Few events are as precarious as the sprint hurdles when it comes to the fine margins separating success from failure, and Finland’s Reetta Hurske and Switzerland’s Jason Joseph will have known that as they settled into the blocks for the 60m hurdles final at the Atakoy Arena in Istanbul on Sunday (5) night.
But if either of them felt the pressure of the favourite tag at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, the expectation from so many in their home nations that they’d win gold, they certainly didn’t show it.
With a powerful performance, filled with foot-perfect precision, Hurske equalled her national record of 7.79, winning Finland its first ever medal in this event, coming home ahead of Nadine Visser of the Netherlands (7.84) and Ditaji Kambundji of Switzerland (7.91). Denmark’s Mette Graversgaard was just behind in fourth, clocking a national record of 7.92 – her third of the championships.
“I put myself a little bit under pressure before the start; I do not know [why] but I was so nervous,” said Hurske. “I know what I am doing but that was my first time winning gold. I believe I can build on this towards the outdoor season.”
Visser wasn’t best pleased with silver, having won gold at the past two editions. “My first reaction is that I am not happy,” she said. “Before the race, I knew it would be tough. My reaction time was not quick, so I am very frustrated about the start. I know I can go harder. I am proud of getting the silver medal, but I came here for gold.”
In the men’s race, Joseph set a European lead of 7.41 to win gold by a wide margin and move to equal second on the European indoor all-time list, with Poland’s Jakub Szymanski second in 7.56 and France’s Just Kwaou-Mathey third in 7.59. Italy’s Lorenzo Ndele Simonelli clocked 7.59 in fourth, five thousandths of a second slower than Kwaou-Mathey.
“I knew I wasn’t the best starter, I just needed to be calm and to continue doing my race,” said Joseph. “Getting to hurdle two I knew that I was getting back to the rhythm and after coming off hurdle three, I was pretty sure that I would win the race if everything goes right. I didn’t hit any hurdle, it was a clean race. I was confident that I will win the gold after hurdle four. I just knew it.”
Spain’s Enrique Llopis, who recently equalled the national record with 7.48, sustained a very heavy fall at the final hurdle and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Relay gold for Belgium and the Netherlands…again!
In the men’s 4x400m relay, Belgium – and every other nation – trailed leaders Spain through the opening 1500m, but through individual silver medallist Julien Watrin, they were in front when it mattered most, with Watrin playing a patient game on the anchor leg before powering by into the final turn.
Their quartet of Dylan Borlee, Alexander Doom, Kevin Borlee and Watrin claimed gold in 3:05.83, with France coming through for silver in 3:06.52 and the Netherlands taking bronze with 3:06.59, aided by a 45.67-second split from anchor Liemarvin Bonevacia, the quickest of the race.
It moved Belgium alongside Poland as the only nations to have three men’s 4x400m titles in the history of the championships, with Kevin and Dylan Borlee and Watrin part of every victory.
“The guys did the job so I just had to step up a little bit,” said Watrin, while Kevin Borlee paid tribute to his anchor: “I knew when I gave the baton to Julien that we will win.”
The women’s 4x400m saw an expected – but still exquisite – victory by the Netherlands, their opening trio of Lieke Klaver, Eveline Saalberg and Cathelijn Peeters ensuring that Femke Bol got the baton in front – and we knew what that meant.
The 400m world indoor record holder duly clocked a 49.58-second split to bring her nation home with a wide advantage and seal her second straight individual and relay double, clocking 3:25.66. Italy produced an inspired run in second, setting a national record of 3:28.61, with Poland claiming bronze in 3:29.31.
“I achieved everything I wanted this season, I could not ask for more,” said Bol. “But it is just an indoor season and I miss my hurdles. See you in Budapest – we will be there.”
Cathal Dennehy for European Athletics