Christophe Lemaitre in action in the heats of the 200m (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview 26 June 2012 – Helsinki, Finland

Europe’s finest converge in Helsinki – PREVIEW – European Championships

Helsinki, FinlandHelsinki once again hosts a major athletics event when it stages the 21st European Athletics Championships 27th June – 1st July.

One of the major attractions will be Christophe Lemaitre who two years ago in Barcelona sent French fans into delirium with three gold medals.

His short sprint title looks safe enough after his performances on the circuit, but the 200m is less so given the shape that Netherland’s Churandy Martina is in. The Dutchman ran a scintillating 19.94 in New York, considerably faster than Lemaitre’s 20.31 in Angers.

Middle distances

The 800m promises to be a scrap between several candidates in 1:44-form. Turkey’s Ilham Tanui Özbilen is fastest on PBs. But no one should discount Russia’s mercurial Yuriy Borzakovskiy just because it is eight years since he lifted the Olympic title. Borzakovskiy claimed his second World bronze last summer in Daegu.

Özbilen snapped up World Indoor 1500m silver this winter and has a good chance of doing the double, but Spain has serious options to defend the gold won by Arturo Casado in Barcelona.

Alvaro Rodriguez and David Bustos fought it out in Huelva at the beginning of this month with the former currently the better of the two. Germany’s Carsten Schlangen snatched silver in Barcelona, but he was upstaged in the German championships by Florian Orth, nine years his junior, to make the team.

Defending his European 5000m title but not the 10,000m, Mo Farah is 16sec faster than his closest rival and should be untroubled, as should France’s Mahieddine Mekhissi-Benabbad in the steeplechase.

Russian high hurdler, Sergey Shubenkov, gold medallist from last summer’s European Under-23 championships, has a chance to move up a notch, but France’s Garfield Darien and Italy’s Emanuel Abate stand in his way.

In the 400m Hurdles, Britain’s Nathan Woodward has the chance to shine in the absence of team-mate and World champion, Dai Greene, but the continent’s fastest man in Germany’s Silvio Schirrmeister may prove difficult to dislodge.

Focus on Grabarz and Lavillenie in the jumps

Briton Robbie Grabarz owns two of the top five high jumps in the world this year, Renaud Lavillenie will have to stave off a substantial German challenge in the Pole Vault, Sebastian Bayer is looking for his first outdoor European Long Jump title while the Triple Jump has an Italian look to it with Daniele Greco and Fabrizio Donato aiming for gold and silver.

Storl and Harting the favourites in the Throws

World champion David Storl of Germany, goes in the Shot, double World champion and fellow-German Robert Harting leads the Discus rankings, Hungary’s Krisztian Pars tops the Hammer and Czech Republic’s Jan Zelezny protégé, Vitezslav Vesely, finds himself up against the host nation’s Tero Pitkämäki and defending champion, Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway, in the Javelin.

In the Decathlon, Götzis third placer, Pascal Behrenbruch of Germany is closing in on his PB from the Berlin World Championships, with Czech Roman Sebrle entertaining serious designs on yet another medal to add to his extensive collection.

Women’s events

In the women’s 100m, Germany’s defending champion, Verena Sailer is rounding into shape just in time, but will it be enough to fend off the challenge from Olesya Povh of Ukraine and Norway’s Bislett winner, Ezinne Okparaebo, not to mention a resurgent Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria?

French 200m defending champion, Myriam Soumaré, is starting to find winning form, while Ukraine’s Mariya Ryemyen and Victoria Pyatachenko should vie for medals along with Dutch hope, Dafne Schippers.

Italy’s Libania Grenot may be a serious medal contender after being left out in the cold in fourth place two years ago, but she may find opposition from Belarus’s Sviatlana Usovich for gold. With the top Russians absent, Joanne Cuddihy of Ireland, Kseniya Zadorina of Russia and Czech Republic’s Denisa Rosolova could also figure.

Russia looking to dominate middle distances

Russia have impressive 800m strength in depth and have entered the Continent’s fastest women, Irina Maracheva along with fourth fastest, Yelena Arzhakova, European 1500m indoor gold medallist last year. Maryna Arzamasava of Belarus and Ukraine’s Olena Zhushman have both set PBs this summer while Italy’s Elisa Cusma Piccione, has struggled to find her form.

Russia has the top two performers in the 1500m, Yekaterina Gorbunova and Kristina Khaleyeva. Ukraine’s Anna Mishchenko was third in Bislett and could figure while Germany’s Corinna Harrer has set PBs indoors and out in 2012 and Turkey’s 19-year-old Gamze Bulut has set no fewer than four PBs from 800 up to the steeplechase.

No one has set themselves apart on times in the 5000m which could mean a tactical last-lap rush for the medals. Sara Moreira of Portugal has the fastest time (15:08.33) but a handful of athletes have come within striking distance in 2012, including Svetlana Kireyeva and Olga Golovkina of Russia, Lyudmila Kovalenko of Ukraine, Steph Twell of Great Britain and Silvia Weissteiner of Switzerland.

Can Fionnuala Britton turn back the clock 14 years for Ireland and pick up gold in the 10,000m as Sonia O’Sullivan did in Budapest? The way she destroyed the field in the European Athletics cross country championships and three distance PBs on the track suggest that she has a good chance. Inevitably, there will be Portuguese opposition from Ana Dulce Felix who finished behind Britton over the country in Velenje, Britain’s Jo Pavey and Germany’s Sabrina Mockenhaupt.

Turkey’s Gülcan Mingir is 80m faster than anyone else in the steeplechase, but that does not make her favourite with Spain’s Marta Dominguez entered.

World’s fastest to line up in the 400m Hurdles

Germany’s Carolin Nytra will hope to improve on a disappointing bronze from 2010 in the High Hurdles while the 400m Hurdles is the quality track race of the championships featuring the world’s top two: Russia’s Irina Davydova (53.87PB), Bulgaria’s Vania Stambolova and Rosolova, also entered for the flat 400m..

Spain’s Ruth Beitia (1.97m) heads five athletes who share 1.95m in the High Jump, including Irina Gordeyeva of Russia, Ebba Jungmark of Sweden and Venelina Veneva-Mateeva of Bulgaria. The best PB of 2.06m in the line-up, however, belongs to Ariane Friedrich of Germany who has a best of 1.92m this year on her return after rupturing an Achilles tendon in 2010.

Pole vaulters Silke Spiegelburg of Germany and the Czech Republic’s Jirina Ptacnikova have both gone over 4.70m this year. France’s Sosthene Taroum Moguenara (6.88m) leads the long jump entrants and Belarus’s Kseniya Dziatsuk has jumped 20cm further than anyone else in the triple jump lineup. Briton Shara Proctor (6.95NR) may be a late entrant.

The Shot Put looks like a Russian – German face-off led by Olesya Sviridova and Nadine Kleinert, the Discus a mouth-watering duel between Nadine Müller of Germany and title defender, Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic, Betty Heidler of Germany has thrown the Hammer almost two and a half metres further than her closest rival and compatriot, Christina Obergföll is hoping to improve on her Javelin silver from 2010.

The Heptathlon seems like a three-way split between Ukraine’s Lyudmila Yosipenko and Hanna Melnychenko up against Russia’s Yekaterina Bolshova.

Michael Butcher for the IAAF