Home advantage counts as Germany defeats Russia in Braunschweig, while Great Britain ends the weekend in fifth
Roared on by a partisan crowd in Braunschweig, host nation Germany rose to the challenge by breaking the Russian stranglehold at the European Team Championships.
With its inspirational captain, Robert Harting, leading by example with maximum points in the discus, the German squad was unstoppable as it ground out a convincing victory over a Russian team who had won this Super League battle on the last three occasions.
Der Harting, as he is known, won his event by more than two metres with 67.42m in the closing stages of a weekend that had seen Germany and Russia separated by only a handful of points for much of the time.
Harting was hardly the only host nation winner, though. In total Germany enjoyed 10 victories across the 40 events. Traditional strength in the throws aside, they also enjoyed surprise – and thrilling – wins in track races like the men’s 800m and 3000m as home advantage proved telling.
It was a great boost for one of track and field’s traditional powerhouse nations. Like most other European countries, Germany has struggled to remain competitive in recent years and its distance running standards particularly have slid to worryingly low levels.
On the greatest stage of all, Germany failed to win gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and when Harting took the discus crown in London he became the first German Olympic champion in athletics since Heike Drechsler 12 years earlier.
Germany won four golds and seven medals at the IAAF World Championships in 2013, though, and success in Braunschweig further illustrates its climb up the global athletics pecking order.
By the time the 4x400m relays took place on Sunday afternoon, Germany seemingly just had to hold their nerve and avoid any disasters. Sure enough, the women’s race saw Germany finish a delighted second to Ukraine with GB fourth and Russia seventh. Then, even though Russia won the last event, the men’s 4x400m, Germany was third – one place in front of Britain – easily enough for overall victory.
After being such a tight contest for so long, the Germans eventually ran away a little with an 11.5-point cushion over their Russian rivals. This leaves the promise of a tantalising rematch next year when the event moves into Russia and the host city of Cheboksary on the banks of the Volga.
France placed third overall, Poland fourth and Great Britain and Northern Ireland fifth on a weekend of mixed but generally promising performances for the Brits.
The GB team was described by performance director Neil Black as a ‘developmental team’ but it was one or two of the established athletes who drew most attention.
Phillips Idowu may only have finished fourth in the triple jump but the spotlight inevitably fell on the former world, European and Commonwealth champion who has returned, aged 35, from a brief spell out of the sport.
“It’s always an honour to put on the red, white and blue,” he told BBC. “I’m extremely tired and fatigued but hopefully next time I put on the national colours I’ll be better.”
Explaining why he took time out from athletics, he explained: “I just needed a bit of a break and some time for myself. I’d been on the senior team for about 14 years. It’s a long time and I needed to freshen up.”
Idowu added he’s spent a lot of time in the past year playing basketball but added: “I think I’ve got a lot more in my legs and I’ve shown signs of getting back to decent form although I haven’t quite nailed it yet. But I can hopefully show that on the runway in the next few weeks.”
As for the Rio Olympics, he said: “I have no plan. I’m just winging it at the moment.”
It was William Sharman who produced the GB performance of the day, though, as he went No.3 on the UK all-time lists with 13.21 in the 110m hurdles. Sharman leapfrogged Andy Turner in the British rankings but he narrowly failed to win the race itself as he was beaten by one hundredth of a second by Sergey Shubenkov of Russia.
Sharman, who beat, among others, the in-form Frenchman Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, said: “I could feel Shubenkov in my peripheral vision so I couldn’t tell if I’d won or not. On the last two hurdles I felt I was getting really close and was going to hit them and I had two options: to back off and play it safe and keep pressing, you might fall over, but if you don’t you’ll get a good time.”
Not to be out-done, the women’s sprint hurdles was also high quality with Cindy Billaud of France clocking a fast 12.66 with Serita Solomon clocking a season’s best of 13.22 in eighth.
After leading Russia by three points overnight, Germany enjoyed a great start to the second day in Braunschweig. The host nation’s Andreas Hofmann beat Dimitriy Tarabin in the men’s javelin with a 86.13m personal best, with Lee Doran ninth for GB, while Christina Schwanitz delighted the home fans with more top points when winning the women’s shot with 19.43m from Russian Irina Tarasova as Britain’s Rachel Wallader wound-up 12th.
In the hammer Betty Heidler took another 12 points for Germany with a best throw of 74.63m. Sophie Hitchon, meanwhile, was fourth for GB with 69.23m.
Yet Russia fought back. Mariya Kuchina won the women’s high jump with 1.95m – the same height as runner-up Oksana Okuneva of Ukraine as Britain’s Isobel Pooley was an underpar 11th.
Idowu’s triple jump was also a vital contest when it came to the overall standings as it saw a Russian victory from Aleksey Fyodorov with 16.95m as Germany’s Andreas Pohle had a nightmare in 10th.
Then came the men’s 800m and a German victory that was every bit as exciting as Arne Gabius’s 5000m victory the previous day. Adam Kszczot looked in the control as the Polish favourite led the 12-strong field, but the home straight dust-up was won by Timo Benitz – the German running a 1:46.24 PB as British half-miler Mukhtar Mohammed was a disappointing 11th in 1:50.27.
The men’s 3000m was a similar story for the host nation and saw Richard Ringer sprinting away to win in 7:50.99 to take full points for Germany as GB’s Jonny Mellor was a pleasing fourth and Russia’s Yegor Nikolayev only 11th.
Germany were flying in the field events, too, with Malaika Mihambo, the European junior champion, taking full points in the women’s long jump with a PB of 6.90m as Jazmin Sawyers – one of the GB senior squad’s newcomers – ninth with 6.27m.
The men’s 3000m steeplechase saw the German runner, Martin Grau, pip Nikolay Chavkin for second, but the victory went to Yoann Kawal as the Frenchman clocked 8:25.50 and Luke Gunn of GB was a decent fifth.
The women’s 200m also saw the Germans and Russians locked in battle, but back in sixth and seventh as the fastest time went to Dafne Schippers of Netherlands with 22.74 as GB’s Anyika Onuora finished third. Matching his team-mate’s result, James Ellington later placed third in the men’s 200m as the win went to Karol Zalewski of Poland with 20.56.
Unpredictability is part of the fun of the European Team Championships and the men’s pole vault had plenty. First the GB representative Steve Lewis no-heighted at 5.52m. Renaud Lavillenie, the world record-holder, then took maximum points with 5.62m – the same height as two of his rivals – but appeared to injure himself during an attempt. “I’m okay,” he assured relieved fans after the event.
The women’s 1500m was more straightforward as Abebe Aregawi, the favourite from Sweden, coasted away from her rivals in the closing stages to clock 4:14.20 as Britain’s Hannah England went from third to fifth in the last 50 metres.
England, the GB captain for the weekend, said: “It was a bit frustrating. It was good to be close to Aregawi on the last lap but I was gutted to lose those couple of positions in the home straight.”
Later, there was another Swedish middle-distance female victory in the 5000m as Meraf Bahta won in 15:36.36. Behind, Beth Potter’s fine fifth place in 15:42.22 was the kind of performance that British Athletics was hoping for from a squad largely consisting of young up-and-coming athletes but inevitably dominated by older, bigger names like Idowu and Sharman.
1 Germany 371, 2 Russia 359.5, 3 France 295, 4 Poland 293, 5 Great Britain & Northern Ireland 281.5, 6 Ukraine 272, 7 Italy 246.5, 8 Spain 219.5, 9 Sweden 212, 10 Czech Republic 208.5, 11 Netherlands 208, 12 Turkey 137.5
» See next week’s AW, out Thursday June 26, for at least 16 pages of European Team Championships coverage