Barbora Spotakova on her way to winning European javelin gold in Zurich (© Getty Images)
Three victories for Russia, a pair for France and a long-awaited gold for Barbora Spotakova were the highlights on a chilly but dry third day of action at the European Championships in Zurich on Thursday (14).
After taking back-to-back Olympic titles, collecting World Championship silver and gold, and claiming a world record which has stood for nearly six years, Spotakova arrived in Zurich to claim the one title missing from her illustrious collection; the one title that had also eluded her coach, the legendary Jan Zelezny. It didn’t come easily – for a time it looked as though it wouldn’t – but in the end it finally did.
A modest competition from the outset, it didn’t come alive until Tatjana Jelaca threw a 64.21m Serbian record in the fifth round, dropping Spotakova into third, who at that point had just a 62.86m best to her name. In the early rounds the Czech was clearly frustrated.
“My throws seemed really poor and I tried to do many things to improve, even changing my spikes,” she said. “But nothing helped.” Until Jelaca’s throw.
“I was thinking, ‘Hey, this is maybe the last European championships in your life – it cannot end like this, with such a bad performance.’ Then, Jelaca achieved the national record and I told myself I have to push it harder.”
Spotakova found something in reserve and responded with a 64.41m effort, a throw that proved to be enough to secure the lone jewel missing from her crown.
German Linda Stahl, the winner in 2010, took bronze with 63.91m.
Shubenkov prevails in hurdles showdown
Sergey Shubenkov successfully defended his title in the 110m hurdles, one of three gold medals on the day for Russia.
The world bronze medallist started best and never faltered, adding bit by bit to his margin over the final three hurdles en route to his decisive victory in 13.19.
Behind him was a mad scramble for the remaining two medals with just 0.02 separating the next four finishers. William Sharman of Great Britain, the Commonwealth silver medallist, got out quickly with Shubenkov and recovered well after hitting a pair of hurdles to out-lean Frenchman Dimitri Bascou 13.27 to 13.28 to apparently settle spots two and three.
Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, who clocked a 12.95 French record in Monaco last month, struggled from the gun, never quite found his rhythm, and finished a disappointing fourth clocking 13.29, the same time credited to Balazs Baji, a national record for Hungary.
Bascou, however, was later disqualified for interference, elevating his team-mate to the bronze position.
Compaore sails 17.46m to take first senior title
In the men’s triple jump, the best quality field event of the evening, Benjamin Compaore laid down the gauntlet early as he bound out to 17.46m; the best this season by a European, and a jump that would ultimately put the competition well out of reach.
Only the Frenchman himself, with his 17.18m follow-up, would come close to his opener in a competition where three others barely breached the 17-metre line.
“After the 17.46m in the first attempt, I still had to wait and be attentive, always ready to attack again if some athlete would jump further than that,” said Compaore, whose victory was his first international accolade of any sort at the senior level, coming eight years after jumping to the world junior title in 2006. His winning leap finally eclipsed his 17.31m personal best set in 2011.
World indoor champion Lyukman Adams was a distant second with a 17.09m best, just ahead of his Russian team-mate Aleksey Fyodorov, who sailed 17.04m. Both came in the first round.
Clutch performance gives Sidorova pole vault gold
Anzhelika Sidorova became the fifth Russian woman to win a European title in the pole vault thanks to a clutch third-attempt clearance at 4.65m.
After topping 4.55m, the 23-year-old passed at 4.60m, a height three others had cleared, putting her in a make-or-break position after her first two misses at what would turn out to be the winning height.
The victory by the 23-year-old was a notch better than her second-place tie at the World indoor Championships in March and solidified her position as the current Russian No.1.
Count=back at 4.60m determined the other two medallists, with Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece taking silver and Angelina Zhuk-Krasnova of Russia the bronze.
Alembekova collects first senior win
The first gold of the day went to Elmira Alembekova who decisively won the 20km race walk.
Breaking from Ukrainian Lyudmyla Olyanovskaya and Czech Anezka Drahotova with about two kilometres to go, Alembekova crossed the finish line unchallenged in 1:27:56 to keep the title in Russian hands.
“Two kilometres before the finish, I felt that the pace had slowed down a bit so it was the right moment to speed up and attack the front position,” said Alembekova, who earlier this year was third at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup. “I had enough strength to accelerate and when I saw Drahotova 70 metres behind me, it gave me some confidence and I was almost sure I will win.”
Olyanovskaya overtook the 19-year-old Drahotova on the final one-kilometre circuit to claim the silver in 1:28:07, just one second ahead of the world junior champion.
DQ foils Mekhissi-Benabbad’s three-peat
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad dominated the proceedings in the 3000m steeplechase, seemingly gliding to a third successive continental title; until he got a little carried away with his celebration.
The Frenchman, who has two Olympic silver medals and a pair of world bronze medals to his credit, was the picture of confidence from the gun, biding his time until taking to the front for good with about 1000 metres to go. Never threatened, he cushioned his lead over the penultimate lap before running away from the would-be challengers over the last to reach the line in 8:25.30. To underscore the dominance he exhibited, he took off his vest as he entered the home straight, motioning to the crowd to make some noise.
That first earned him a warning from an official, which would annul his victory if he repeated the gesture in his next race, the 1500m. Then the Spanish federation lodged a protest on behalf of Angel Mullera, who was fourth across the finish line. It was accepted, disqualifying Mekhissi-Benabbad, and elevating his team-mate Yoann Kowal (8:26.66) to the gold medal position, Pole Krystian Zalewski (8:27.11) to silver, and Mullera (8:29.16) to bronze. A French counter-protest was rejected.
Thiam the overnight heptathlon leader
Propelled by a sensational 1.97m clearance in the high jump, the best ever in championship combined-events competition, Belgian Naftissatou Thiam carries a narrow six-point lead into the second day in the heptathlon.
The 19-year-old tallied 3851 points, just six ahead of German Carolin Schafer who collected 3845, thanks largely to a solid 13.20 in the 100m hurdles and her 23.84 victory in the 200m.
In a tantalisingly close competition, world indoor champion Nadine Broersen – who has a slightly stronger second day than Thiam – is third with 3841, just ten points behind the leader, while Antoinette Nana Djimou of France, the defending champion, is fourth with 3793, 58 points back.
Elsewhere in qualifying and semi-final action
Setting up a rematch of their 100m showdown, Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers and Myriam Soumare, the 2010 champion, looked best and ran fastest in the 200m semis, clocking 22.48 and 22.56 respectively, with plenty in reserve. World junior 100m champion Dina Asher-Smith broke the British junior record with 22.61 to book her place in the final.
In the men’s contest, Briton Adam Gemili (20.23) and Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre (20.26) emerged as clearly the men to beat. Both finals are scheduled for Friday night.
Renaud Lavillenie made his first appearance relatively short and sweet, needing two attempts at 5.60m before calling it a day. 14 pole vaulters topped 5.50m to move on to Saturday’s final.
World champion Pawel Fajdek of Poland led qualifiers in the hammer throw with a 77.45m effort., while Antti Ruuskanen of Finland led the men’s javelin qualifiers with 83.76m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF