Alina Shukh in the heptathlon high jump (Getty Images) © Copyright
Report Grosseto, Italy

Shukh wins epic heptathlon duel at European U20 Championships

In one of the greatest U20 heptathlon competitions in history, Ukraine’s Alina Shukh beat arch rival Geraldine Ruckstuhl to win the European U20 title by the narrow margin of 24 points, scoring a national U20 record of 6381 in Grosseto on Friday (21).

Shukh, the European U18 champion, led after the high jump and shot put, having produced the best marks of the day in those events with 1.87m and 13.87m, but she was bumped down to third after the 200m as Ruckstuhl led overnight with 3646.

Shukh took back the lead after the first event of the second day, leaping a wind-assisted 6.33m (3.2m/s) in the long jump. Then, in a sensational javelin competition, Shukh and Ruckstuhl threw 54.51m and 54.32m respectively, distances which would been enough to take the silver and the bronze medal in the individual discipline.

The pair were head and shoulders above their rivals going into the final event and it seemed as though Ruckstuhl would not be able to make up the 37-point deficit on Shukh as the Swiss athlete had the slower 800m PB.

But Ruckstuhl went all-out and won the two-lap event, improving her personal best by four seconds to 2:12.56 to beat Niamh Emerson from Great Britain (2:12.60) and Shukh (2:13.52). Ultimately Shukh had done just enough to hold on to the gold medal, scoring 6381 to move up to sixth on the world U20 all-time list. Ruckstuhl scored a senior Swiss record of 6357 and now sits just one place behind Shukh on the world U20 all-time list.

As a sign of the quality of the competition, Austria’s Sarah Lagger added 123 points to the PB she set when winning the world U20 title last year, but here it was only good enough for the bronze medal. Emerson also surpassed 6000 points in fourth with 6013, but missed out on a medal.

In a superb men’s high jump competition, Maksim Nedasekau first equalled Vladimir Yashchenko’s championship record of 2.30m before improving it with a third-time 2.33m clearance. Ukraine’s Dmitro Nikitin won the fight for second place with 2.28m on countback over Great Britain’s Tom Gale.

Home star Filippo Tortu grabbed the headlines in the second day of the championships. Battling a -4.3m/s headwind, the world U20 silver medallist won the 100m in 10.73 to become the first Italian sprinter in history to win the European U20 title over this distance.

Tortu, who earlier this season clocked PBs of 10.15 and 20.34 before picking up a minor ankle injury, beat Finland’s Samuel Purola (10.79) and Great Britain’s Oliver Bromby (10.88).

“I had a tough summer with the final school exams and the recovery from the injury but these experiences have made me a more mature athlete,” he said. “Before the race, I wasn’t thinking about anything. The only important thing wasn’t the time but the win. I am happy that I won the title in front of my entire family.”

Tortu’s good friend Vladimir Aceti provided the second joy for the enthusiastic Italian fans by winning the men’s 400m in a national U20 record of 45.92, becoming the first Italian U20 sprinter to cover the distance within 46 seconds.

Poland’s Tymoteusz Zimny finished second with a personal best of 46.04 ahead of Belgium’s Jonathan Sacoor (46.23).

“I ran a great race,” said Aceti, who was born in Russia near the border with Finland but was adopted by a Northern Italian family at the age of five. “What happened is simply extraordinary. I realised that I could win only in the final metres. I really wanted this record and I am happy that I broke it in the most important competition of the year.”

Greek sensation Miltiades Tentoglou leapt to 8.07m in each of his first two attempts to win the long jump title. Pole Jakub Andrzejczak also jumped beyond eight metres with 8.02m.

“I was expecting this gold medal because I was the favourite today, but I would have preferred to jump farther,” said Tentoglou, who jumped 8.30m earlier this year. “The important thing was to win.”

Ireland’s Gina Akpe Moses followed up a silver medal at the European U18 Championships in Tbilisi last year with a gold medal in Grosseto in 11.71, beating Germany’s Kesha Kwadwo by 0.04.

Anastasiya Bryzhina, the daughter of 1988 Olympic 400m champion Olga Bryzhina, triumphed in the women’s 400m in 52.01 ahead of Romania’s Andrea Miklos (52.31).

On what proved to be a memorable afternoon for Swiss athletics, European U20 leader Jason Joseph lived up to his pre-event favourite role to clinch the 110m hurdles final with 13.41 ahead of Great Britain’s Robert Sakala (13.48) and Spain’s Luis Salort (13.48).

Less than two hours later, Joseph’s Swiss teammate Delia Sclabas won the women’s 3000m in 9:10.13. Sclabas beat France’s Mathilde Senechal (9:20.05) and Italian rising star Nadia Battocletti, who set a lifetime best of 9:24.01.

Great Britain scored an impressive 200m double, replicating the feat achieved four years earlier by Dina Asher-Smith and Nethaneel Mitchell Blake. This time Maya Bruney won the women’s title with a European U20 lead of 23.04, while Toby Harries completed the British triumph by winning the men’s event with a PB of 20.81, edging his compatriot Jona Efoloko by 0.11.

The British Super Saturday was also highlighted by a 1-2 finish in the women’s 800m, where Khahisa Mhlanga edged out Ellie Baker in a close sprint with 2:06.96 to 2:06.01.

Jake Heyward won a dramatic and tactical men’s 1500m final in 3:56.73, holding off Belgium’s Dries De Smet (3:56.98). Norway’s pre-event favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen fell with 300 metres to go and lost valuable ground on his rivals, but got back up and finished eighth.

Ingebrigtsen, who earlier this year become the first 16-year-old to run a mile within four minutes, made up for the disappointment of losing the 1500m by returning to the track two-and-a-half hours later to win the 5000m in 14:41.67.

“I was very disappointed with what happened [in the 1500m],” said Ingebrigtsen, who will also contest tomorrow’s steeplechase final. “I had to reset for the 5000m final two hours later. I didn’t want to give up; my parents and my girlfriend were here to support me. This win means a lot for me.”

Ukraine’s Hlib Piskunov set three championship records in the men’s hammer with 80.52m in the first round, 81.48m in the third and 81.75m on his final throw, while Poland’s Cyprian Mrzyglod set a national U20 record of 80.52m to win the men’s javelin.

Solene Ndama continued France’s proud sprint hurdling tradition by winning the women’s 100m hurdles, setting a PB of 13.15 to beat pre-event favourite Alicia Barrett of Great Britain (13.28).

In an exciting triple jump final, Violetta Skvartsova of Belarus saved her best for last as she sailed out to a wind-assisted 14.21m to regain the lead from Ilionis Guillame of France. Guillame settled for silver with 13.97m.

Germany’s Julia Ritter set a world U20 lead of 17.24m to clinch a dramatic win in the women’s shot put. She had led from the first round but Jorinde Van Klinken of the Netherlands jumped into pole position with her last-round throw of 16.89m. Ritter then responded with the final throw of the competition, throwing 17.24m.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF