Christian Reif at the 2014 European Athletics Team Championships (© Getty Images)
A late reinstatement of Germany’s initially disqualified women’s 4x100m team led to joy in the host nation’s camp, and turned a four-point deficit into a three-point lead over defending champions Russia at the end of the first day of the 2014 European Team Championships in Brunswick on Saturday (21).
After 21 of the 40 events, 2009 champions Germany lead with 195 points. Russia, winners at the past three editions of what is probably the premier national team contest in the world, are second with 192.
France are a distant third with 161 points, and were chased hard for the final place on the podium by Great Britain with 158.5, while Poland lie fifth with 153.5.
At the other end of the standings, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey occupy the bottom three places in the 12-team competition and face relegation to the first league in 2015.
On a day of chilly conditions and blustery winds, Germany notched up three wins from shot putter David Storl, 5000m man Arne Gabius and long jumper Christian Reif, and many of their other representatives added ample points to their tally, but pole position at the end day one revolved around a fifth-place finish by their women’s 4x100m quartet.
A bugled last changeover led to them being initially disqualified but, after an appeal was lodged and video footage reviewed, the quartet of Yasmin Kwadwo, Tatjiana Pinto, Rebekka Haase and Verena Sailer gained Germany an extra seven points.
Although the European powerhouses of athletics took the stage in the picturesque German city, it was the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan who arguably provoked the biggest celebrations in a loud and cheerful ‘oranje’ block in the Eintracht Stadium.
Hassan stormed to a convincing victory, surging to the front 500 metres from home, to win the women’s 3000m in a European-leading time of 8:45.24, which was also a championship record.
Despite the great result, and a 58.93 final lap, Hassan was still critical of her race.
“I am used to running much faster, so I cannot be satisfied with the result. The pace was very slow, so it was easy for me to spare my energy for the last lap. The European Championships in Zurich will be more important now, so I hope to show some better time there,” reflected Hassan.
Another championship record fell in the men’s 1500m, which saw the German crowd cheer on rising talent Homiyu Tesfaye, only for him to be overtaken in the final metres of the race by Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa in 3:37.74.
Storl invincible in front of home crowd
However, the home crowd had numerous other reasons to celebrate.
One of them was when two-time world champion David Storl relegated Poland's double Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski to second place early in their event.
Storl’s 21.20m third-round effort was a season’s best, and Storl credited his good form to the support from the stands: “Those who know me well know that I often have up to two false attempts at championships. But that is impossible at home, in front of a home crowd.
“I have much more fun knowing and feeling that the audience really follows the competition like today, so I encouraged them before my attempt.”
In the men’s long jump, Reif beat Britain's Olympic champion and current world leader Greg Rutherford.
Reif’s victorious third-round jump of 8.13m trumped Rutherford’s earlier 7.99m and came just a few minutes after another win for the hosts as Arne Gabius came out on top after a gripping finale to the 5000m which saw the German ahead coming into the home straight, lose his lead and then fight back in the final few metres be beat Spain’s Jesús Espana, winning in 13:55.89.
Another leading performance came from France’s world silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon, who came out top in the discus with a second-round throw of 65.51m after Germany's late replacement Shanice Craft, coming in at short notice for the injured Nadine Muller, hurled her implement out to 65.07m.
“I wanted to improve my season’s best and this is what I did," said Michon. "I did not start very well because the disc went into the cage at the first attempt. So when I saw the result of Shanice it gave me a lot of adrenaline which was good.”
Russia had six individual victories including the men’s 400m hurdles and hammer as well as the women’s 400m, 800m, pole vault and triple jump.
Anzhelika Sidorova triumphed in the pole vault with a career outdoor best of 4.65m despite apparently struggling with the challenging weather conditions.
“It started to rain a bit at the end of the competition, so I rather stopped jumping at 4.70m because I was already close to my PB and did not want to risk an injury.”
Double celebrations followed by double disappointment for France
The 100m saw a double victory for France as Myriam Soumare and then Jimmy Vicaut stormed to 12 points in 11.35 and 10.03 respectively.
However, delight turned to despair later for the French team as Vicaut injured his hamstring in the final few metres of his race and dropped out of the 4x100m relay, which then was disqualified as well.
As the French suffered, the British were celebrating a victory in the men’s 4x100m as the curse of dropping the baton seems to be finally broken.
The quartet of world indoor champion Richard Kilty, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, James Ellington and Adam Gemili took the 12 points in 38.88.
In the women’s javelin, Czech Republic’s two-time Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova took the victory when she sent the last throw of the competition out to 65.57m, consolidating her lead and more than two metres more than anyone else could manage. In the women’s 400m hurdles Hanna Ryzhykova (nee Yaroshchuk) stormed to a season’s best of 55.00 to hold off European leader Eilidh Child of Great Britain.
Many of the top performers in Brunswick are using the European Team Championships as a way of gauging the strength of some of their main rivals ahead of the forthcoming European Championships in August, which will be used to decide the European team that will contest the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 13-14 September.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF