David Greene bravely succeeded his sometime training mate Rhys Williams as 400m hurdles gold medallist while Rikki Fifton and Jessica Ennis added bronze medals as the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland squad took fourth position in the Placings Table at the end of the penultimate day of the European Under 23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, on Saturday 14 July.
Here is how the evening drama unfolded:
Men’s 400m hurdles final: David Greene (Swansea Harriers) ran the race of his young life to take the gold medal by the narrowest of margins in a lifetime best of 49.58 seconds. He led all the way but lost momentum off the final hurdle – not surprisingly for a man who has had only two hurdles training sessions since a six-week injury lay-off – and was dramatically closed down on the line by the faster finishing Fadil Ballaabouss (France). After an agonising wait, matching that endured by Montell Douglas after last night’s 100m final, both men were timed at 49.58 with Greene getting the verdict. The bronze medal went to Milan Kotur (Croatia), who took the European Junior title and left Greene with the silver medal in Kaunas, Lithuania, two years ago. This time Kotur had to be satisfied with lowering his national Under 23 record to 50.14.
Before dashing off for the medals ceremony and also to prepare for the 4x400m heats, Greene said: “I knew if I executed my race properly and made the first 250 metres hard, I should be able to hang on. I lost concentration in the home straight and stepped into the last hurdle a little bit. But I did manage to hold on.”
Ben Carne (Harrow AC), fifth in 50.83 in his first international championship final, said: “I tried to run a controlled race because I knew it could get quite tight in the home straight. I was careful that I was not trailing too far behind into the straight and give myself too much to do. It’s quite disappointing I’ve not run a bit quicker. When you’ve taken 2 seconds off your PB in successive races to get here, you expect to run a PB every time you get on the track. I’m learning all the time. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I shall be a bit closer to David,” he added in a reference to the Norwich Union World Trials at Manchester.
Men’s 200m final: Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC), who narrowly missed medals in his previous two age group championships, finally got a tangible reward. He took the bronze medal after finishing a frustrated fourth at the 2003 European Juniors and sixth at the 2004 World Junior Championships. Determined as ever, he made a great start and led into the straight but “just couldn’t hold on. I held it for quite a while but there just was not enough there.” Even so, he clocked 21.02 seconds – “I pleased with that. Very pleased!” The men ahead of him were flying Finn Vlsa Hongisto, who dominated the entire competition and struck gold in 20.84, and Vojtech Sulc (Czech Republic), who ran a PB of 20.91.
Leon Baptiste (Enfield and Haringey), running in lane eight, was sixth in 21.08 and said: “I tried my best. It’ absolutely gutting because I’ve run 20.82 this year and I didn’t get into this race. I’m bitterly disappointed because I thought I was coming back towards the end a little bit. I gave it my best. I ran the bend well. But probably it was that last 10 or 20 metres.”
Women’s 100m hurdles final: Women’s team captain Jessica Ennis (City of Sheffield AC) won Norwich Union GB&NI’s third medal of the night – bronze with a mature demonstration of how to not panic under pressure. After one false start, not caused by the European Cup heptathlon champion, she made such a sluggish start that she was seventh to the first hurdle. But her technique held firm, her resolve even stronger and she came through for third in 13.09 seconds, within five-hundredths of her fastest yet. Ahead of her Nevin Yanit (Turkey), who dominated all three rounds, won in 12.90; Christina Vukicevic struck silver in a Norwegian Under 23 record of 13.08. Ennis, a mere hundredth of a second behind her, said: “I got a bit of a bad start. My second part of the race was better. I pulled through but it wasn’t enough to make up for what I lost at the start.”
Women’s 200m final: Montell Douglas’s amazing adventure ended in seventh place – hardly seventh heaven – but one position higher than the PBs of the eight competitors suggested she would finish. “I now know how Jess [Ennis, the European Cup heptathlon champion] feels at the end of her competition,” smiled the Blackheath and Bromley sprinter, who will be proudly bringing home the 100m silver medal when the team flies into Heathrow on Monday. “I have never before run six races in three days … four PBs, two finals – and the one good thing is that I am in one piece.” She clocked 23.63 seconds in her sixth and final outing while the gold medal went to Yuliya Chermoshanskaya (Russia) in 23.19.
Men’s 800m final: Three Norwich Union GB&NI athletes toed the start line – and all three crossed the finishing lines with varying degrees of frustration.
Darren St Clair (Enfield and Haringey) missed a medal by nine-hundredths of a second, saying: “I just cannot believe it. I thought I had it, then I got knocked by Repcik [the Slovakian athlete who slowed dramatically in the last few strides to finish fifth]. And the French kid [Abdesslam Merabet] came past me with 5 metres to go. I cannot believe it. I just cannot believe it!
Richard Hill (Notts AC), who forsook his front-running tactics to attack in the last 300m, was sixth but only 0.73sec behind the winner and a mere 0.38sec away from a medal. “I was in all the right positions, for a change,” he said. “Until the top bend, I thought I had got it. What cost me was weaving past a lot of people on the back straight. A little bit of inexperience showed. I should have hung back a bit. I almost expelled too much energy getting back to the leaders. It cost me in the finishing straight. I don’t like making excuses but I had earache and a sore throat last night and it’s hard enough trying to get to sleep on the eve of a championship final even when you can swallow properly.”
Graeme Oudney (Pitreavie AAC), who was given a place in the final of his first major Championship after the Jury of Appeal decided he had been accidentally baulked in the closing stages of his semi-final, was ninth but said: “It was good to be in the final. Nobody likes to be last but it has all been a good experience. I think a few more races of that calibre are needed. The rough and tumble in the UK is nothing as compared with what was going on out there.”
The result was: 1 Marcin Lewandowski (Poland) 1:49.94; 2 Oleksandr Osmolovych (Ukraine) 1:50.21; 3 Merabet 1:50.31; 4 St Clair 1:50.40; 5 Josef Repcik (Slovakia) 1:50.52; 6 Hill 1:50.69; … 9 Oudney 1:52.06.
Women’s 800m final: Charlotte Best (Crawley AC) finished fifth in 2:02.72 and Laura Finucane (Pendle AC) sixth in 2:03.07 in a race won impressively by Mariya Shapayeva (Russia) in 2:00.86 – but the Loughborough University students used vastly different strategies.
Best played a patient waiting game and said: “I was eighth with 100m to go. I couldn’t get out so I thought I would wait rather than go wide on the bend. If I had started to go with 250 left, I might have been with them. But it’s my first championship, I made the final – and now I have the World University Games to look forward to.”
Finucane was third at the bell (60.46) on the shoulder of leader Vanja Perisic (Croatia), who led through 600m before finishing third in 2:01.34, with Elodie Guegan (France) second in 2:01.26. “I think I did all I could,” said Finucane. “I was disappointed I couldn’t hold on longer. I just need to be a bit stronger down the home straight.”
Women’s 400m hurdles final: Eilidh Child (Pitreavie AAC) ran her eighth PB of the season – and her second in Debrecen – in clocking 57.11 seconds for fifth place in a race won by Angela Morosanu (Romania), who lowered the championship record to 54.50. Child, the only athlete in the final to run a PB, said: “It’s brilliant. I can’t believe it.” She certainly never dreamt of such sunny evenings when she took up hurdling as an Under 13 – and was taught to get over barriers in the driveway of her home by sister, Iona, who is two years older.
Women’s pole vault final: Both Norwich Union GB&NI vaulters relished the conditions and equalled their lifetime best of 4.10m in a competition won by Aleksa Kiryashova (Russia) at 4.50m, 15cm clear of her nearest rivals.
Louise Butterworth (Birchfield Harriers), the England Under 23 champion coached by fellow vaulter Scott Simpson, placed eighth because she had needed only two attempts at 4.00m before clearing 4.10m at the first attempt. “It was brilliant – the whole thing,” she beamed. “Everything just clicked today whereas in the qualifying round on Thursday it was hit and miss. The whole atmosphere of being in the final and the weather was lovely. Hopefully Manchester will be like this in a fortnight!”
Her fellow UWIC student Emma Lyons (Notts AC) finished 10th, having held her nerve to clear both 4.00m and 4.10m at the third attempt. She also had one particularly close attempt at 4.20m. “I was right up there with my last attempt at 4.20m,” she said. “There are a lot of good things to take out of today. It’s all been brilliant. I think the atmosphere’s helped us to go out there and give it our all.”
Women’s long jump qualifying: Amy Harris (Birchfield Harriers), the 2005 European Junior silver medallist who is coached by Denise Lewis’s long-time mentor Darrell Bunn, was delighted to qualifying automatically for tomorrow’s final by leaping 6.37m (wind: 1.0) in the first round. “I haven’t been jumping that well,” she said. “So to get a valid jump in the first round and qualify was a relief. I can relax and go for a medal now.” Her’s was the second-longest leap of the competition. Denisa Scerbova (Czech Republic) went out to 6.62m (wind: 0.0).
Men’s triple jump qualifying: Gary White (Cardiff AAC), the England Under 23s champion for the last two years coached by Roy Humphries, sailed into tomorrow’s final, reaching 15.87m (wind: -0.5) with his third and final effort to go beyond the automatic qualifying distance of 15.85m. He kept his nerve and maintained his technique admirably after earlier efforts of 15.34m and 13.39m.
Elliot O’Neill (Cardiff AAC), coached by ‘Mr UWIC’ Sean Power and fresh from his first 16m leap at the UK Challenge JumpsFest in wet and windy Birmingham, launched his international career by finishing 16cm shy of a place in the final. His best of 15.69m (wind: +0.3) in the second round placed him 15th of the 21 competitors. O’Neill, who earned selection with a 15.92m legal leap, opened his competition with 15.40m and reached 15.44m in the third round. Leading qualifier Andres Capellan (Spain) achieved a PB of 16.37m (wind: +1.0).
Men’s 4x400m semi-finals: As the sun sank on the hottest day of these championships so far, it was replaced by the most glowing example of the team spirit that flows through these Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes. With Richard Strachan (Leeds City) still unable to compete because of the ankle injury he picked up in a Northern League match last Saturday, the search was on for a quartet ready to maintain the country’s tradition in this event. Sprinters offered but in the end coach Michael Khmel settled for 400m hurdles champion David Greene and 800m finalists Richard Hill and Darren St Clair to support 400m specialist Richard Buck. They crossed the line fourth in 3:08.26 in their heat to qualify with some ease for tomorrow’s final, and were elevated to third after Sweden were disqualified. “I hope we get picked tomorrow,” grinned Hill as they went off for their second cool-down of the night.
Heptathlon: Louise Hazel (Peterborough AC), who has just spent a year training with the French national decathlon coach Jean Yves Cochand while studying in Montpellier but is now back in Birmingham being guided by Denise Lewis’s long-time mentor Darrell Bunn, ended the first day in 13th place on 3381 points.
She opened with the fastest time of all 19 competitors, 13.76 seconds, in the 100m hurdles and said: “It’s a shame it was a head wind [–1.7] because I felt I ran really well.”
Of her 1.67m high jump, she said: “Had I been lucky, I could have maybe squeezed another height.”
In the shot, she came up with a PB of 11.85m with her third and final attempt – “The Power! And I was consistent.”
She closed the day with a 200m (wind: -0.6) in 24.87 seconds – “a bit disappointing but it was the second one this season. We’ve been working on my endurance.”
Overall? “I think it was a great day apart from the 200m.”
Earlier in the day…
Despite not getting away from the stadium until half past midnight after winning her 100m silver medal in the most dramatic manner imaginable, Montell Douglas (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) ran her fourth lifetime best of the Championships on the third morning.
As the temperature climbed to its highest so far this week, Douglas sizzled to 23.42 seconds in the 200m semi-finals to earn a place in this evening’s final.
“I’m feeling smashed,” she confessed. “It was ages before I could get away last night, there was such a queue of medallists stuck in Doping Control.
“This PB was only a little one, but it still counts. I knew it would be hard doubling-up, but we have prepared thoroughly for it.”
But such is the quality of competition, Douglas’s latest PB was only good enough for fourth place in her heat (wind speed: -0.6) and seventh of the eight athletes who qualified for the final. The fastest qualifier, Nelly Banco (France) won Douglas’s heat in a PB of 23.29.
Her Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team mate Kadi-Ann Thomas (Marshall Milton Keynes) made a tearful exit after finishing seventh in her heat (wind: -0.2) in 23.57, leaving her 10th fastest overall of the 16 competitors.
Men’s 200m semi-finals: Two of the Norwich Union GB&NI trio made it into this evening’s final.
Rikki Fifton (Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets AC) was third in 20.93 seconds in the quickest heat (wind: -0.4), won in 20.88 by Visa Hongisto (Finland). “It’s a bit early for me – I’ve just woken up now I’ve finished,” Fifton smiled, noting the time back home would be 10am BST (though the Debrecen temperature was 26° Celsius and rising).
More seriously, he added: “I knew I would have to run the bend hard to put myself in contention. I didn’t come off the bend as well as I would have liked. I ran it wide. But hopefully I can sort that out for the final. There’s a lot more there!”
Leon Baptiste (Enfield and Haringey AC) joined him in the last eight – or, as he put it: “I just squeezed through!”
The 2003 European Junior 100m Champion finished fourth in his heat (wind: -0.2) in 21.10 seconds, making him only the ninth-quickest of the 16 in the semis. But his fourth place secured him the last final spot ahead of Hungary’s own hope, Miklos Szebeny, who clocked 21.08 in Fifton’s heat but finished only fifth. Under the rules, the first four in each heat went through.
Jeffrey Lawal-Balogun (Kent AC) went out, seventh in Baptiste’s heat in 21.31 seconds, which made him 13th overall. He said: “I came off the bend all right but lost a bit of momentum in the straight. I’m disappointed. I could have done better on the home straight. But this was my first Championship and it’s been good experience.”