Kevin Borlee anchors Belgium to a European 4x400m record at the European Indoor Championships (© Getty Images)
Russia had to wait until the women’s 3000m yesterday evening for their first medal of any colour at the European Indoor Championships in Prague, but a brace of gold medals on the final day (8) propelled the powerhouse of European athletics to the top of the medal table with six gold medals.
The gold rush started towards the beginning of the final day’s programme thanks to a world-leading combined-events display by Ilya Shkurenev in the heptathlon.
Shkurenev, 24, led by 101 points overnight from renowned second-day performer Arthur Abele from Germany. He closed the gap on the Russian in his favourite event, the 60m hurdles, with a 7.67 PB which has only been bettered by Ashton Eaton among combined-eventers.
As fast as Abele was, he didn’t make too much of an impact on Shkurenev’s lead, who kept up his title assault with a 7.86 60m hurdles – his first time under the eight-second barrier.
Shkurenev tallied more than 2000 points from the first two events on the second day. After breaking new ground in the hurdles, he cleared every height in the pole vault at his first time up to 5.30m.
The Russian indoor record of 6412 was within his grasp but with a cushion of 176 points heading into the 1000m, Shkurenev could have also chosen to lope around towards the back.
Crossing the line in 2:44.82, Shkurenev’s mark of 6353 was a breakthrough. It was a world-leading mark, plus a PB by more than 200 points. He also became the first Russian winner of the heptathlon at the European Indoor Championships.
"Could I improve even more? Maybe," said Shkurenev. "One week before the championships, I had a little incident in training and was injured. I couldn't train very hard during last week before the Prague, but maybe that is why I felt fresh here and had a huge desire to compete."
Abele claimed silver with a PB of 6279 while defending champion Eelco Sintnicolaas, who had a disappointing pole vault by his own high standards, had to settle for bronze with 6185.
Sidorova and Koneva on top form on the in-field
Russian vaulters have now won five of the 10 titles in European Indoor Championships history after Anzhelika Sidorova continued her country’s excellent tradition in the event, taking gold with an outright PB of 4.80m.
Sidorova, 23, proved her big-time mettle again. After lying out of the medals at the European Championships in Zurich last year, she moved from fourth to first thanks to a third-time clearance at 4.65m.
Ekaterini Stefanidi passed at 4.80m in an attempt to overhaul Sidorova, but the Greek came away with silver with 4.75m. In bronze, Angelica Bengtsson upped the Swedish record to 4.70m.
Meanwhile, perennial medallist Ekaterina Koneva upgraded her silver medal from Zurich with gold in the women’s triple jump in a world-leading 14.67m.
The outcome reflected the 2015 European list, as Gabriela Petrova from Bulgaria and Hanna Knyazyeva, second and third on the world lists, took silver and bronze with 14.52m and 14.49m respectively.
A first-time clearance at 2.31m gave Daniyil Tsyplakov the high jump title on countback from surprise medallists Silvano Chesani from Italy and Adonios Mastoras of Greece.
Schippers equals world lead for 60m title
Following in the footsteps of six-time winner Nelli Cooman, Dafne Schippers returned the European indoor 60m title to the Netherlands with an equal world-leading time of 7.05.
While Cooman was renowned for her bullet-like start, Schippers does her best running over the second half. After a poor start, the European 100m and 200m champion cut through the field over the final portion of the 60m to win her third continental sprint title; not bad for an athlete who might still go back to the heptathlon for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
Teenager Dina Asher-Smith equalled the British senior 60m record of 7.08 – a world age-19 best – to win Britain’s first medal in this event at the European Indoor Championships since 1985.
By contrast, British sprinters have taken at least one medal in the men’s short sprint at every championships since 1988, and world indoor champion Richard Kilty duly became the sixth British winner of the men’s 60m title since 2000.
Team-mate Chijindu Ujah was Kilty’s principal rival but the UK indoor champion, who ducked under the 10-second mark for 100m last year, was disqualified for a false start.
At the second time of asking, Kilty was the fastest from the blocks with a 0.138 reaction time and won by a clear margin in a season’s best of 6.51 ahead of the German pair of Christian Blum and Julian Reus in 6.58 and 6.60 respectively.
Holusa excites electric crowd with 1500m gold
Pavel Maslak’s gold medal in the 400m was an expected one for the hosts but Jakub Holusa, who hadn’t cracked 3:40 for the distance this year, wasn’t one of the touted names heading into the 1500m.
With adjusted tactics from yesterday’s qualifying when he passed 800m under world record pace, Turkey’s Ilham Tanui Ozbilen controlled the final from the front, and the game plan seemed to work.
Ozbilen’s lead stretched out to about six metres heading into the last lap but with the crowd at his back, the adrenaline pumping through the veins, and with a target to aim for, Holusa started to rally.
Approaching the final turn, Holusa still looked destined for second but he clawed back the deficit and nabbed Ozbilen on the line.
The noise inside the O2 Arena was comparable to yesterday for the men’s 400m final, as Holusa closed what seemed an insurmountable gap. He claimed an unexpected second title for the hosts in a Czech record of 3:37.68 to Ozbilen’s 3:37.74.
On paper, Sifan Hassan from the Netherlands was the fastest in the women’s 1500m by nearly six seconds so it didn’t come as a surprise that nobody followed her early pace when she took the lead as the gun fired.
Through 800m in 2:11.85, Hassan led by seven seconds over a tightly bunched group who started to make some inroads over the second half.
At the bell in 3:37.1, Hassan’s lead was halved to 3.8 seconds but despite tiring, the 22-year-old held on for the win in 4:09.04 ahead of Angelika Cichocka in 4:10.53.
Two-time winner Adam Kszczot was unable to defend his 800m title through illness but the title stayed in Polish hands courtesy of his friend and team-mate Marcin Lewandowski.
Thijmen Kupers kicked to the front after a slow opening 400m of 54.32 but after a 25.92 third lap, title favourite Lewandowski moved on to the Dutchman’s shoulder before hitting the front with 150m remaining.
Lewandowski, the European outdoor champion five years ago, posted a sizeable negative split for the title in 1:46.67 ahead of Ireland’s Mark English, who fought off Kupers for silver in 1:47.20.
Selina Buchel claimed Switzerland’s first European indoor title since 1987 in the women’s 800m ahead of Olympic bronze medallist Ekaterina Poistogova, 2:01.95 to 2:01.99.
Jenny Meadows, the world-leader at 1:59.21, came down with a virus last week and was advised to withdraw from the final by medical staff.
European 4x400m record caps thrilling programme
The Polish relay team led for roughly 1585 metres of the curtain-closing 4x400m final but their anchor runner Jakub Krzewina was denied the title – and the European indoor record – by an excellent 44.99 anchor from Kevin Borlee.
After a 46.88 first leg from Julien Watrin, individual silver medallist Dylan Borlee put his team in contention with a 45.86 split before Jonathan brought Kevin within striking distance thanks to a 45.14 third leg.
Belgium and Poland both ducked under the previous European indoor record of 3:03.01 held by a Polish team from the 1999 World Indoor Championships with 3:02.87 and 3:02.97 respectively.
Anchored by Maslak, the Czechs took bronze in a national record of 3:04.09.
Sharpened elbows were a requirement in the women’s 4x400m where the six competing teams were still in contention on the last circuit.
Less than a second separated the finalists, with France claiming the gold medal in 3:31.61 ahead of Great Britain (3:31.79) and Poland (3:31.90).
Steven Mills for the IAAF