Dramatic closing surges in the shortest and longest men’s track races and an emotional victory by one of the country’s biggest stars capped an evening of thoroughly enjoyable athletics on day two of the European Athletics Championships.
For Obikwelu, mission accomplished
Before competition began in the men’s 100 metres, defending champion Francis Obikwelu said that he had a pair of goals in mind: first he said, he wanted to win the continental title on the track, and second, he wanted to do it in less than ten seconds. Despite a sluggish start, the 27-year-old Portuguese succeeded on both accounts, clocking a season’s best 9.99 to become only the third sprinter to ever successfully defend the title of Europe’s fastest man.
“This title means a lot to me,” said the Olympic silver medallist, whose performance also broke the 10.04 championships record set by Darren Campbell in 10.04. “It is very important for me to run under 10 seconds. Without the rain I could have run even faster.”
While Obikwelu’s victory was expected, the race for the remaining medals was always up for grabs with the results surprising even the keenest observers.
Perhaps the strongest dash performance was produced by Andrey Yepishin, who, after dramatically lowering his personal best to 10.12 in the semis, improved further still to 10.10 in the final. Beginning the day with a 10.25 career best, he ended it as Russian national record holder, as his performance finally eclipsed Vadim Davydov’s 10.11 set 19 years ago.
Mustering a strong late race surge, Slovenian record holder Matic Osovnikar won the grudge match for bronze, with his 10.14 national record holding off the better-known Ronald Pognon of France and Briton Mark Lewis-Francis, who each clocked 10.16. For Osovnikar, a 26-year-old dental student from Skofja Loka, it was his tiny Alpine nation’s first-ever sprint medal at a major championship.
Soon after the battle for the continent’s fastest man was decided, Carolina Kluft underscored her title as the world’s finest athlete with her overwhelming victory in the Heptathlon. Her successful title defence, only the third in women’s multi-event competition in the continental championships, was nothing short of a coronation, coming as it did in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd at home in Sweden.
“Yes there was pressure, but again I was able to do what I wanted before the home crowd with the support of fantastic spectators,” said the 23-year-old who has now won 16 straight Heptathlons. With her World-leading 6740 point tally the Olympic and two-time World champion also broke a 20-year-old championship record by 23 points.
Remarkably consistent, Kluft began the day with a 6.65 leap in the Long Jump, a 46.94 throw in the javelin, before her 2:14.95 in the 800, the entire race very much a double victory lap to a competition whose outcome was never in doubt.
Behind her, Karin Ruckstuhl of the Netherlands improved the national record to 6423, to take the runner-up spot, just three points ahead of Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf, whose 6420 was also a personal best. Another German, Jennifer Oeser, tallied a career best 6376 for fourth.
Briton Kelly Sotherton, second after day one, met with catastrophe in the Javelin Throw and finished a distant seventh with 6290 points.
Howe’s captures expected win
Andrew Howe underscored his leap into the global elite this year with his victory in the Long Jump, the first-ever for Italy.
“It is great that I won the gold medal here but I have to admit that I wanted to jump further today,” said the 21-year-old after his 8.20 leap. “I guess I tried a little bit too hard and put too much pressure on myself.” Howe, the 2004 World junior champion in the Long Jump and 200, also produced a wind-assisted 8.19, but couldn’t match the 8.33 leap from yesterday’s qualifying round.
Behind him, Briton Greg Rutherford, even younger at 19, notched a final round leap of 8.13 to overtake defending champion Oleksiy Lukashevych of Ukraine, whose 8.12 best was farther this his 8.08 winning leap from Munich.
A thoroughly enjoyable men’s 10,000 produced plenty of drama of its own, an extremely competitive race whose outcome surprised even the winner, Germany’s Jan Fitschen.
“This morning I was hoping to be in the top-ten,” the 28-year-old said shortly after he kicked past the favoured Spanish duo of José Manuel Martínez and Juan Carlos de la Ossa en route to a 28:10.94 personal best victory. “Now I’m at the top of the top-ten.”
A modest 14:16.80 first half did little to whittle the field, providing for plenty of late race fireworks in the latter stages. The Spanish pair were near the front from the outset, oftentimes taking turns, along with Ukraine’s cross country ace Sergey Lebid, controlling the tempo. The first interesting move came from the Christian Belz, who surged to the front with 1500 metres to go. De la Ossa and a half dozen others followed, with Belz trying to same tactic again a lap later, this time with just the Spaniards, and Fitschen choosing to follow. Martinez, grimacing, eventually caught Belz, but he and his teammate simply couldn’t respond when Fitschen moved past them as they approached the final straight. Martinez, the defending champion, held on for second in 28:12.06, more than a second clear of de la Ossa’s 28:13.73. Belz held on for fourth, holding off Sergey Lebid’s (28:19.14) late charge.
Fernandez King of the European roads
Soon after a brief afternoon rain was pushed aside by piercingly bright Scandinavian sunshine, Spaniard Francisco Javier Fernandez entered Ullevi stadium to take an overwhelming victory in the 20Km Race Walk. While his 1:19:09 was 31 seconds shy of his championships record set four years ago in Munich, the 29-year-old became the first repeat winner of the event at the continental championships.
Nearly a minute back was Valeriy Borchin of Russia (1:20:00) who took second, ahead of Portugal’s Joao Vieira (1:20:09), personal bests for both. Russia’s Viktor Burayev was a close fourth, clocking 1:20:12, repeating his finish from four years ago.
First title for Lysenko
The women’s Hammer Throw was expected to be fiercely competitive, that is until World record holder Tatyana Lysenko took her first throw, a 74.85 effort that only she herself later surpassed. Her third round 76.67, a competition record, sealed the deal for the 22-year-old to claim her first major title.
Her teammate Gulfiya Khanafeyeva came closest with a 74.50 throw, with Pole Kamila Skolimowska taking the bronze (72.58).
In 800 semis, Russian trio strong as Ceplak bows out
Russians Olga Kotlyarova, Svetlana Cherkasova, and Svetlana Klyuka illustrated that they will be a difficult force to deal with in Thursday’s 800 metre final. The former took the first heat with ease, clocking 2:00.03 and 2:00.05, while Klyuka produced a fine performance with her 1:58.80 win in the second. The major casualty was defending champion Jolanda Ceplak of Slovenia, who faded to last in the first heat after controlling the first lap’s tempo. In the faster second heat, Briton Rebecca Lyne closed quickly to finish second (1:59.11), followed by Brigita Langerholc (SB 1:59.45), and Ukraine’s Tetyana Petlyuk (1:59.84).
Women’s High Jump – Usual suspects advance
There were no surprises in the women’s High Jump as the field of 23 was whittle down to 13 for Friday’s final. All cleared the automatic qualifier of 1.92, seven without a miss, including Swede Kajsa Bergqvist, Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic, Bulgarian Veneleina Veneva, and Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko.
More qualifying action
Frenchman Marc Raquil assumed the role of favourite in the men’s 400 after his season’s best 44.95 win in the first heat, bringing three others along to personal beats. Threatening a French 1-2 sweep, Leslie Djhone won the second heat comfortably in 45.23, well ahead of Pole Daniel Dabrowski (45.38).
Olympic champion Fani Halkia of Greece took the first of two semis in the 400m Hurdles in 54.57 ahead of German Claudia Marx’s 54.80 persona best, although the winner of tomorrow’s final is more likely to be either that heat’s winner Yevgeniya Isakova (54.17) or the runner-up, Ukraine’s Tetyana Tereshchuk-Antipova (54.39), both of whose reserved power clearly bettered that of Halkia.
Kim Gevaert of Belgium, the event’s reigning silver medallist, was fastest in the opening round of the women’s 100, clocking 11.19, while seven others dipped under 11.30. Others advancing include Olympic champion Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus and Slovenia’s ageless Merlene Ottey, who equalled her season’s best of 11.41.
Underscoring what the favourite Gevaert described as a “strange season” in the 100 as several runners are sidelined with injury while the overall sprint level is in decline, only 29 women started the competition while 11.45 was fast enough to advance to tomorrow’s semi-finals.
This season’s European and international full-lap revelation Vanya Stambolova of Bulgaria was the fastest of the morning’s qualifiers in the woman’s full lap, her relaxed 50.39 a half second faster that Russia’s Olga Zaytseva, who looked equally relaxed during her winning run in the first heat. Tatyana Veshkurova, also from the deep Russian stable, was the easy winner of heat four in 51.01. Five others ran faster than 52 seconds, with 52.55 the cut-off for advancement to tomorrow’s (9 August) semi-finals.
Greek Olympic silver medallist Hrisopiyi Devetzi produced the only leap of note in Triple Jump qualifying, reaching 14.64 while last year’s IAAF Golden League Jackpot winner Tatyana Lebedeva needed only a modest 14.36 leap before calling it a day. All but three qualifiers reached the automatic 14.05 mark; Sarka Kasparkova of the Czech Republic, the1997 World Champion and silver medallist in 1998, did not, and failed to advance.
In women’s discus qualifying, World leader Franka Dietzsch of Germany was the class of the field, her 65.93 toss more than two metres better than runner-up Dragana Tomasevic, who produced a surprising 63.63 Serbian national record. It was an improvement of over a metre for the 24-year-old Mediterranean and Balkan Games champion. Eight women reached the 61 metre automatic qualifying distance, with none.
A nearly full slate of finals is on tap for Wednesday as the men’s 400, 1500, High Jump, and Javelin Throw and Women’s 100, 400m Hurdles, 20Km Race Walk, and Triple Jump will be decided.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
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