2nd March 2023


Olympic and world silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson (coach: Trevor Painter; club: Leigh) began the defence of her women’s 800m title at the European Indoor Championships in very comfortable fashion as all eight British athletes progressed during the opening session in Istanbul, five into finals.

Hodgkinson, one of the form athletes in the world this year with a world best and British records to her name, and who turns 21 on Friday, raced as you would expect in the women’s 800m heats, clocking 2:01.67 minutes to win her race and rank as the fastest overall.

Isabelle Boffey (Luke Gunn, Enfield & Haringey) also looked in good form to join Hodgkinson in those semi-finals while in the women’s 3000m heats both Hannah Nuttall (Helen Clitheroe; Charnwood) and Melissa Courtney-Bryant (Rob Denmark; Poole) secured safe passage, the pair among the first five British athletes to qualify for a final in Turkey.

Morgan Lake (Robbie Grabarz; Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow), who set a 1.99m British high jump record last month, guaranteed her place in a final as she successfully navigated qualification after a last attempt clearance at 1.91m.

Neil Gourley (Stephen Haas; Giffnock North), another new British record holder from this season, demonstrated his great form as he qualified for the men’s 1500m final fastest overall. He’ll be joined in the final by George Mills (Thomas Dreißigacker; Brighton Phoenix), who ran a solid race to qualify through his heat, while Guy Learmonth (Justin Rinaldi; Lasswade), competing at the fifth European Indoor Championships of his career, had to rely on a non-automatic qualifying place in the men’s 800m but still ranked fifth overall from the heats.

Hodgkinson – who hasn’t been beaten this year in five races that have produced a world best over 600m and a British record over two laps – cruised into the women’s 800m semi-finals with absolutely no drama at all.

She led out the third heat at a good pace, clocking 2:01.67 minutes to win. Such was her pace, she qualified quickest, pulled Germany’s Majtie Kolberg to a personal best while the fastest non-automatic qualifier, Italy’s Eloisa Coiro, was third quickest overall.

Defending champion Hodgkinson will now enjoy a rest day on her 21st birthday on Friday before the semi-finals on Saturday and she said: “The track feels pretty good to be fair.

“I suppose it just depends how championship races go; it would be great if it was fast because I feel we could drag a couple of girls to fast times as well, but you just don’t know what’s going to happen on the day.

“The main priority is to get into the final, I’m not there yet. I love being at a championship, it’s my favourite thing to do, it’s what I train for. To me being an athlete is about bringing home medals. That’s what we are here to do, and I think we can come away with a GB one-two.”

That British one-two remains a possibility with Boffey also making comfortable work as she went off in the first of the five heats. Boffey pushed up through the field in the early stages, sitting on the shoulder of Hungary’s Bianka Keri. A good turn of pace down the home straight saw her push in front and take the win in 2:03.24, which placed her fifth overall.

Afterwards, she said: “It was good. It is always a bit weird going on a new track, so I am definitely happy to have got the win now and I had that in my mindset of what the track’s like.

“I’m learning how to do the big races and I’ve got a lot better at that this year, so it’s just sort of repeating what I’ve done this season and getting the auto-Q and I’ve done it.”

British record holder Gourley was the last of the eight Brits in action on this opening day to take to the track and he ensured the clean sweep from the first session. He was never any lower than third in the third of the men’s 1500m heats and, when he kicked around the last bend, he was never going to get caught.

He built enough of a cushion to avoid the scrap for minor places, his winning time 3:41.08 ranking him fastest overall. Gourley said: “It felt controlled. I’m happy with the way I handled it. It’s important [to be in good shape this season] but everyone is lining up on that same line regardless of what we’ve done over the past four-five weeks.

“But it’s important to me to be in that kind of physical condition heading into this. This is the focus of the indoor season and we’re going to pour everything into it to challenge for the win.”

Drawn in the first of the men’s 1500m heats, Mills’ race, which ended up including defending champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen (NOR), started slowly, so much so that the Brit chose to lift the pace with three laps to go.

It worked nicely as Mills led all the way until the final few metres where he was passed by Azeddine Habz of France. Mills would finish second in 3:50.01 ahead of Ingebrigtsen in third for a place in the final and, at that point in the evening, the seventh of eight Brits to advance.

Mills said: “I was expecting our heat to be quick, I expected some of the other guys to maybe try and make it a quick pace because maybe they might not fancy themselves against us. But it was pedestrian to say the least.

“Everyone is dangerous and I know my strengths so I thought I would put it out and see what I could do and got through. It’s a good step forward from Belgrade [world indoors] last year.”

Among a number of in-form British athletes courtesy of that national record, Lake secured her place in the women’s high jump final but admitted that it could have been smoother in Istanbul.

Lake was clean and comfortable through 1.82m and 1.87, entering later than a lot of the field after opting out at 1.76m. The next height, 1.91m, wasn’t quite as straightforward however as she fouled with her first two efforts.

With everything on the line though, Lake kept her composure to clear 1.91m and advance to the final, where she knows exactly what she needs to do. Lake said: “The objective was to get to the final – I did that!

“I made it a little bit harder for myself getting a third attempt clutch jump. But I think the way I executed that jump shows me how much more I’ve got for the final. The track is quick, it took a few goes to work out where I was on the track but now I can take that confidence into the final with me.

“In high jump it is so important to get first attempts, I came eighth in that qualifying and we all jumped the same height, the difference between first and eighth comes down to what attempt you do it in. So taking that into the next competition – first attempts as much as I can and to keep confident.”

Nuttall was drawn in the same heat as German 5000m European champion outdoors, Konstanze Klosterhalfen, as the women’s 3000m got underway. It wasn’t exactly a procession either as Nuttall sat in behind her in second.

Klosterhalfen would pull roughly ten metres away with Nuttall maintaining her place in the chasing pack behind. That pack would actually reel Klosterhalfen in at the bell and a group of six become four with Nuttall’s form looking good.

Nuttall, who in contrast to Learmonth is making her European Indoor Championship debut, would finish third in 8:53.72 to rank third overall as well going into the final and she said: “I forget it’s my first major champs so I am really happy to be racing and competing on a big level and I am happy with it.

“I just wanted to put myself up there at the start of the race, put myself up into third or fourth and then I just wanted to cover everything to make sure I was in those top six positions.

“I just wanted to be in the top four and make sure I was in that – because sometimes people can start passing you and it can be easy to get pushed a bit. I wanted to make sure I was up there and it went to plan so I am really happy.”

The second heat involving Courtney-Bryant was run much slower with the Brit placing herself nicely in the pack during the early stages. The bronze medallist from 2019 made a move to inject some pace after eight laps and at the bell was among a now leading pack of five.

Courtney-Bryant kicked when required and would place fourth in 9:00.40 to join Nuttall in Friday evening’s final as an automatic qualifier and tenth overall. Courtney-Bryant said: “It was very messy but I kind of enjoyed it in a way. It’s nice to be back to championship racing, you’ve really got to keep your brain switched on in that scenario.

“There are a lot of girls who can run 8:45 and quicker and you need to be on your toes and that’s what I felt like I did. I wanted to be top six, do as little as I could, but yeah it was very, very pushy.”

Learmonth had to wait until the fourth of five heats in the men’s 800m before getting a first taste of the track but made a strong start as he hit the front as the field came together after the first 100m.

He held that lead from there and through the first 600m, still in front down the back straight – despite the challenge of Spain’s Javier Miron – and around the final bend. The home straight saw Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Amel Tuka and Miron finish fast however as Learmonth placed third.

That meant he was forced to wait in the hot seat to discover his fate as a non-automatic after the fifth and final heat. Learmonth’s time of 1:47.51 was comfortably enough to secure progress to the semi-finals, fifth overall, and he said: “I feel good but I feel that I just let my foot off the gas, stupidly.

“Everything is drilled into me over that last 70m just to try to keep powering through because these are long straights and I got caught off guard so I will make sure that doesn’t happen in the semi.

“The 800m is so hard to navigate and it’s not the way I wanted to qualify but it doesn’t matter. I’m through and we’ll get ready for the semi now. I’ve front run a lot of races this year and I know I can do that and hold my own. It’s different doing it on this stage but I feel like I am strong enough and experienced enough to do that now. I want to take a medal home.”

Coverage of the European Indoor Championships begins again at 0545 on BBC Two on Friday 3 March and runs until Sunday 5 March. Full details can be found here.

A timetable, start lists and results can be found on the European Athletics website here.