It must have been the longest two minutes of her life. Midway through the women’s long jump final on the final day of the European Championships in Belgrade on Sunday (5), the heroine of the home nation, Ivana Spanovic, charged down the runway, soared into the air and splashed into the sand with what looked a leap well in excess of seven metres.
The crowd in the Kombank Arena erupted, and Spanovic herself emerged from the pit with a grin as wide as the River Danube, knowing she had just unleashed something rare, something special. She took a seat beside the pit, waiting and gazing for what seemed an eternity for the mark to register on the screen overhead.
When 7.24m finally flashed up, the 26-year-old Serbian fell backwards, clasping her face in her hands and finally the dam burst of the wave of emotions within, tears of joy emerging in torrents. In truth, Spanovic had the gold long since secured when she took to the runway for that jump, after launching herself to a whopping 7.16m in the second round.
The reaction then was relief, the pressure of a home nation expecting gold finally lifted from her shoulders. When she then soared out to 7.24m, the longest jump indoors since 1989, it was pure joy. “I enjoyed every minute of competing in front of this home crowd,” she said. “The people were amazing. I’m really glad I could give them this gold medal.”
Behind Spanovic, Britain’s Lorraine Ugen secured silver with a national record of 6.97m, while Germany’s Claudia Salman-Rath broke new ground with a PB of 6.94m to take bronze.
Muir makes it a golden double
No athlete was ever going to steal the limelight from Spanovic this weekend, but if there was one whose dominance was equally as striking, then it was Laura Muir.
In the space of four races over three days – a cumulative 92 circuits of the track if we count her laps of honour – the young Briton exorcised any demons that may have lingered from her failure to win a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio.
The 23-year-old not only proved herself capable of coping with the pressure of being the overwhelming favourite, but that she can also defeat some of the world’s best middle distance runners in a variety of ways. While on Saturday she tore apart the 1500m field with a long drive for home from six laps out, the 3000m final on Sunday called for a different approach.
Turkey’s Yasemin Can, her one genuine threat for gold, cut out much of the running, pulling Muir away from the field early in the race and acting as de facto pacemaker for the Scot who was patiently biding her time in the slipstream. Muir admitted afterwards that she felt some lingering fatigue from her previous exertions, not helped by being awake for much of the night before.
“I couldn’t sleep because I was buzzing from the race,” she said. “The legs felt okay but I was definitely quite tired. I was hoping [Can] wasn’t going to ramp it up any more.”
With 300 metres to run, Muir moved wide and blasted past Can, changing gears in a flicker and leaving the Turk trailing. From there, she could enjoy a solo run to the finish, but far from taking in the crowd’s adulation, Muir powered around the final circuit in 29.6 seconds, a smile only breaking through the grimace when she had crossed the line.
“I knew I had the kick so I just waited and went for it,” said Muir, who acknowledged that her exploits will now ramp up the pressure ahead of the IAAF World Championships in London later this year. “You can’t go winning medals and breaking records and not raise expectations, but I’ll take it all in my stride. I take it as support, not pressure.”
The good times kept rolling for the British contingent in the women’s 60m, where Asha Phillip powered down the track to take gold in 7.06, comfortably ahead of Ukraine’s Olesya Povh and Ewa Swoboda, who both clocked 7.10.
Magnificent Mayer sets European record
In the men’s heptathlon, Kevin Mayer showed he is ready to step into the Ashton Eaton-shaped void left behind at global level following the world record-holder’s retirement earlier this year. The 25-year-old Frechman set a European record of 6479, which moved him to second on the world indoor all-time list, three points clear of combined events great Dan O’Brien.
His action-packed two days included a 6.95 60m, 7.54m long jump, 15.66m shot put, 7.88 60m hurdles and a 5.40m pole vault. That put him firmly in control heading into the lung-bursting 1000m, where Mayer appeared to run to target O’Brien’s mark on the all-time list.
He powered his weary body across the line in 2:41.08 to take gold with more than 250 points to spare over Spain’s Jorge Urena (6227) and the Czech Republic’s Adam Sebastian Helcelet (6110).
Buchel’s bravery pays off, Poland dominate relays
Elsewhere, Switzerland’s Selina Buchel won a thrilling women’s 800m, leading the race from the front and fending off the challenge of Britain’s Shelayna Oskan-Clarke to take gold in a national record of 2:00.38. Oskan-Clarke had made a bold bid for the lead with one lap to run, but was unable to get past, and though she came with another charge in the home straight, the Brit was denied by just 0.01, her time of 2:00.39 a PB.
In the men’s race, Poland’s Adam Kszczot lived up to his favourite’s billing by kicking away from the field with 200m to run, taking gold in 1:48.87 ahead of Denmark’s Andreas Bube. The men’s 3000m was won Spain’s Adel Mechaal in 8:00.60, the Spaniard refusing to surrender the lead to silver medallist Henrik Ingebrigtsen at any point on the final lap.
Portugal’s Nelson Evora was best in the men’s triple jump, his winning effort of 17.20m coming in the third round, while in the men’s high jump Poland’s Sylwester Bednarek took gold with his clearance of 2.32m.
In the 4x400m relays, Poland once again proved its prowess in that realm, taking both men’s and women’s titles. A strong final leg from Justyna Swiety from the front helped them to the women’s title in 3:29.94, and they repeated the feat in the men’s race, taking control of the race early and powering to gold in 3:06.99. Belgium finished second in 3:07.80, while individual champion Pavel Maslak produced a miracle run to hand the Czech Republic bronze.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF