Jo Pavey and the British men’s 4x400m team win silver medals as the European Championships in Helsinki draw to a close
With two more medals on the last day of action at the European Championships in Helsinki, Great Britain ended the week by finishing sixth on the medals table.
Although Britain did not field a full-strength team, the tally of seven medals was somewhat disappointing given that it was not a global championships and entries in many of the events were severely diluted. Britain have been set a target of eight medals – one more than they won this week in the Finnish capital – for the London 2012 Olympics.
Of the small handful of genuine Olympic medal hopes that were in action in Helsinki, a few of them performed well, including Mo Farah in the 5000m and Robbie Grabarz in the high jump, both winning gold. But others – such as discus thrower Lawrence Okoye and most of the relay teams – had a disappointing championships.
Nevertheless, there were numerous surprise performers throughout the week, not just from the British team, but from other nations across all events.
In today’s 10,000m final, Jo Pavey continued her renaissance on the track to win her first European medal, ten years after making her debut at the championships. Portugal’s Dulce Felix broke away from the field after the sixth kilometre and opened up a lead that at one point grew to roughly ten seconds.
With a few laps to go, Felix was clearly on her way to an assured gold medal. Pavey was sat in behind Ukraine’s Olga Skrypak, having dropped European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton. Coming into the final home straight, Pavey kicked past Skrypak to sprint into a clear silver medal position, hacking Felix’s lead down to five seconds.
Felix won in 31:44.75 with Pavey clocking 31:49.07. Pavey’s team-mate Charlotte Purdue, in her final chance to achieve the Olympic ‘A’ standard of 31:45, was sixth in 32:28.46, while fellow Brit Gemma Steel was ninth in 32:46.32.
There were mixed fortunes for Britain in the relays. Having crashed out of yesterday’s semi-finals, the British women were absent in the 4x100m as a well-drilled German team struck gold in 42.51 from the Netherlands, who set a national record of 42.80. Pre-race favourites and defending champions Ukraine messed up their first changeover and did not even make it to half way.
The British men suffered the same misfortune, though, as Christian Malcolm and Dwain Chambers failed to complete the first hand off, despite being the two most experienced members of the GB team. Netherlands went one better than they did in the women’s race to win a surprise gold with another national record of 38.34. Defending champions France did not have individual silver medallist Jimmy Vicaut on the team and finished third (38.46) just a fraction behind Germany (38.44).
But the two countries who fumbled their exchanges in the 4x100m – Ukrainian women and British men – went on to make amends in the 4x400m relay. Nigel Levine ran a storming opening leg for Great Britain with Conrad Williams and Rob Tobin both maintaining the big lead.
Anchor leg runner Richard Buck did his best but it was not quite good enough to hold off the might of Kevin Borlee, who made up significant ground to pass Buck in the home straight, giving Belgium victory in 3:01.09. Britain clocked 3:01.56 to take their third successive silver at the Europeans, with Germany finishing 0.21 behind in third.
Ukraine, meanwhile, won the women’s race in 3:25.07 to hold off France (3:25.49) and the Czech Republic (3:26.02). A half-strength British team that was lacking the likes of Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton narrowly missed out on bronze, finishing just 0.18 behind the Czech Republic.
Renaud Lavillenie successfully defended his European pole vault title with a world-leading 5.97m – his second-best outdoor clearance to date. Germany’s Bjorn Otto, who at 34 is enjoying arguably his bestever year, took silver with an outdoor PB of 5.92m, defeating team-mates Raphael Holzdeppe and Malte Mohr, both clearing 5.77m.
Britain’s JJ Jegede finished an agonising fourth in the long jump final, made all the more gutting by the fact that he was in a medal position until the penultimate round, courtesy of a marginally wind-assisted 8.10m. Spain’s Luis Felipe Meliz led at halfway, having produced his best jump for 10 years with 8.21m to place four centimetres ahead of Sweden’s Michel Torneus.
Two-time European indoor champion Sebastian Bayer, having leapt two big fouls in the opening rounds, kept in the competition by virtue of his third-round 8.03m. On his fifth attempt he sailed out to 8.33m to take the lead, and improved by one centimetre in the final round to seal the gold medal.
The men’s 110m hurdles proved to be one of the highest-quality track finals of the championships, but the semi-final was even more surprising. Despite having to run into a -1.1m/s headwind, 21-year-old Sergey Shubenkov broke his own Russian record with 13.09 – the fastest time by a European athlete since Ladji Doucoure won the 2005 world title. Shubenkov went on to win gold in the final with 13.16 with Garfield Darien defending his silver medal (13.20) and Poland’s Artur Noga returning to form in third to equal the Polish record (13.27)
World indoor bronze medallist Asli Cakir led a Turkish 1-2 in the women’s 1500m, winning in 4:05.31 with the much-improved Gamze Bulut taking silver in 4:06.04. Ukraine’s Anna Mishchenko won bronze (4:07.74) ahead of Russia’s sub-four runner from this season, Yekaterina Gorbunova, and defending champion Nuria Fernandez.
Norway’s Henrik Ingebrigtsen, winner of the men’s 1500m, was one of the biggest surprise champions of the week. The 21-year-old finished 13th in his heat at last year’s European Under-23 Championships, but today in Helsinki he out-sprinted European cross-country champion Florian Carvalho of France to take gold in 3:46.20. David Bustos of Spain took bronze in 3:46.45, just 0.12 behind Carvalho.
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic became the first woman since Ilke Wyludda in 1994 to successfully defend a European discus title. Having served a sixth-month drugs ban for a stimulant since winning gold in Barcelona two years ago, Perkovic overcame two early fouls to unleash a 67.62m throw in round three to edge out world silver medallist Nadine Muller (65.41m). Ukraine’s Nataliya Semenova took bronze with 62.91m.
Having seen Betty Heidler – the woman who last year took her world record – crash out in qualifying, Anita Wlodarczyk was a class apart in the women’s hammer final. Her opening mark of 74.02m would have been enough to take gold, but she improved to 74.29m in round four. Slovakia’s Martina Hrasnova was almost a metre behind with 73.34m for silver, while Anna Bulgakova of Russia secured the bronze with 71.47m. British record-holder Sophie Hitchon, competing in her first major championships final, was 11th with 67.17m.