01 August, 2016

A lacklustre championship (part one: track events)

The obvious remark is: "what did you expect from a European championship taking place just over a month before the Olympics?" Still, a continental championship is a continental championship and, while some athletes do not wish to take risks of an injury which would spoil their olympic chances, for other athletes this is the major event of the year. Take for instance all those who are not going to the Olympics (for various reasons). For them these championships are an occasion to excel. There are also those who will be competing in Rio but without substantial chances for a medal. For all those the Amsterdam, 2016, European Championships should have been a climactic moment. So how did it go?

I will not respect the chronological order of the events but comment on them in the standard order which allows me to begin with two great ladies of spring events, D. Schippers and Y. Lalova. 

The first confirmed her position as a major contender for olympic medals over 100 m and 200 m although, not wishing to take risks, she competed only in the former distance winning it with a great margin in 10.90. Lalova was second to Schippers (and also second to Asher-Smith in the 200 m). Twelve years after recording that astonishing 10.77 Lalova is still present and a major player in international competitions. I am now convinced that if her career had not been stopped by her 2005 femur fracture, Lalova would have been the fastest white female sprinter (well, in fact, she is, and Schippers has still to beat Lalova's record). C. Martina won the men's 100m in an astonishing coming-from-behind finish beating with 10.07 the great favourite J. Vicaut (who, by the way, was trailing the jamaican/turkish sprinter J.A. Harvey). Just look at the photo-finish

Martina went on to lose the 200 m gold in exactly the same way as he lost the 2008 olympic silver: a lane violation. (The details of what happened in 2008 are most interesting and the wikipedia is presenting a succinct account). M. Rooney and L. Grenot managed to keep their 2014 titles over 400 m. In the women's event I was particularly happy to see F. Guei win an individual medal. For people who do not recognise the name immediately, Floria is the one who won for France the 4x400 m gold medal in the 2014 Europeans. This time she  could only consolidate the silver medal in the 4x400 m despite a 49.92 split. Another french runner, R. Lamote, had to contend herself with a silver medal over the women's 800 m behind an astonishing N. Pryshchepa. Still Lamote is one of the athletes I am going to keep an eye on over the next years. The other promising young runner A. Hinriksdóttir finished last in the final but one can expect something better in the future (but I do not like at all her running style). Men's 800m and women's 1500 m were a polish affair with a Kszczot-Lewandowski double relegating pre-race favourite P.A. Bosse to a hard to digest 5th place while A. Chichocka prevailed easily over S. Hassan in a ridiculously slow, over 4:30, race. (A slight disappointment here by S. Ennaoui's performance who finished 7th in a race where her speed should have made a difference). The men's 1500 m race was a most interesting one where, while the Ingebrigtsen family won another gold medal after Henrik's victory in the 2012 European's, this time it was the younger brother, Filip, who prevailed to the astonishment of everybody (including the winner himself). Henrik, 3rd in the 1500 m, tried to recoup in the 5000 m race but he had to settle for 4th in a race where the photo-finish is one worthy of a 100 m race with I. Fita winning his first international title.

And now we are entering the kenyan-turkish domain with the victories of Y. Can (born Vivian Jemutai) over 5000 and 10000 m and P. Arıkan (born Paul Kipkosgei Kemboi) over men's 10000 m followed in second place by A. Kaya (born Stanley Kiprotich Mukche). Can established a European under23 record in the 10000 m with 31:12.86. Turkey won another long-distance medal, a silver one with K.K. Özbilen (born Mike Kipruto Kigen) in men's semi-marathon, a race won for Switzerland by Eritrea-born T. Abraham. Women's semi-marathon was a portuguese affair with S. Moreira 1st and J. Augusto 3rd, with Italy's V. Inglese in between the two. By the way I liked enormously the idea of a semi-marathon in the Europeans. It is a much more lively race than the marathon. But, the thing that I liked most was the disappearance of the race-walking events. Ah, if only the IAAF decided to forget about this unnatural event!

France won gold and bronze in men's 110 m hurdles with D. Bascou and W. Belocian. Women's high-hurdles were won by C. Roleder, who managed to beat the favourite A. Talay in 12.62. I was amazed Roleder's (and, in fact, also Bascou's) speed burst after the last hurdle. In the case of Roleder, whose silver medal in the 2015 World's was a major surprise, this victory settles any doubt one could have had concerning her real potential. And I had trouble understanding why C. Billaud did practically jog through the final, but apparently she had hurt her back in the semis. On the other hand E. Pesiridou of Greece competing at her first major championship managed to finish 6th in the final

Men's 400 m hurdles were won by the cuban-turkish athlete Y. Copello  while the 2014 winner K. Hussein had to contend himself with a bronze medal. The one athlete who made a major impression on me was Norway's K. Warholm. He ran an impressive 48.84 in the semi-final and foundered in the final only because he chose to run a suicidally fast first part. I am going to watch out for this decathlete-turned hurdler in the Rio Olympics (and in the years to come). Listening to the speaker presenting the athletes in the women's 400 m hurdles I was amazed by the number of combined events specialists who opted for this event. As I wrote in my post on Eaton's 2014 choice the 400 m hurdles is particularly appealing to deca/hepta-thletes. S. Petersen won the race, an event were she was disqualified in the heats two years ago. Another norwegian athlete, A.H. Iuel, ran a suicidal race with a too fast first part and could only manage a 6th place, but I am going to keep an eye open for her.

Women's 3000 m steeplechase was won by G.F. Krause in 9:18.85 with Albania's L. Gega in the second place. I find this conversion of Gega from the 1500 m (where her 4:02 personal record does not suffice for an international career) to the 3000 m steeple particularly clever. When her technique reaches maturation she will be among the protagonists of this discipline.

The men's event was won with flying colours by M. Mekhissi-Benabbad, in front of A. Kibitok, now running under his turkish name of A. Kaya. This was his fourth in a row victory: for me, his 2014 disqualification was a shameful decision. Of course, Mekhissi-Benabbad is not an angel. He is known for his violent temper which pushes him sometimes to unacceptable behaviour. But his disqualification for having taken off his shirt following a protest of Spain, whose athlete was going to profit directly from this disqualification, is a monument of *un*fair-play.

Great Britain won the men's 4x100 relay while France, with a particularly weak team, had fortunately J. Vicaut as anchor and managed a great finish for a silver medal. The women's Netherlands team with perfect relay exchanges and a fantastic Schippers literally squashed the opposition. (Unfortunately no splits were given for the 4x100 m). I am curious to see what will Holland's team do in the Rio Olympics. Women's 4x400 m was won by Great Britain in a world leading time of 3:25.05 despite a fabulous anchor by France's F. Guei. Speaking of great anchors, Grenot's was even better, with a 49.73 split, with which she managed to win a bronze medal for Italy. But perhaps the most exciting race was men's 4x400 m. The Belgium team with the three Borlée brothers and  an excellent fourth, J. Watrin, reiterated their 2012 triumph in 3:01.10. This should a sub-3 team in Rio

Since this post was getting rather long I decide to split it just as I did for last year's World's. The second part will contain a report on field and combined events as well as some thoughts, in particular, concerning the naturalisation process and how it might ruin the European Athletics.

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