GB 4x400m teams win Euro indoor gold during a controversial final session that sees giant vault by Renaud Lavillenie ruled out
There were more dubious judging decisions than a typical Premier League football match as officials in Gothenburg did their best to spoil the fun on the final afternoon of the 2013 European Indoor Championships. Yet it ended well for a British squad who won both 4x400m relays in style to finish second on the medals table behind Russia with an eight-medal haul that included four victories.
First, there was a highly controversial ending to the men’s pole vault when a massive 6.07m effort by Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie was ruled out due to the bar bizarrely jumping off its original peg and on to the upright, where it settled precariously – and illegally according to the rule book.
Then the runaway GB men’s 4x400m team was disqualified after Richard Buck put one foot on the inside of the kerb for a single stride, but the Briton was clearly pushed off the track, maintained his balance superbly to come back on to the track and the team was rightly reinstated after a nervous wait.
More straightforward was the GB women’s 4x400m victory as Eilidh Child, Shana Cox, Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton (pictured with their medals above) stormed to victory in a UK and championship record of 3:27.56. More than half a second adrift, Russia finished second and Czech Republic third as the GB team ran even quicker than when they won the world indoor title in Istanbul last year.
Shakes-Drayton was one of three GB runners who had competed earlier in the day when she won the individual title and she said: “I’ve had a very good day in the office. We all wanted it for each other so went out there and gave it all we could.”
In the men’s relay, Michael Bingham had given GB a good start and Buck held things together despite being briefly bumped off the track by a Polish rival. But the race was pretty close until Nigel Levine broke clear on the penultimate leg, giving anchorman Richard Strachan a good lead which he maintained to finish in 3:05.78 as Russia finished more than a second adrift with Poland third.
After hearing of the GB disqualification due to the Buck incident, Bingham said: “It’s not normal running. He (the Pole) cut in and it was a blatant push.”
There was not quite such a happy ending for Lavillenie of France in the pole vault although he still lived up to his billing of favourite as he won his third Euro indoor gold with a best of 6.01m as German duo Bjorn Otto and Malte Mohr settled for silver and bronze with 5.76m.
The controversy happened when Lavillenie cleared 6.07m, only to see the vault disallowed after the bar jumped off the peg and on to the upright. It would have made him the second best pole vaulter in history – indoors or outdoors – behind Sergey Bubka’s 6.15m and ahead of Steve Hooker’s 6.06m, but judges did not accept the clearance and Lavillenie could not hide his frustration as he argued with judges and then broke into tears.
Britain’s Steve Lewis finished equal sixth said: “I’m happy with my own competition but there’s still a lot of work to do and I need more training in order to get up to 5.80m, which is the mark needed to get on the podium.”
On Lavillenie’s disallowed 6.07m, Lewis explained: “If the upright was different, or wasn’t as thick, or if it was round it would have rolled off, so as a pole vaulter you want to see the white flag when you see such an amazing jump. But it’s the rule and it sucks. The probability of it happening is about one in five hundred billion!”
Lavillenie said: “I am happy about winning my third consecutive European title since it is a big competition – and also clearing 6.01m in my first attempt.” On the disallowed 6.07m vault, he added: “I am very sad about the rules. Everyone saw that the bar was still up.”
Runner-up Mohr said: “I can’t understand the decision against Renaud at 6.07 m. The try should be valid.” While Otto added: “Renaud is insanely good at this. He jumps like a machine.”
The women’s 60m also produced nail-biting action as Tezdzhan Naimova of Bulgaria edged a blanket finish as only six hundredths of a second separated the eight finalists. Naimova’s 7.10 was the same as runner-up Mariya Ryemyen of Ukraine, as Myriam Soumare of France took bronze and Britain’s Asha Philip finished sixth in 7.15, equalling her PB.
“I’m upset I didn’t get a medal, but six years ago I couldn’t walk so at least I’m here,” said Philip, referring to the career-threatening knee injury she sustained after winning world youth gold.
Russian Aleksandr Menkov was an emphatic winner of the long jump – he went into the lead with 8.28m and then extended his buffer with an 8.31m leap. This meant home favourite Michel Torneus of Sweden finished runner-up despite a good 8.27m first-round leap.
Chris Tomlinson was only seventh with 7.95m, but the Briton has recently switched coaches to Rana Reider and has made tweaks to his technique which he hopes will pay off this summer and beyond.
Host nation Sweden won two medals in the women’s high jump, but not the all-important gold. Ruth Beitia of Spain added the European indoor title to her Euro outdoor crown with a jump of 1.99m, while local favourites Ebba Jungmark and Emma Green Tregaro took silver and bronze – both clearing 1.96m.
Gold in the men’s heptathlon, meanwhile, went to Eelco Sintnicolaas of the Netherlands as he won in a world leading mark of 6372 points.
Finally, the men’s 1500m – controversially bereft of British entrants – saw Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad clinch victory in the dying strides when he passed long-time leader Ilham Ozbilen of Turkey on the inside to clock 3:37.17.
The race was free of incident, but it was ironic that a championship that had witnessed considerable argy-bargy, DQs and protests across various events saw a metric mile won by an athlete who is perhaps the most infamous of all when it comes to track and field fisticuffs.
Mekhissi-Benabbad was once banned for 10 months by the French federation for a punch-up with an athlete, while he also once pushed over a mascot that turned out to be a 14-year-old girl.
» The next issue of Athletics Weekly, out on March 7, will feature in-depth reports from Gothenburg, plus a full results and news round-up of the rest of this week’s athletics action from around the world