15 July 2011
James Alaka (coach: Clarence Callender) - following in the footsteps of Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Simeon Williamson in recent years - won the first gold medal of the European Under-23 Championships (Ostrava, Czech Republic, 14-17 July) for the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team with victory in the 100m, while Andrew Robertson (coach: John Smith), also in the 100m, and 800m duo Lynsey Sharp (coach: Dave Sunderland) and Mukhtar Mohammed (coach: Mustafa Mohamed), claimed bronze.
Alaka started the 100m final as favourite, but as in his first round heat, his power over the second 50m saved him from total disappointment as he clocked 10.45 (-1.5m/s) for the win: “That start was horrendous,” he admitted, having found himself potentially out of the medals at halfway. “It was my first international final and I was really nervous but I just tried to contain myself as much as possible.
“I was well down on the leaders and the main thing for me was to just keep pushing through. I know I’ve got the top end speed to beat these guys, and coming from so far down just shows my strength and determination.”
As Alaka eventually moved into contention, his Aviva GB & NI team mate Robertson, who was determined to make up for his close call in qualifying from yesterday’s heats, was holding onto a well deserved lead.
Having blasted out the blocks, Robertson held on impressively until the very late stages when Alaka and Italy’s Michael Tumi, the fastest qualifier from round one, roared past him.
“I’m a little disappointed, I wanted gold,” he said after finishing third in 10.52, “but James beat me fair and square and the best man on the day won.
“It shows me what I need to work on. I was pipped on the line to finish fourth in the 2009 European Junior Championships and I didn’t want that to happen again. I came away knowing what I had to do; I’ve worked hard for this and I’m proud of my medal.”
Lynsey Sharp and Mukhtar Mohammed were also brilliant medallists in their respective 800m, Sharp taking bronze in a huge career best of 2:00.65 - four seconds quicker than Becky Lyne’s gold medal winning performance in this event in 2003 and the fourth best ever time by a Scottish athlete - and Mohammed securing the first ever British men’s medal in the European Under-23 800m in 1:48.01.
The duo ran remarkably similar races, both athletes looking out of contention on the back straight and both storming home over the last 150-200m.
“I was panicking at that point (the back straight),” said Sharp who had been left at the back of a well spread group after the leader, eventual winner Yelena Arzhakova (1:59.41), had taken them through the bell in a fast 58.61. “I thought I’d really screwed it up and I knew I had to do something about it. My coach had said that the last 100m would be the most important and thankfully that’s my strongest part.
“I couldn’t really ask for any more and I just don’t know where that time came from (her PB). I’d have been happy going inside my old PB of 2:04 this year!”
Mohammed ran an almost identical race to his team mate, although by following European Indoor Champion Adam Kszczot at the bell he was marginally better positioned at the half way stage, which was 55.35 for the leader.
“I had planned to keep my eye on him (Kszczot),” said Mohammed. “I was looking to finish top two, but I’m happy, it’s my first international and I won a medal.”
Kszczot, defending the title he won two years ago, took the win in 1:46.71.
In contrast to the previously bleak medal history in the men’s 800m, and in a bid to continue Britain’s successful run of titles in the 400mH in this Championship, Nathan Woodward (coach: Nick Dakin), Niall Flannery (coach: Nick Dakin) and Jack Green (coach: Malcolm Arnold) once again delivered exceptional performances to qualify automatically for tomorrow’s final.
Woodward was undoubtedly the most impressive of the afternoon, however, and the only athlete to go under 50 seconds with victory in a fast 49.59 which left him barely out of breath.
“I felt comfortable, but not quite as smooth as yesterday,” he said. “My hurdling wasn’t quite as sharp and precise as it was in the first round, but it was about not fighting for places and I was able to ease off towards the finish. I’m looking forward to the final but it’ll be totally different when I’m up against Niall and Jack; I’ll have to bring my A game.”
Flannery took victory in semi final two in 50.16 which, he said, felt “a lot better than yesterday”, while Green confidently eased back for second in the last semi final in 50.86. “I had nothing to prove out there,” he said. “It’s all about tomorrow.”
In the final qualifying events of the day, Emily Diamond (coach: Jared Deacon), Danny Talbot (coach: Dan Cossins) and newly crowned 100m champion James Alaka all progressed through their respective 200m heats.
Diamond finished second in heat four of four in 23.96 (-1.4m/s), while in the men’s events, Talbot, delighted to be in action at last, clocked 21.29 (0.7m/s) to finish second in his heat with a very tired Alaka taking the third automatic spot in the third heat of four in 21.25 (-0.9m/s).
“It felt nice to be out there,” said Talbot, the second fastest athlete on the start list. “There was definitely part of me wishing I could have been in that 100m final too, but if I win this it’ll make up for it.”
The European Under-23 Championships will be shown daily on Eurosport - 09.00-10.30 UK time and 18.45-20.00 tomorrow - in addition to being streamed live by European Athletics with English language commentary through their website at www.european-athletics.org.
Live streaming will also be available with Czech commentary through: www.sportzive.cz
Daily session reports will be published on the UKA website: www.uka.org.uk