01 April, 2017

European Indoors 2017: a championship I did enjoy

When the 2017 European Indoors were approaching I was looking forward to the performances of three athletes: Spanovic, Thiam and Mayer (and I was confident that Stefanidi would just show her superior class and win her discipline). I was not disappointed. There was also a very nice surprise in the person of L. Muir but more on this point later.

I. Spanovic, flying in an all 7+ m contest

Spanovic was really the queen of these championships. Her winning mark of 7.24 m is the third all-time best indoors (only Drechsler with 7.37 m and Chistyakova with 7.30 m have done better, in the 80s) and compared to the best outdoors performances the only better one in the last decade are B. Reese's 7.31 m and 7.25 m in 2016 and 2013 respectively. In fact all the attempts of Spanovic valid and foul equally were beyond 7 m, including her last one measured at 6.73 m. In fact where Spanovic has undoubtedly progressed these last months was the landing in the sandpit where she had a tendency to lie back and lose precious centimetres. This is what happened in her last attempt (bad habits have a tendency to come back and bite you) and since that was the last jump she decided to celebrate her victory by lying all the way on her back in the sandpit shaving at least 30 cm from her performance. Speaking of the women's long jump, I was a  little bit disappointed by J. Sawyers and her 5th place. But to be fair, she did jump 6.67 m and the level of the competition was very, very high.

Even the last jump of Spanovic was an over 7 m one

Thiam won the women's heptathlon hands down but after the 4th event it was clear that the world record was beyond her reach. Had she jumped at her personal indoor best of 6.51 m she would have to run the 800 m at her outdoor best of 2:16.54 in order to beat the WR with 5020 points. However her 6.37 m deprived her of that hope and thus she just jogged through the 800 m having secured the victory. Thiam would have placed 2nd in the high jump, had she participated in the individual event. I hope to see her one day jumping over 2 m. Of the three dutch brilliant heptathletes only N. Broersen participated at the heptathlon finishing 5th while N. Visser ran the 60 m hurdles placing 7th in the final while A. Vetter did not compete this winter. 

N. Thiam together with I. Dadic and G. Zsivoczky-Farkas

Speaking of combined events I must say that I am particularly happy with K. Mayer's victory and european record. When in my last year's olympic report I wrote that I consider Mayer the true successor to Eaton some people considered this an exaggeration. After having seen Mayer's performance in Belgrade they are now eating crow. I said it already: Mayer is a jumper-thrower and, while he may be not as fast a runner like, say, Eaton or Warner, he has the perfect profile for a decathlete. And at 25 he is still young for a decathlete. Barring injuries  we can safely expect a 9000+ performance from Mayer. The men's heptathlon was the occasion for J. Ureña to redeem himself. If you follow my blog you will certainly remember that Ureña fouled out in the decathlon discus at the 2016 Europeans losing is chances for a medal and, what is even worse, failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics. This time Ureña finished second after an exemplary competition. I will keep an eye open for him this summer at the London World's. A sad moment of men's heptathlon was the finish of the 1000 m when M. Dudas stepped out of the track and fell down while he was fighting for the bronze medal. Had he ran at his personal best he would have made this medal. All in all I find that qualifying 16 athletes for the heptathlon was inconsiderate on behalf of European Athletics. It led to a pole vault competition that took hours and then the athletes had to present themselves for the 1000 m within barely half an hour. A more conservative field of 12 would have been definitely better.

K. Mayer, the world's best decathlete today

K. Stefanidi showed her great class in the women's pole vault. Having missed once at the opening height of 4.55 m she was been led by L. Ryzih and thus from 4.65 m onwards she decided to bide her time till 4.80 m where Ryzih missed and Stefanidi passed at the first try. After that the competition became a formality with Stefanidi passing 4.85 m and Ryzih missing at that height. A. Bengtsson was third on count-back (together with M. Kylypko) but I find her 4.55 m performance somewhat disappointing. By now she should be a 4.80 plus jumper rather than having difficulties with a mere 4.60 m.

K. Stafanidi, adding one more gold medal to her collection

Men's pole vault saw the victory of P. Lisek. This was expected given that Lisek has recently the club of the over-6ers. However his victory was not as easy as one would have predicted since K. Filippidis jumped a national record of 5.85 m for silver and P. Wojciechowski a season's best 5.85 m for bronze. E. Karalis, the world youth record holder, did participate (at just 17 years of age) at his first competition at senior level managing a mere 5.50 m (his personal record from last month being 5.70 m). It goes without saying that this first participation was a precious experience for the young greek champion. I will keep an eye open for him.

E. Karalis, the new greek talent in pole vault

Poland has dominated these indoor championships with no fewer 12 medals 7 of which were gold. They dominated men's middle distances and won both relays. Moreover with K. Bukowiecki they continued the polish tradition in shot put. Bukowiecki a 19 year-old spinner threw a massive 21.97 to win the men's event.  Unfortunately his victory is somewhat tainted by doping allegations. (The matter is quite complicated since the substance detected, higenamine, is not on the WADA list but has a structure very similar to other forbidden substances).

In an article of mine, right after the Olympics, I was writing that while there is a tendency for men shot putters to become spinners no such thing is observed in women. I don't have any explanation for this. Still, the women's event was won by a spinner, A. Marton with a world leading throw of 19.28 m. While this may seem as a comfortable victory, and in fact it was, Marton struggled to reach the final being 8th after the two first throws. A. Skujyte, the decathlon world record holder, pursues her athletics career at 37 years of age and barely missed the shot put final placing 9th at the qualifiers with an excellent throw of 17.37 m.

I. Smalaj, new blodd in the stagnating men's long jump

I admit that I have not remarked the albanian long jumper I. Smajlaj till very recently when he won the 2017 indoor Balkan Games. He did surpass himself at the Europeans winning a first title for his country. Still his performance of 8.08 m, quite a progression for him, is another proof (as if we were needing one) that long jump has gone into depression. There are only 5 performances above 8.50 m since 2010 with the best of them a mere 8.58 m. There are times when one waxes nostalgic of King Carl.

L. Muir, out-distancing her kenyan/turk opponent

L. Muir proved her great talent by winning both 1500  and 3000 m in a masterly way. Her last year's 3:55.22 came as a surprise to me. After all she had never won any major title. But after seeing her dominating the two events the way she did I am convinced now that at long last Europe will be able to compete with Africa over women's middle distances. Y. Can the turkish-kenyan had a taste of this at Belgrade. Speaking of middle distances, I was happy of the performance of S. Ennaoui, an athlete I keep an eye on.

L. Muir, together with S. Ennaoui and K. Klosterhalfen

I was particularly happy with F. Guei's victory in the individual 400 m. She has been for years a superlative relay runner but this time she secured a well-merited individual time. The European indoors were an occasion for me to see for the first time the new sprint talent from Poland E. Swoboda. While clearly inexperienced (she could make the final with the last qualifying time having botched her finish in the semis) she won the bronze medal in a very convincing way. The 2017 Indoors were the occasion for R. Beitia to add a medal to her impressive collection. It was a silver one this time, since the first place went to A. Palsyte who jumped a 2.01 m personal best. In Belgrade we bid our farewell to S. Kallur who made it to the 60 m hurdles final (a final won by C. Roleder with A. Talay losing the first place over the last few metres). Kallur's performances over the last two years is another proof that a comeback in high-level athletics is nigh on impossible. Either you keep going if you have the chance to be injury-free or you quit and that's it.

Floria Guei, dominating the 400 m

I was going to forget the other greek medal at these championships. It was obtained by. V. Papachristou in the triple jump who was third behind K. Gierisch and the 2016 outdoors european champion P. Mamona confirming thus her place among the world's best triple jumpers.

I will wrap up this report with a few remarks. The championships suffered from not up to the task judges. There were moments when the missed starts were wreaking havoc upon the competition (and I do not care if that was a technical problem: we are talking about European Championships here). I am also unhappy about the television coverage. We did not get to see a single jump of the men's pole vault in heptathlon. The participation of african turks was kept at a minimum this time and moreover their performances were rather discreet. Still the problem is there and I very much doubt that the IAAF will address it in a useful way.

Finally I must say clearly that I was shocked seeing D. Klishina participate under the European Athletics flag. She was among the three russian athletes cleared to participate at international competitions. Once she is cleared why can't she participate as russian? I understand that there is a ban not only of doping offenders but also of those who cannot prove their innocence. But going to such extremes as to forbid even the mention of the proper nationality of athletes is something I find intolerable. O tempora! O mores!

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