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Blanka Vlasic’s longawaited European title and a thrilling come-from-behind 1500m victory by Spain’s Nuria Fernandez capped a sensational final day at the 20th European Athletics Championships at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium.
After claiming all four global titles on offer – two indoors and two out - since 2007, it was easy to forget that Vlasic arrived in the Catalan capital without a medal to her name in continental competition. But the 26-year-old Croatian finally cast those demons aside with a pair of clutch clearances to nab the second gold of these championships for Croatia in one of the week’s most anticipated competitions.
“I had zero confidence tonight and was struggling hard to achieve a good jump,” said Vlasic, who was fourth four years ago with what was then the highest-ever non-medal winning jump in a major competition. “Luckily it was enough to win.”
Those struggles showed early in the competition. She was off to a shaky start, needing two tries at both 1.95m and 1.97m, before getting into her groove with first attempt clearances at 1.99m and 2.01m. Early on it was Germany’s Ariane Friedrich who controlled the competition, producing a clean card through 1.99m. But Freidrich faltered at 2.01m, needing all three tries before finally sailing clear, albeit leaving a shaking bar on the pegs. Her second miss at the height proved costly indeed on an evening that Swede Emma Greene was enjoying the competition of her life.
A third round clearance at 1.99m not only raised Green’s career best by a centimetre but also reserved her a spot on the podium. She outdid herself yet again at the next height, clearing 2.01m on her second go to join the two-metre club and clinch the silver.
Vlasic had a near miss on her first try at 2.03m but flew well clear on her second to take firm control. Both Friedrich and Green bowed out at the height, giving Vlasic the title.
Russian Svetlana Shkolina and defending champion Tia Hellebaut topped out at 1.97m, finishing fourth and fifth. Spain Ruth Beitia, a two-metre jumper this year, could only mustre 1.95m and finished in a tie for sixth.
Fernandez’s kick the fiercest
In a captivating women’s 1500m, it was pre-race favourite Anna Alminova who decided to take control, bringing the field through the first three laps in 3:14.48, an honest pace which didn’t leave any of the favourites behind. With 200 metres to go and pace picking up, Fernandez began to make her move. At least a half dozen women were still in contention off the final bend but with Alminova fading badly, Fernandez seized the moment to make her bid for the title.
In a wild scramble for the finish, Fernandez held firm, crossing the line with a personal best 4:00.20 at age 33. French record holder Hind Dehiba, never farther back than third from the outset, took silver in 4:01.17 while Natalia Rodriguez, with a furious final 40 metres, took bronze in 4:01.30 to close a 1-3 finish for Spain. The near-capacity crowd of some 40,000, already loud, erupted.
“I have been working and fighting for this for 15 years and finally, at 33, got a gold medal,” said an emotional Fernandez. “I just ran the best race of my life and became European champion at home. This is like a dream come true.”
Britron Lisa Dobriskey, the World silver medallist last year, followed in 4:01.54, finishing fourth. Alminova, who clocked a world-leading 3:57.65 in the Paris leg of the Samsung Diamond League, was never a factor in the homestretch, fading to sixth in 4:02.24.
Reif leaps world-leading 8.47m...
German champion Christian Reif battled his way back from the cusp of elimination in the Long Jump in a big way as he sailed to a world-leading 8.47 in the third round to take the first gold medal for his country’s men’s squad. It was a career best by 20 centimetres for the 25-year-old, who surpassed world champion Dwight Phillips as the 2010 world leader by one centimetre.
“I knew I could do well in the final,” said Reif, the European leader at 8.27m coming in. “But then I had two poor jumps at the beginning and I had to pull it out in the third. That was my golden jump.” It was also another championships record, one that finally eclipsed the 8.41m mark set by Robert Emmiyan of the former Soviet Union in 1986, two months before Reif celebrated his second birthday.
Kafetien Gomis, the runner-up at the French Championships this year, moved all the way up from seventh to second with a final round 8.24m, also a personal best, to take silver. In a close competition for the podium, Chris Tomlinson of Great Britain, sixth four years ago, took bronze this time around with a season’s best 8.23m.
Malachowski takes first major title
In the men’s discus, Piotr Malachowski, the World and Olympic silver medallist, turned the tables on World champion Robert Harting with a narrow 20-centimetre victory. The 27-year-old Pole threw 68.87m in the second round to take the lead from the German who opened with a 68.33m toss. Harting later improved to 68.47m in the third and closed with a 68.34m in the sixth, leaving the gold, and a new championships record, to Malachowski.
Hungary’s Robert Fazekas, whose 2002 championships record Malachowski broke, finished third with a 66.43m best to take the bronze over Olympic champion Gerd Kanter (66.20m), who finished fourth.
Mekhisi out-duels Tahri in the Steeplechase
France took expected gold and silver in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase but it wasn’t decided which Frenchman, World bronze medallist Bob Tahri or Mahiedine Mekhisi, the Olympic silver medallist, would claim which medal until the final 50 metres.
The pair took little time to make their intentions for victory clear, running to a quick eight second lead on the rest of the pack just 1000 metres into the race, with Tahri leading. That grew to some 80 metres with just under five minutes on the clock, this time with Mekhissi at the front. The two continued virtually stride-for-stride until the final hurdle which they cleared side-by-side. Then Mekhissi simply took off. Tahri had no response and was forced to watch his compatriot reach the line in 8:07.87, more than a second ahead of his own 8:09.28. Both handily came home within the previous championships record of 8:12.66, set by Italy’s Francesco Panetta 20 years ago.
“Bob beat me at the French championships and tonight felt like my revenge,” said Mekhissi, who, for the record, has confirmed that he’s dropped the Bennabad part of his surname.
“Mahiedine was stronger than me and he certainly deserved the gold medal,” said Tahri, who moved up a notch from third four year ago.
Well back, Spain’s Jose Luis Blanco (8:19.15) moved into third with about 250 metres remaining and held off Moldova’s fast-closing Ion Luchianov (8:19.64) to take the bronze in 8:19.15.
Turkish 1-2 in women’s 5000m, but Bekele spoils Abeylegesse’s bid for a double
A tired Elvan Abeylegesse, the 10,000m winner on Wednesday, couldn’t quite emulate Briton Mo Farah’s distance double but the Turk did take a second medal, finishing second in the 5000m behind her compatriot Alemitu Bekele. The Ethiopian-born Bekele, who has lived in Turkey for more than a decade, was clearly the class of field over the final lap, romping home unopposed in 14:52.20
Abeylegesse, who dabbled with the lead for part of the race clocked 14:54.44, just ahead of Portugal’s Sara Moreira (14.54.71, SB), who made up for her DNF in the 10,000m with a bronze here. All three dipped under the 14:56.18 championships record set by Marta Dominguez four years ago.
Solo Marathon win for Rothlin
Victor Rothlin, the 2006 European silver winner and bronze medallist at the 2007 World Championships, opened the final day of competition with a big victory in the Marathon. At the front by the 30th kilometre, the 35-year-old Swiss forged on alone to win in 2:15:31, nearly two-and-a-half minutes clear of runner-up Jose Luis Martin (2:17:50) of Spain. Russian Dmitry Saranov, an early leader, held on to take the bronze in 2:18:16.
“I like to run in the heat,” Rothlin said of the conditions, a warm 25 C at the start and 27 C at the finish. “Compared to (the 2007 World Championships in) Osaka, this was cold.”
4x100m Relay titles for France and Ukraine...
After taking four of the six medals in the 100 and 200m dashes, France added another with their victory in the men’s 4x100m Relay. Double sprint champion Christophe Lemaitre gave France the lead after his second leg, but Emanuele Di Gregorio regained it for Italy to give anchor Maurizio Checcucci a clear lead as he came off the turn on the anchor leg. But Martial Mbandjock, the double sprint bronze medallist, steadily ate up the gap down the home straight to give France the win in 38.11 to the Italian’s 38.77. Germany took the bronze in 38.44.
In the women’s race, Ukraine was the convincing winner, the quartet of Olesya Povh, Nataliya Pohrebnyak, Mariya Ryemyen and Yelizaveta Bryzhina combining for a 42.29 world-leading effort. France, with medal winners Myriam Soumare and Veronique Mang in legs one and two, finished second in 42.45, with Poland taking third (42.68).
... and Russian sweep in the 4x400
As expected, the Russian women’s quartet of Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, Antonina Krivoshapka, Kseniya Ustalova and Tatyana Firova ran away with the victory in the 4x400m Relay, with a world-leading 3:21.26. Germany was a surprise runner-up in 3:24.07 with Great Britain (3:24.32) taking the bronze.
In the men’s race, which capped the championships, Russia notched an upset victory in 3:02.14, with Vladimir Krashov holding off Great Britain’s quick-closing Martyn Rooney. The Britons clocked 3:02.25, comfortably ahead of Belgium, who took the bronze in 3:02.60.
Team Russia ended the week atop the medal tables with 24 medals, five ahead of Great Britain's 19 while France ended with 18. The Russian women's squad took 18 medals in all, including seven gold. Great Britain was the best overall on the men's side with 15 medals in all, with France next at 13. The French took seven victories in all, with Great Britain claiming five.