Jan Fitschen knows that most races, particularly those of the 25-lap variety, don’t usually go according to plan.
Fortunately for the 28-year-old German, his pre-race plans did pan out in his first major championship, resulting in one of the biggest surprises yet to emerge from the European Championships.
“I had some plans, and somehow, in this case, it happened like I planned it,” Fitschen beamed after his 28:10.94 victory, nearly ten seconds better than his previous best. “And that doesn’t happen very often.”
Yet even an hour after the race, Fitschen still found it difficult to believe that things had worked out so well that he would manage to win a title that had escaped his better known German predecessors Dieter Baumann and Stephane Franke.
“This morning I was hoping to be in the top-ten,” a beaming Fitschen said. “Now I’m at the top of the top-ten.”
A modest 14:16.80 first half pace did little to shrink the field, but it play nicely into the only plan Fitschen could have.
“I was hoping it would be 28:20 pace, not too fast and not too slow. If it was too fast, I just can’t follow because the others can run much faster. My plan was just to hide as long as possible and save energy. And it worked perfectly today.”
While the race wasn’t nearly on the level as Monday’s fast women’s final, it did provide ample evidence that races don’t need to be exceptionally fast to be thoroughly enjoyable.
Spaniards Jose Manuel Martinez, the defending champion, and Juan Carlos de la Ossa, the pre-race favourite, controlled much of the pace, taking turns with a few others at or near the front. Throughout it all, Fitschen always remained within striking distance, if not among the chief protagonists. Yet despite things going his way, Fitschen said than in any race moments of doubt enter the picture. But erasing those doubts didn’t prove too difficult.
“Sometimes you feel like it’s too fast and you think you can’t do this, or that it’s not your day. But then you say, ‘Ok, let’s just try one more lap,’ and then you realize that that moment is over and that you’re still somewhere in the lead group and that you can still follow the others.”
As the Spanish pair and Christian Belz of Switzerland upped the tempo dramatically over the final lap, Fitschen had worked his way to fourth place. Still running well, he decided that wasn’t the position he was seeking.
“That’s really the worst thing that can happen to you, finishing fourth,” he said, bursting out in laughter. “And I said, ‘Nope, I don’t want No. 4.’ Then I realized that I still had something in my legs, and I didn’t know where it came from, so I just tried a little harder.”
Fitschen describes himself as a mix of part-time athlete and part-time student, who hopes to finally finish his physics degree this year. “The first thing I do is running, and if there’s enough time for anything else, then I study. I hope I can finish my studies this year. 10 years is a little too much for studying.”
But before a return to the classroom, next up for Fitschen is a week-long holiday, and with many family and friends already in Gothenburg to watch him race, he won’t be going too far to enjoy his time off.
“We’ll stay in Sweden,” he smiled. “It’s very nice here.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF