led all qualifiers in the opening round of the women's 100m, clocking 11.27 in the third of four heats. Other heat winners were Norway's Ezinne Okparaebo, who took heat one in 11.35; Frenchwoman Veronique Mang, 11.35 in heat two; and Russian Anna Gurova, who edged Briton Laura Turner 11.42 to 11.45 in heat four. Notable among qualifiers was European record holder Christine Arron (11.45, heat three) of France who is on the comeback from a stress fracture in her hip. Notable among non-qualifiers: Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus, the 2004 Olympic champion who was a distant seventh in the third heat clocking 11.58.
Middle & long distance qualifying
World champion Marta Dominguez began her quest for steeplechase glory on home soil with a controlled run in the second of two qualifying heats, finishing fourth in 9:41.93 to advance by right. The heat was won by 19-year-old Layes Abdullayeva in 9:40.42, a national record for Azerbaijan by the Ethiopian-born. Wioletta Frankiewicz won the first and slower heat in 9:46.38, crossing line almost simultaneously with Russian Yuliya Zarudneva (9:46.40).
The two men’s 1500m semi-finals were virtually identical tactical affairs, with two similar blanket finishes. When the dust settled, all three Spaniards, Manuel Olmedo, Reyes Estevez and Arturo Casado, will move on to Friday’s final where they will be joined by the British trio o Andy Baddeley, Colin McCourt and Tom Lancashire.
Meanwhile, Czech Jakub Holusa was the fastest in the morning's men's 800m heats clocking 1:47.94, the only runner to dip below 1:48 in a sluggish opening round. All three Spaniards - Kevin Lopez (1:48.13), Luis Alberto Marco (1:49.96) and David Bustos (1:50.01) - easily moved on to Thursday’ semifinals. Defending champion Bram Som of The Netherlands was forced to withdraw yesterday due to illness.
No surprises in women’s hammer and Pole Vault qualifying
There were no surprises in the opening round of the women's Hammer Throw, with podium favorites Tatyana Lysenko (72.36m) of Russia, Germany's Betty Heidler (71.85m) and World champion and World record holder Anita Wlodarczyk (71.17m) sailing through to Friday's final. Italy's Silvia Salis (70.33m) also beat the 70-metre line. The major casualty was Germany's Kathrin Klaas, who finished well down in 15th with just a 65.82m best. Klaas was fourth at last year's World championships.
Nor were there any major mishaps in the women's Pole Vault qualifying, with 4.35m enough to forge on. Russia's Svetlana Feofanova and Silke Spiegelburg of Germany had a particularly easy morning, taking just one leap apiece at 4.40m before packing their gear.