Stefan Holm acknowledges his jumping success at the Swedish Indoor Championships (© Hasse Sjögren)
Olympic champion Stefan Holm today prevailed in what was close to being an unbelievable High Jump contest at the Swedish Indoor Championships, in which Linus Thörnblad, the World Indoor bronze medallist, despite making 2.32m, 2.36m and 2.38m heights on his first attempts still had to settle for silver in his own national championships!
Elsewhere at the championships, European outdoor gold medallists Susanna Kallur, Carolina Klüft and Christian Olsson enjoyed or in the case of the latter suffered mixed fortunes.
Enthralling High Jump
Only a handful of times in the history of world athletics has it happened that a high jumper has cleared 2.38m without winning the competition and the settings have then all been major international events: 1987 World Championships, 1993 and 1997 World Indoor Championships and 2004 European Indoor Championships plus a two high jump invitationals in Germany 1987 and 1994.
Now the unlikely occasion of the 2007 Swedish National Indoor Championships should be added to that illustrious list. Because Swedish jumpers Stefan Holm and Linus Thörnblad provided this Sunday afternoon in the "Friidrottens Hus" arena in Gotenburg** perfect proof of the assumption that there is no better catalyst for great performances than intense competition between a couple of world class athletes of matching ability.
Of course a good competition was foreseen as both Holm and Thörnblad have been consistent at 2.30+ this winter, but no one – not even the jumpers themselves – could have expected such an enthralling contest that wouldn't be finally decided until the bar was set at 2.40. Because to get there the 2004 Olympic champion Holm (31 years in May) had made the second best height of his long and successful career and the 2006 World Indoor silver medallist Thörnblad (22 years in March) had surpassed his previous best by 4 centimeters.
With Thörnblad first in the jumping order Holm chose the tactic to just follow. So when "the young challenger" entered at 2.18, passed 2.20, jumped at 2.22, passed 2.24, jumped at 2.26 and passed 2.28 "the old master" just copied that. Both had effortless first time clearances, but perhaps Holm looked slightly more impressive.
With the bar raised to 2.30 the competition started – surprisingly with a distinctive failure from Thörnblad. Holm was not late in ceasing this opportunity to get ahead by making another huge clearance to register his 102nd 2.30+ meet. When Thörnblad failed once more it looked like the competition was near its end, but in his third and last attempt the 21 years old had rediscovered his form and made the height with centimeters to spare (his 18th 2.30+ meet ....).
That rediscovered form was apparent when he just a couple of minutes later opened the jumping at 2.32 with another authorative clearance. However, if Holm would just match that he would reclaim the lead – but he didn't! In his first – and as it would turn out – only bad jump of the evening Holm took down the bar.
This really brought excitement into the competition. Would Thörnblad who just a few minutes before had looked as if he was about to exit with only a 2.26 as his mark steal the title that had appeared to be in Holm's firm grip? Holm realising he needed another height to reclaim the lead saved his remaining two tries to 2.34.
Thönblad – now at his PB height – jumped first and made it .... almost. So now Holm got his chance: By clearing 2.34 in his first he would be back at the helm and Thörnblad would need at least 2.36 to turn it around once more. This opportunity Holm would not let go to waste: Another magnificent clearance – and the pressure was back on Thörnblad, who promptly decided to use his two chances at 2.36 instead.
And he only needed one: The arena exploded when Thörnblad went clear at this new PB! Now the pressure was back on Holm who had jumped brilliantly so far but who still was forced to have a first-time clearance to reclaim the lead. If he would miss he would need 2.38! Deep concentration accompanied by loud music and followed by an explosion off the ground: 2.36 and only the airflow created by his body passing close made the bar move somewhat.
The bar raised two more centimeters to 2.38 and although it felt impossible the suspense in the arena and the volume of the music was also raised a couple of notches. First to jump Thönblad, now back in second place. But a few moments later he was back on top: He did have some contact with the bar and it even moved somewhat on the supports but it remained there!
Once more Holm was back in the awkward position of having done almost nothing wrong this afternoon but still needing a first time clearance of 2.38 – a height he had made only once before in his ten years as a world class jumper – for that 10th national indoor title he had come to Göteborg to get. The pressure was palpable not only for Holm himself but also for the about one thousand other persons in the crammed "Friidrottens Hus".
All those some two thousand eyes followed his characteristic preparations, his run-up, his lift-off – and his clearance as he only brushed the bar ever so slightly! Then the arena exploded once more. However, the competition was still not over. Holm had not yet won, he was just the current leader of this National Championships event when the officials raised the bar to 2.40 ....
To say that the jumping at 2.40 was anti-climatic would be grossly unfair. Although neither Thörnblad nor Holm was very-very close in any of their attempts they certainly provided some serious jumping with the best attempt being Holm's second. (When having finally won after Thörnblad had his third failure Holm took his last chance at 2.41, equal to the Swedish indoor record – then World Indoor record - set by Patrik Sjöberg twenty years ago.)
It was certainly not only the two main characters themselves but also all spectators that felt completely exhausted when this duel finally was concluded. Thörnblad probably summed it up best afterwards by saying- This was really an almost unreal competition.
And who could before have thought that making first time clearances at 2.32, 2.36 and 2.38 would only net you a silver medal in your national championships?
The ultra-experienced winner Holm also admitted that this had been something extra-ordinary:
“This was tough not so much physically as mentally. I almost feel like the old Roman Pyrrhus who said 'One more victory like this and I am defeated'. But I also feel strengthened because if I could handle the pressure here today I should be able to handle also any upcoming challenge.”
That Thörnblad had the competition of his so far quite young career was obvious – raising your PB from 2.34 to 2.38 is exceptional – but rarely, perhaps never, before have Holm been jumping so impressively. Everything seemed to click (but for the first attempt at 2.32) technically and it was if he couldn't help getting huge heights on every jump.
“If I have felt I have been jumping better than today anytime before? Not really, perhaps in Madrid two years ago when I did my 2.40.”
Also performing well…
This high jump duel which had just about everything an athletics connoisseur could wish for of drama, suspense and great marks of course over-shadowed everything else in these Swedish Indoor Championships – it would have in almost any other meet – but there were also other athletes that performed well in their final meets before the European Championships in Birmingham.
No serious opposition for Kallur
World leading Susanna Kallur of course had no serious opposition in the hurdles (twin sister Jenny is only a spectator this indoor season as she has spent the autumn taking care of the injury problems she experienced in 2006) but Susanna still produced 7.98 in the heats and 7.99 in the final.
Robert Kronberg, the European Indoors hurdles bronze medallist of two years ago, confirmed that he is in his best form for many years by un-pressed running 7.65 in the heats and 7.59 in the final. The latter time was just 0.05 off his six years old Swedish indoor record.
Helsinki bronze medallist Emma Green also got a positive feedback form-wise. In the absence of Kajsa Bergqvist – who competed in Split on Saturday finishing third there in 1.97 - Emma cleared 1.94 with ease and was quite close in her attempts at would-be PR 1.98.
Klüft shouldn't be worried
Many eyes of course on Carolina Klüft, especially after her "disaster" in the hurdles in GE Galan last Tuesday. Was it just a freak occurrence or did she have some serious problems? The answers were positive, especially when it came to the hurdles. After a cautious 8.44 in the heats she ran second to Kallur all the way in the final to 8.30, just 0.11 off her PB.
The day before she had competed in the High Jump and the Shot Put recording 1.84 and 14.09. Decent performances although Carolina herself was visibly not happy. But if history is something to go by she shouldn't be too worried for Birmingham: Two years ago she had 8.34, 1.76 and 13.84 in the same three events at the national championships and went on to win the European pentathlon title in Madrid in 4.948 points.
Johan Wissman, who will be contesting the 400m in Birmingham, returned this weekend to his "first love" the 200m to pick up his 6th straight national indoor title despite running somewhat cautiously as it appeared.
Olsson out of European Indoor Championships
But for one Swedish medal hope for next weekend the experience at the national championships this weekend didn't turn out positive at all. Christian Olsson was skipping the triple jump to avoid putting extra pressure on those vulnerable knees instead contesting the Long Jump.
But at take-off in his first jump in the qualification he felt a slight twinge in his hamstring. Nothing major, he could walk away from the pit, but still enough to make him take the decision to cancel Birmingham to avoid the risk of aggravating it in a way that would seriously hamper his preparations for the upcoming outdoor season.
Sweden will now be sending 16 athletes – 8 men and 8 women – to Birmingham. Besides the major names already mentioned it is worth noting that this "Nation of jumpers and hurdlers" will have runners with reasonable chances for reaching the finals in all male middle and long distances events and that Shot Putter Helena Engman will travel with a fresh NIR improvement of 29 cm (to 17.46).
Lennart Julin for the IAAF
Note: "Friidrottens Hus" is a permanent indoor facility with conditions similar to those outdoors, i.e. the synthetic surface is laid upon asphalt. So – in contrast to most major High Jump competitions indoors – no "extra bounce" from a suspended run-up was available here.