In-depth preview of this weekend’s action in Stockholm
The biggest multi-nation team competition on the continent returns this weekend in Stockholm and the battle for top honours is set to be a close one.
This year it seems as though all the high-profile last-minute withdrawals have centred around the one event that, up until last week, looked to be the highlight of the weekend – the men’s triple jump. World champion Phillips Idowu, world indoor record-holder Teddy Tamgho and 2004 Olympic champion Christian Olsson are all out. But if anything, it means the team competition will be even tighter.
Last year Russia ran away with the European Team Championships title with Britain finishing a distant second. Although Russia look set to be on course to successfully defend their title, Germany – winners of the inaugural European Team Championships in 2009 – is expected to push them all the way.
Meanwhile, Great Britain – hit by the withdrawal of Idowu – are set to finish outside the top three. The surprise of the weekend could come from Ukraine, whose women’s team could push the all-conquering Russian women all the way as they challenge for a top-three spot in the overall team competition.
Despite playing host to the event, Sweden could struggle. Even if they gain any extra advantage from home-crown support, they look destined for a finish in the bottom three. Portugal and Belarus also look to be in danger of finishing in the relegation zone.
According to Athletics Weekly‘s calculations based on current form, the overall final team standings could look something like the following:
1. Russia 353
2. Germany 344
3. France 320
4. Ukraine 311
5. Great Britain 309
6. Poland 272
7. Italy 252
8. Spain 224
9. Czech Republic 224
10. Belarus 202
11. Portugal 170
12. Sweden 140
Dwain Chambers beat Christophe Lemaitre with a sub-10 clocking last year, but the Frenchman turned the tables on his British rival at the European Championships in Barcelona. Lemaitre, who turned 21 last Saturday, has continued to put distance between himself and the rest of Europe.
While Chambers finished one place ahead of him at the European Indoor Championships in Paris, Lemaitre is a more renowned competitor outdoors. And in a low-key meeting in Montreuil on June 7, he improved his PB to 9.96, while Chambers finished a well-beaten fourth.
Lemaitre starts as the pre-race favourite on the basis of their most recent head-to-head, but Chambers has already ducked under the 10.1 barrier on four occasions and shouldn’t finish worse than second.
Assuming Lemaitre chooses to double up, he will be expecting to accumulate maximum points in the 200m too. He opened his outdoor campaign with 20.33 into a -2.2m/s headwind. British youngster Danny Talbot has been improving fast this year and could finish in the top three.
Aiming for his third victory in the 110m hurdles, European and Commonwealth champion Andy Turner is the fastest in the field with 13.28 ahead of European silver medallist Garfield Darien (13.41).
European champion Dai Greene will also start favourite in the 400m hurdles. The Welshman posted a European-leading mark of 48.24 in Rome which compares favourably to Ukraine’s Stanislav Melnykov’s distant 49.62 – the second fastest non-Brit in Europe.
Conrad Williams was given the nod over European 400m medallists Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney, and the Commonwealth finalist should go head-to-head with European indoor silver medallist Thomas Schneider from Germany, who opened his outdoor season with a PB of 45.56.
Based on depth alone, Britain should win the 4x100m relay, but the talent of European champions France and the consistency of last year’s winners Italy could see Britain finish outside the top two.
In the 4x400m, however, Britain should be able to pull out a victory as the level of one-lap sprinting across the rest of Europe this year has generally been poor. Russia, Germany, France and Poland are always dangerous though.
Chris Thompson deputises for European champion Mo Farah in the 5000m. Thompson has been overshadowed by some of Farah’s recent performances but the European 10,000m silver medallist is also in the form of his life. He opened with a 10,000m PB of 27:27.36 and was the runnerup to Haile Gebrselassie in the Bupa Great Manchester Run in May. But in Stockholm he faces Jesus Espana of Spain, who could be the favourite in a tactical race.
Adam Kszczot ran a European-lead of 1:44.30 in the 800m in Bydgoszcz and the European indoor champion from Poland hasn’t lost a race this summer. Britain’s Michael Rimmer is a late withdrawal and has been replaced by Commonwealth finalist Gareth Warburton.
James Shane, 21, makes his senior GB debut and the Basildon athlete – who has improved to 3:39.11 in the 1500m – could face a tough baptism with fast-finishing former half-miler Manuel Olmedo from Spain and Carsten Schlangen from Germany as the leading athletes.
Andy Baddeley steps up from his favoured distance of 1500m to tackle the 3000m and a Spaniard is again likely to be the main danger, this time Juan Carlos Higuero. There’s a good chance Spain could win the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m with likely top-three finishes in the other endurance events too.
European junior cross-country champion Abdelaziz Merzougui of Spain is the fastest athlete on paper in the 3000m steeplechase this year. European champion Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is skipping the event, but his replacement – Vincent Zouaoui Dandrieux – has the fastest PB of all the entrants.
Up until last week, the men’s triple jump looked set to be the highlight of the weekend with a clash between world champion Phillips Idowu and world indoor record-holder Teddy Tamgho. But Idowu announced his withdrawal last week, followed a few days later by Tamgho. It would have left home favourite Christian Olsson as the likely winner, but the former Olympic champion will also miss the event.
Last year’s surprise winner Viktor Kuznyetsov of Ukraine could win again, but Tamgho’s replacement – most likely Benjamin Compaore – could be the favourite, followed closely by Italy’s Fabrizio Schemberi. British youngster Kola Adedoyin is Idowu’s replacement.
2007 world long jump silver medallist Andrew Howe has made a strong start to his season with a 20.31 clocking for 200m and a 45.70 PB for 400m. In Stockholm the Italian returns to his specialist event and is expected to win. Pavel Shalin from Russia and European champion Christian Reif will be his leading challengers.
Having cleared six metres for the first time in this competition in 2009, Renaud Lavillenie of France has fond memories of the European Team Championships. The European indoor and outdoor pole vault champion will be favoured for maximum points ahead of German No.1 Malte Mohr.
Former world youth champion Aleksey Dmitrik, who won the European Cup in 2005, is tipped to win in the high jump, but the in-form Raul Spank will be right up there too.
Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski from Poland will be aiming for a hat-trick of titles in the shot put. After missing the indoor season the 29-year-old has returned with four competitions in excess of 21m, but he will face stiff competition from European champion and current European leader Andrei Mikhnevich from Belarus, and former world junior champion David Storl from Germany.
Matthias de Zordo, who took the scalp of two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen at this competition last year, has the farthest season’s best on paper of 85.78m, but it puts him only marginally ahead of Russian veteran Sergey Makarov (85.33m) and Czech Petr Frydrych (85.32m).
World champion Robert Harting is unbeaten in the discus this season and based on this year’s performances, the German holds a healthy margin over European champion Piotr Malachowski from Poland. Represented by rising star Brett Morse, this could be Britain’s highest-scoring throwing event of the weekend.
Also unbeaten in 2011, Aleksey Zagorniy from Russia leads the world hammer rankings with 81.73m, although he has always underperformed at this event in the past. Should history repeat itself, Italian veteran – winner of this event two years ago – could score big here.
Ukraine took gold and silver in the 60m at the European Indoors and its athletes are targeting a brace of victories in the sprints. Olesya Povh, who won the 60m in Paris, has set PBs of 11.24 and 22.58 this year and she lines up in the 100m, while training partner Mariya Ryemyen, who has improved to 11.21 and 22.68, tackles the 200m.
Through Anyika Onuora, 11.18 this year, and Abi Oyepitan, 23.21 this year, Britain is well represented in the sprints. But France will be strong too as European silver medallist Veronique Mang goes in the 100m and European champion Myriam Soumare lines up for the 200m, her specialist event.
Antonina Yefremova won the European Cup in 2002 with 50.70 and this remained her PB until last month, when she shaved one-hundredth from her long-standing lifetime best. In what is shaping up to be one of the most high-quality events, Yefremova leads the European rankings from European indoor champion Denisa Rosolova from the Czech Republic (50.84), Svetlana Usovich from Belarus (51.20) and British newcomer Shana Cox (51.24).
Tiffany Ofili-Porter made a notable start to international duty at the European Indoors and the former American is the pre-event favourite in the 100m hurdles. After setting a UK record of 12.77 last month, Ofili-Porter leads the rankings by a clear margin too.
Perri Shakes-Drayton is the third fastest in the 400m hurdles field with 54.77, just behind Hanna Titimets from Ukraine (54.69) and Zuzana Hejnova from Czech Republic (54.26).
Since winning the European 4x100m title last year, Ukraine has gone from strength to strength and it will be a surprise if they do not win the sprint relay in Stockholm. If any team is going to finish near them, it will likely be Russia or France.
If there’s one near-certainty of the European Team Championships every year, it is that Russia will win the women’s 4x400m. After recent investments in the women’s 4x400m, Britain will have the chance to show whether certain changes of allegiance and event switches have paid off. Germany and Ukraine will be right up there too.
Jenny Meadows faces a tough test in the 800m. The winner from 2008 will face European champion Mariya Savinova of Russia and former quarter-miler Liliya Lobanova from Ukraine, who improved from 2:01.63 to 1:58.30 last month.
Ukraine is also fancied in the 1500m through Olympic finalist Anna Mishchenko, who has been one of the in-form athletes this year. Mishchenko, who won last year, improved her PB to 4:03.00 when winning in Doha last month. Charlene Thomas goes for Britain and is brimming with confidence after a good recent run in Watford.
In the 5000m, Helen Clitheroe faces last year’s winner Sabrina Mockenhaupt of Germany, Dolores Checa of Spain who recently improved to 14:46.30 and experienced Russian Yelena Zadorozhnaya.
European indoor silver medallist Olesya Syreva of Russia could be the favourite in the 3000m, with Natalia Rodriguez of Spain and Lidia Chojecka also expected to do well. Britain’s Stevie Stockton will make her international senior track debut, and could be one of the surprise performers of the weekend.
World record-holder and Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Gulnara Galkina is back after a pregnancy break. Her recent third-place finish in New York suggests she’s in good shape and she’ll be expected to win in Stockholm. European fourth-placer Hatti Dean is a last-minute withdrawal for Britain, but has been replaced by Eilish McColgan – daughter of former world 10,000m champion Liz McColgan – who broke 10 minutes for the first time this year.
World champion Anna Rogowska from Poland won the European indoor title with an outright PB of 4.85m and opened her outdoor campaign with a season’s best of 4.68m – her best season opener in six years. Holly Bleasdale also opened her campaign well, equalling her PB of 4.50m which augurs well for her first outdoor appearance in a senior vest.
European champion Olga Saladuka came very close to breaking the 15m barrier in Eugene and the Ukrainian is the outright favourite in the triple jump.
Veranika Shutkova, who almost broke the seven-metre barrier last month, could take a rare win for Belarus in the long jump, but European indoor champion Darya Klishina of Russia will be a tough opponent. British newcomer Shara Proctor improved her PB to 6.81m last weekend to go to No.5 on the UK all-time list, and the former Anguillan will be looking to back that mark up in Stockholm.
The high jump hasn’t really come alive yet this season but Emma Green-Tregaro could take advantage on home-soil to secure what is expected to be Sweden’s sole victory of the weekend.
While their track team isn’t the strongest, Germany’s throwers could sweep maximum points across the board in the women’s throws. World hammer record-holder Betty Heidler is the firm favourite to replicate last year’s winning feat. In the absence of previous world record-holder Anita Wlodarczyk from Poland – missing with a back injury – Heidler’s main rival is another former world record-holder, Tatyana Lysenko from Russia. British record-holder Sophie Hitchon makes her senior GB debut.
Nadine Muller is tipped for a repeat win in the discus for Germany. In the European rankings the 25-year-old is more than two metres ahead of Darya Pishchalnikova, who is on the comeback trail from a doping suspension.
The women’s javelin could be one of the most hotly-contested events of the whole weekend. Just 33cm separates the top three women on season’s bests, and they’re all 70-metre throwers at their best. World record-holder Barbora Spotakova has finished behind Russia’s Mariya Abakumova three times this year, but recently rebounded to throw 65.77m in Ostrava.
Abakumova has broken 65 metres in all of her competitions this year, but was beaten by Germany’s Christina Obergfoll in their last meeting in Eugene. UK record-holder Goldie Sayers has started the year in great form, but will have her work cut out to finish in the top three.
World silver medallist Nadine Kleinert should have the beating of Sydney Olympic champion Yanina Pravalinskaya-Karolchyk in the shot, but European indoor champion Anna Avdeyeva of Russia will be looking for big points too.
» The action in Stockholm starts with the hammer at 13:35 local time (12:35 in UK) on Saturday and Sunday. BBC will cover the action live from 1:45pm on Saturday and from the same time on Sunday. AW’s coverage is part of an 84-page special issue next week, with in-depth reports, behind-the-scenes news and photographs.