Russian women dominated the action on the fourth day of the 20th European Athletics Championships, taking five of the six titles on offer. But the vociferous crowd on hand at Olympic Stadium didn’t leave disappointed after Arturo Casado capped the evening with a convincing victory in the men’s 1500m.
400m sweep gets things going
The Russian rampage began with a projected clean sweep in the 400m. As the trio entered the home straight nearly in tandem, the only uncertainty was who would reach the line the first. Tatyana Firova settled the debate as he forged ahead with about 50 metres to go en route to a 49.89 victory, just ahead of Kseniya Ustalova who clocked 49.92. It was the first jaunt into sub-50 territory for both, a 0.19 second improvement for the winner, and a massive 0.41 for the runner-up. Antonina Krivoshapka brought up the rear clocking a personal best 50.10.
Front-running Zarudneva takes down Dominguez
Next up was the women's 3000m Steeplechase, on the shortlist of the evening’s most eagerly awaited finals. It turned out to be the most dramatic as well, but it didn’t turn out exactly how the crowd of more than 35,890 would have liked.
In terms of sheer strength and determination, there hasn’t yet been a victory this week as impressive as Yuliya Zarudneva’s who, after running at the front from the start, managed to hold off the kick by World champion and home favourite Marta Dominguez to become the second European champion in the event.
It didn’t take long for Zarudneva and Dominguez to separate themselves from the rest of the field, building a massive 40 metre lead with three laps remaining. Running on the Russian’s shoulder throughout, the race looked destined to fall into the Spaniard’s lap as the laps ticked by. But as Dominguez unleashed her kick coming off the final water jump and into the final straight, Zarudneva unleashed her ferocious defence, managing to hold off Dominguez and reverse the order from last year’s World Championships final. Her time, 9:17.57, was well inside the previous competition record, as was Dominguez’s, who came home in 9:17.74.
“Mentally it was very tough,” Zarudneva said, noting her rival’s home field advantage. “Before the championships I thought it would be great the defeat the world champion at home, so I decided to take the lead from the start. The crowd was screaming for and supporting Dominguez, but it actually kept me going faster and faster."
Russia’s Lyubov Kharlamova won the battle for bronze, edging Briton Hatti Dean 9:29.82 to 9:30.19.
Easy night for Feofanova
Svetlana Feofanova kept the momentum going while at the same keeping the continental Pole Vault title in Russian hands. The former World record holder and 2004 Olympic silver medallist needed just four jumps to claim the title, securing gold with her second attempt clearance at 4.70m, a height too much for Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg and Liza Ryzih, who both topped out at 4.65m.
Spiegelburg, the winner at the Samsung Diamond League opener in Doha in May had a perfect scorecard through 4.65m but then missed twice at 4.70m and again once more at 4.75m. Feofanova sailed clear at 4.75m as well with her first try before calling it a night.
The 21-year-old Ryzih, a former World youth and World junior champion, improved her career best by five centimetres to take unforeseen bronze.
Antyukh’s 400m Hurdles breakthrough – 52.92
But in international terms, it was the Natalya Antyukh’s dominating victory in the 400m Hurdles that was the performance of the evening. Antyukh, the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist in the 400m flat, vividly illustrated that her decision to move from the flat to the hurdles race two years ago was one of the best she’s ever made.
Cruising steadily down the backstraight, Antyukh began to pour it on midway through the turn, clearing hurdle eight with a clear lead. She lost little momentum through the final straight and stuttered ever so slightly through the finish, clocking 52.92.
“I’m shocked myself,” the 29-year-old said, after moving all the way up to spot #12 all-time. “Under 53 seconds, it’s incredible and unexpected! Now, I love the hurdles so much!”
Vania Stambolova, the 2006 flat 400m champion, finished nearly a full second behind in 53.82, but still fast enough for a Bulgarian national record. Perri Shakes-Drayton of Great Britain chopped a massive 0.73 from her previous personal best to take unanticipated bronze in 54.18.
Savinova cruises to 800m title
Next up was the 800m, which went, at least partly, according to the pre-meet form chart. Mariya Savinova, the European and World indoor champion and prohibitive favourite, kicked past Briton Jenny Meadows midway through the final turn en route to a convincing 1:58.22 win.
“I came here for victory and I won,” Savinova said matter-of-factly, adding that she’ll celebrate with some swimming and sunbathing on Saturday.
Dutchwoman Yvonne Hak kicked past Meadows near the top of the homestretch to take surprise silver with a career best 1:58.85, with Meadows hanging on to take bronze in 1:59.39.
Heidler peaks perfectly
The only title that escaped the Russian women’s squad tonight was in the Hammer Throw, where Germany’s Betty Heidler prevailed. Last year’s World silver medallist took control of the competition with a 75.92m in the second round, a season’s best, and improved to 76.38m in the fifth to end the night in the No. 2 spot on the yearly list and as Germany’s first European champion in the event.
Defending champion Tatyana Lysenko did her part in trying to maintain the Russian domination theme of the evening, opening with a 74.63m effort and improving to 75.65m in the fourth. She fouled her last throw but still took silver, well ahead of World record holder and World champion Anita Wlodarczyk, whose 73.56m best came in the final round.
Casado leads Spanish 1-3 in the 1500m
The Russian women’s hit parade notwithstanding, the boisterous crowd left Barcelona’s Montjuic hill on a high courtesy of Arturo Casado’s convincing victory in the evening’s nightcap men’s 1500m.
As expected, the race was a tactical affair, but the anticipated battle between the Spanish and British – each had three in the final – didn’t quite materialise. Breaking from the tight pack with about 100 metres to go, Casado cruised to victory in a furious sprint finish in 3:42.74, comfortably ahead of surprise runner-up Carsten Schlangen of Germany to claim the first gold medal for Spain at these championships. The German champion, who has raced sparingly outside of his homeland this season, barely outsprinted Spain’s Manuel Olmedo to take second by just 0.02 in 3:43.52. Spanish veteran Reyes Estevez ran out of steam down the homestretch and finished fourth in the blanket finish clocking 3:43.67.
Lemaitre, on the lean, takes double dash title
It wasn’t long after the French national anthem was heard twice in succession at Olympic Stadium – first for this morning’s 50Km Race Walk winner Yohan Deniz and then for Decathlon champion Romain Barras – that the gun sounded the start of the men’s half lap. But for 198 metres of the 200m contest, 100m champion Christophe Lemaitre didn’t seem to have enough in reserve to ensure that La Marseillaise would remain in rotation.
But the 20-year-old managed to accelerate just enough over the waning metres to outlean Briton Christian Malcolm by a scant 0.01 in 20.37 to emulate Francis Obikwelu’s double win four years ago. More notably, he became only the seventh to take home the sprint double.
“My start was not so good,” said Lemaitre, whose 20.16 season’s best was head and shoulders above the rest of the field’s coming in. “I had a lack of confidence in the middle of the race and I tried my best to pick up well in the final metres.”
Martial Mbandjock of France, the bronze medallist in the 100m, equalled that finish here in 20.42.
Turner takes High Hurdles title
Great Britain didn’t end the evening without gold however, with Andy Turner producing a solid victory in the 110m Hurdles with a season’s best 13.28. Frenchman Garfield Darien impressed with his 13.34 PB to take surprise silver, with Hungarian record holder Daniel Kiss finishing third in 13.39.
A Borlee, as expected, takes the 400m, but ‘the other one’
Kevin Borlee climbed out from behind his identical twin brother Jonathan’s shadow at the most opportune of times, clocking a season’s best 45.09 to strike gold. Arriving in Barcelona with a 45.22 season’s best, he was well behind his brother on paper, who had set three Belgian national records this season, most recently to 44.71 in the semi-finals. But that mattered little when it mattered most. Kevin Borlee powered through the line well ahead of Britons Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney, who each clocked 45.23, with the nod for silver going to Bingham.
“It was not easy but I handled the race at the end,” winner Borlee , who has a 44.88 career best, said. “But I’m disappointed for Jonathan because he deserved to be on the podium.” Instead he was well back in seventh in 45.35.
Diniz dominates in 50Km Walk
The day began with an overwhelming victory by Frenchman Yohan Diniz who easily defended his title in the competition’s longest event. At the front for good just five kilometres into the race, Diniz won in 3:40.37, nearly two minutes ahead of Pole Grzegorz Sudol, who clocked a personal best 3:42:24. Russian Sergey Bakulin was another minute back to take the bronze with a personal best 3:43:26. Irishman Robert Herrefnan was fourth producing a 3:45:30 national record.
Ennis the overnight Heptathlon leader
Britain’s World champion Jessica Ennis is sleeping on a cozy 110 point lead after the first day of the Heptathlon. Ennis won three of the four events, most impressively in the 100m Hurdles where she clocked 12.95, a time which would have easily qualified her for the event’s semi-finals. Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska is in second with 3970, with Germany Jennifer Oeser third, tallying 3841.
Semis and qualifying...
On the track, Russian Aleksandra Fedoriva was the quickest in the 200m semis clocking 22.63; world leader Anna Alminova of Russia clocked an easy 4:04.14 to lead the first round of the 1500m; and Norway’s Christina Vukicevic lead all qualifiers in the 100m hurdles with a season’s best 12.83.
Frenchmen Bob Tahri (8:30.11) and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabad (8:27.32) won their respective heats in the 3000m Steeplechase qualifying round.
On the infield, the day’s major casualty came in the women’s High Jump, where Italian record holder Antonietta Di Martino missed the 1.92m automatic qualifier and failed to advance. Favourites Blanka Vlasic and Ariane Friedrich sailed through with ease.
Eleven of the 12 qualifiers in the men’s Long Jump managed the 8.00m qualifying mark, the biggest surprise coming from 18-year-old Spaniard Eusebio Caceres who leaped 8.27m, a massive PB to equal the best by a European this year. German Christian Reif also jumped 8.27m to equal his career best.
Finns Tero Pitkamaki (83.15m) and Teemu Wirkkala (83.57m) produced the best throws of the moring in the Javelin Throw qualifying, with defending champion Andreas Thorkildsen advancing only after a third throw of 78.82, which came of the heels of a pair of fouls.
Pavel Lyzhyn of Belarus and German Ralf Bartels led all qualifiers in the Shot Put, reaching 20.42 and 20.37m respectively.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Click here for full results from Day Four