Summary of the morning session at the European Championships in Helsinki
It had never seemed like a great idea to hold the European Championships in an Olympic year. As a result UKA sent a weaker team than usual, but after a disappointing first morning in Helsinki for British athletes, they might have been left wondering whether it was worth submitting a team at all.
It was something of a bizarre first session in the Finnish capital, as a flash shower threatened play and tight bends on the recently-modified track led to numerous disqualifications in the men’s 400m. Elsewhere, some athletes seemed more concerned with chasing Olympic qualifying marks than progressing to the next round.
First up was Abigail Irozuru, the long jumper who recently improved her PB to 6.80m – some 32cm farther than her next-best career jump. But in a qualifying round where 6.39m proved enough to make the final, Irozuru was 20cm short of that mark and finished 22nd overall with 6.19m. Margrethe Renstrom, Eloyse Lesueur and Karen Mey led the qualifiers with 6.66m.
“I’m shocked and very disappointed,” said Irozuru. “I seriously do not have any belief in myself when I’m jumping right now, I feel like I’m a big fluke getting that 6.80m.
“I’ve made finals since 2007 from junior championships with further distances than that,” she added, although that is not factually correct as her 6.19m is her best ever distance at an international championships.
The disappointments continued as Carl Myerscough failed to make the shot final, throwing just 19.30m in qualifying. Rutger Smith (20.55m) and world champion David Storl (20.30m) were the top shot qualifiers.
Isobel Pooley finished last in her qualifying pool of the high jump after clearing 1.78m – 12cm below her recent PB, which would have been enough to make the final.
Four years ago Jeanette Kwakye finished sixth at the Beijing Olympics and was the only European athlete to make the 100m final. She struggled with injury in the years that followed, but bounced back last year with a 11.15 clocking – just 0.01 off her PB. But her preparations for the Olympics suffered another blow earlier this month as she picked up injuries to her ankle and Achilles.
The impact it has had was apparent this morning in Helsinki as Kwakye finished seventh in her heat with 11.98 – almost a second slower than the fastest time of the day, achieved by Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova with 11.06.
“The timing of what’s happening to me and my body is brutal,” Kwakye said on twitter after her race. “Possibly the hardest thing I have ever dealt with… I tried.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as recently-crowned UK champion Ashlee Nelson clocked a season’s best of 11.43 to progress to the semi-finals as tenth fastest overall.
Two out of the three Britons in the men’s 400m hurdles made it through to the semi-finals by winning their heats. Nathan Woodward (50.02) and Rhys Williams (50.40) both looked good and in control, while Rick Yates – still struggling for form after recent illness and injury – was a distant fifth in his heat with 52.12. Belgium’s Michael Bultheel posted the fastest heat time with 49.65.
In a 100m first round where 24 of the 31 finishers qualified for the semi-finals, it came as no surprise that Harry Aikines-Aryeetey (10.27) and Mark Lewis-Francis (10.39) made it through. But they will have to step up their game to get near French duo Christophe Lemaitre and Jimmy Vicaut, whose respective times of 10.14 and 10.18 are the fastest ever witnessed in the heats at the European Championships.
The track at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium was recently modified as the football pitch on the infield was recently extended to meet FIFA guidelines. But the alteration led to extremely tight corners – former world bronze medallist Marek Plawgo described it as “a rectangular track” – and it resulted in several disqualifications in the heats of the men’s 400m.
Two of the seven DQs included British duo Richard Buck and Luke Lennon-Ford, who both crossed the line first in their respective heats. Buck, who won his heat in 45.83, was later reinstated on appeal, but Lennon-Ford – who was initially credited with a 45.89 clocking – will take no further part in the competition.
During the heats of the women’s 400m hurdles, a momentary torrential downpour came from nowhere. Fortunately it did not last long, and all the main contenders made it through to the semis, led by world finalist Zuzana Hejnova (55.24). Britain’s Meghan Beesley grabbed the final fastest loser spot with her 57.18.
Goldie Sayers was one of just two women to hit the automatic qualifying mark of 60m in the javelin, landing her spear 90 centimetres past that line. In the final she will face a strong German trio which includes defending champion Linda Stahl and national record-holder Christina Obergfoll. Sayers’ team-mate Laura Whittingham came within a metre and a half of her season’s best, but her 52.82m was not enough to progress.
British 800m runner Gareth Warburton missed out on gaining automatic selection for the Olympic team at last weekend’s 2012 Trials, so the Welshman used his heat this morning to go after another ‘A’ standard (1:45.60). With a solo run, he finished just 0.2 short of the qualifying time, but his 1:45.80 clocking was the fastest ever time achieved in the heats of the European Championships.
Fellow Briton Mukhtar Mohammed – who would be added to the Olympic team if he achieves the ‘A’ standard after his top-two finish at the trials – also made it safely through to the 800m semis.
After four events in the decathlon, Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov leads with 3446 points, but it’s Germany’s Pascal Behrenbruch – currently second with 3408 – who looks to be on course for gold, helped by a PB of 16.89m in the shot. Britain’s Ashley Bryant is currently in 19th place, but should move into the top 15 as the competition progresses as his best event, the javelin, is yet to come.
World champion Olga Saladukha topped the qualifiers in the women’s triple jump, leaping 14.77m – the best ever mark in the qualifying round at the Europeans. Double Olympic champion Francoise Mbango, now aged 36 and representing France, produced her best leap under any conditions for four years, jumping a windy 14.38m.