Mykolas Alekna at the European U23 Championships in Espoo (© Getty Images)
With more than half of the medals having already been awarded at the European U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland, several championship records have been broken.
World silver medallist Mykolas Alekna gave Lithuania its first gold medal of the championships, dominating the discus and twice breaking the championship record that had belonged to world champion Kristjan Ceh.
Alekna opened his series with a heave of 67.87m, adding 39 centimetres to Ceh’s record from 2021. The 20-year-old then improved to 68.34m in the second round, which remained his best of the day, but he added a 66.50m effort to his series in round four.
All three of his valid throws were comfortably farther than the 62.56m managed by Germany’s Marius Karges in second place.
“It’s nice to add this title to my collection,” said Alekna, who won European U20 and world U20 titles in 2021 before taking senior European gold and world silver while still a teenager in 2022. “This competition was a good practice ahead of the World Championships – I want to leave Budapest with another medal, like I did last year, and I want to throw as far as I can.”
France’s Sasha Zhoya, another athlete who won continental and world U20 titles in 2021, was also in record-breaking form in Espoo. Contesting just his second competition of the year, Zhoya sped to a championship record of 13.22 in the semifinals before winning the final in 13.31.
He didn’t have the best of starts in the final, but he chased down early leader Lorenzo Simonelli of Italy, who took silver in 13.36.
It was the second time this championships that a championship record had fallen in the semifinals. In the men’s 100m, Jeremiah Azu sped to 10.04 to win his semifinal, taking 0.06 off the championship record that had stood since 2007. The Briton came close to matching that in the final, winning in a marginally wind-assisted 10.05 (2.1m/s).
Azu is one of six British athletes to have struck gold in Espoo so far, putting Great Britain at the top of the medals table with 16 more finals to come on the final day of action.
The British women’s 4x100m quartet sliced 0.01 from the championship record to take gold, crossing the line in 43.04 to finish comfortably ahead of France (43.39).
The finish was much closer in the women’s 400m. Norway’s Henriette Jaeger held the lead coming off the final bend, but world U20 champion Yemi Mary John of Great Britain produced a well-timed effort down the home straight to catch the fading Norwegian just before the line, winning in 51.04 to Jaeger’s 51.06, PBs for both.
World and Olympic 800m silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson was third in a PB of 51.76.
There have been successes for the host nation too, thanks to Silja Kosonen and Saga Vanninen, two other athletes who – like Alekna and Zhoya – won European U20 and world U20 titles in 2021.
Kosonen broke the championship record with her first throw in the final, sending her hammer out to 73.71m. She followed it with four more throws beyond 70 metres, three of them also beyond 72 metres. She ultimately won by more than four metres from Britain’s Charlotte Payne (69.22m).
The heptathlon was a lot closer, relatively speaking, as Vanninnen was pushed throughout the two days by Sofie Dokter of the Netherlands. While Dokter excelled in the high jump (1.89m) and 200m (23.92), Vanninen banked valuable points in the shot put (15.36m) and javelin (46.55m), eventually winning with 6317. Dokter was second with 6256.
Switzerland’s Ditaji Kambundji set a PB and championship record of 12.68 to win the 100m hurdles, and Germany’s Olivia Gurth broke the championship record in the steeplechase, taking gold in 9:26.98.