02 August, 2016

A lacklustre championship (part two: field and combined events)

I cannot help but begin this second part with the victory of Stefanidi, her first gold medal in a major championship. After silver and bronze in European and World championships this time Stefanidi clinched the gold medal dominating the women's pole vault competition and beating the Championships record of Isinbayeva with 4.81 m. 

N. Kyriakopoulou finished at (the most unrewarding) fourth place. It goes without saying that I am very happy with the greek success, but I am glad also with A. Bengtsson, who captured the bronze medal confirming thus her great talent.

Men's pole vault was the exact opposite of the women's event: something we better forget about. Can you imagine a European champion with a 5.60 m performance? Well, it is exactly what it took R. Obera to win. Of course, if there is somebody to blame for that, this is none other than the greatest pole vaulter of our times, R. Lavillenie. 

I have trouble accepting the fact that Lavillenie has not integrated the fact that his technique is far from perfect and that his achievements are due to his exceptional physical qualities, mainly his superb speed. Unfortunately when unfavourable weather conditions take the edge off his speed he cannot compensate this by pure technique. Moreover I think that what happened in Amsterdam is essentially a sin of pride. Instead of starting with a cautious jump at 5.50 m allowing him to calibrate his jumps and following with one at 5.70 m securing the gold medal he decided to start when everybody else had already finished.

R. Beitia won her straight third european gold medal in women's high jump while in the men's competition G. Tamberi added a european gold to the indoor world one of this winter.

If you follow my blog you have certainly noticed that I. Spanovic is an athlete that I appreciate greatly. I was thus particularly happy when she added an outdoor European title to last year's indoor one. Her jump of 6.94 m was just 8 cm longer than J. Sawyers' (another great talent I will keep an eye on) but in fact there was never question of Spanovic not winning. I am looking forward to the olympic competition and the Spanovic-Bartoletta-Reese shootout. (Spanovic said that she hoped to jump between 7.10 and 7.20 m in Rio adding that she hopes that this will be enough for gold or at least for silver: an olympic medal is the one missing in her collection).

Men's long jump was for me an anticlimactic event. The truth is that I do not like G. Rutherford. I find his attitude arrogant and I believe that his accumulated successes are due to the sad fact that, contrary to triple jump, not a single great long jumper exists today. Men's triple jump was won by M. Hess, a young and promising jumper, in 17.25 m. Women's triple jump competition brought the second greek medal. V. Papachristou won bronze, just a she did this winter in the World Indoors. 

The gold medal went to an amazing P. Mamona who with 14.58 signed the biggest success in her career. In fact, after Mamona's silver in the 2012 Europeans I was keeping an eye on her and this time I was not disappointed.

The throws were the most consistent events with the favourites winning in all but the javelin throw. Thus C. Schwanitz and D. Storl took the shot put gold with european leading performances of 20.17 m and 21.31 m respectively. P. Malachowski won the men's discus throw event while S. Perkovic dominated her german opponents with a throw just 3 cm shy of 70 m. For A. Wlodarczyk winning the women's hammer throw was a pure formality but for the men's event for a moment, during the qualification event, we came within an inch of a great surprise when P. Fajdek fouled his first two throws. Things were much more tame in the final where he secured the gold medal already with his first throw. In the same event M. Anastasakis of Greece was 4th, for his first participation at a senior major championship.

Women's javelin throw was won by T. Khaladovich: she was 5th in 2014. The great favourites B. Spotakova, world record holder and reigning olympic and european champion could only finish 5th, while the reigning world champion K. Molitor finished 4th. The only one who managed to live up to expectations was L. Stahl, winner in 2010 and bronze medalist in 2012 and 2014, who at her last throw moved to second place. In men's Javelin throw the 2012 and 2014 winner, V. Vesely and A. Ruuskanen were second and third respectively (but notice that second had qualified with a massive throw of 88.23 m). The victory went to Z. Sirmais (already european champion in junior and u23 categories). The huge surprise of the event was the 5th place of this year's world leader T. Röhler. I think that this was the first time Röhler was entering a major competition as the favourite and he does not have yet the experience allowing him to channel his stress in a constructive way. Who knows, his bad european experience might be helpful for him at the Rio Olympics. My great satisfaction was the elimination of T. Pitkämäki in the qualification. I do not like Pitkämäki. Since, when he (accidentally, of course) wounded S. Sdiri, skewering him with his javelin, and despite the seriousness of the situation pursued unperturbed his competition I decided that Pitkämäki was missing some basic human component. Since that time I wait eagerly for his athletic retirement. 

Men's decathlon was won by T. van der Plaetsen who was 3rd in the 2014 World indoors. What I found really interesting is that van der Plaetsen did not register a single personal best in his way to the european gold. An interesting (and unhappy) moment of men's decathlon was when J. Ureña, who was second in the overall ranking at that time, fouled out in discuss throw and dropped out of the medal race. One day I am going to write a post on fouling out in combined events.
Women's heptathlon was a most interesting competition. Last year in the World's I had singled out two promising Dutch athletes N. Visser and A. Vetter who I expected to excel in Amsterdam together  with the more experienced N. Broersen. Funnily enough they followed very different paths. Visser chose to focus on the hurdles were she was eliminated in the semis. 

Broersen, after a catastrophic high jump, trailed in 4th placed and when she did not manage to get ahead of Dadic for 3rd place in the javelin she decided to drop out.  (My guess is that she has some injury which either does not allow her to perform at 100 % or had put back her preparation, in which case she should be in better shape in Rio).

The one who excelled in Amsterdam was A. Vetter, who took command of the competition early on and in the end deprived A. Nana-Djimou on a third consecutive european title.

With 6626 points she erased Schippers' name from the list of the national records and will be one of the major players in Rio.

There are two points I would like to discuss concerning these Championships. The first is the participation of Y. Stepanova. She was the only Russian participating at these championships and she was allowed to do so because she was the whistleblower concerning her country's doping practices. I will not discuss the role of Stepanova in the ban of Russia from athletics competitions which will result in russian athletes being absent form the Rio Olympics. This is a very complicated issue and I do not feel that I should, in this post, venture to tackle such sensitive matters. My question is a technical one. Stepanova was allowed to participate due to her "truly exceptional contribution to the fight against doping in sport". But how about qualifying performances? When Stepanova (born Rusanova) was competing, she was an under 2 min 800 m runner (but, of course, her performances were annulled due to doping violations). So Stepanova was admitted at the Europeans without a qualifying time. Does this mean that from now on we are going to allow athletes to participate for "exceptional contributions" although manifestly they are not up to the required level? Looking at the video of Stepanova's race it is clear, well before she injured herself, that she was not in championship shape. So, is Stepanova's participation marking the beginning of a "two weights and two measures" era? I hope not, otherwise the use of double standards will result in an institutionalised un-fairplay, something that the antidoping campaign is supposed to  fight against.

The second point has to do with the proliferation of non-europeans under recently acquired european nationalities. There were no fewer than 21 such in the italian team and 18 in the turkish one. In the latter one could find a collection of jamaican, cuban, kenyan, azeri and ethiopian athletes. Out of the 12 turkish medals,  only 2 were won by pure-bred turkish athletes. So, gradually we are adulterating european competitions by the presence of non-european athletes. Now, don't get me wrong. I do not object to the presence of foreign born athletes in continental championships. There several cases where this is perfectly natural. First there is the case of people from old colonies living in a country for years but having only recently acquired the citizenship. There are also people with double nationality who decide for personal reasons to opt for one or the other country. People also do marry and as a consequence change (or not) their citizenship. Finally, there are people who emigrate and decide to pursue their career in the new country. When this is done for personal reasons I can understand it. But I would draw the line at the case of athletic mercenaries. The IAAF has let it be known that they are going to examine (once the Olympics are over) the question of the massive naturalisations under the Laminé-Diack regime but I doubt that anything they decide will be applied retroactively. I am going to follow the evolution and will definitely dedicate a post to this burning matter.

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