7th June 2024


Jemma Reekie (coach: Jon Bigg, club: Kilbarchan) led an impressive group of eight British qualifiers and two-time world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson (coach: Aston Moore; club: Liverpool) moved to fourth after two events in the heptathlon as the European Athletics Championships kicked off in Rome.

Reekie, a world indoor 800m silver medallist from back in March, led a British sweep into the women’s 1500m final, joined by Georgia Bell (Trevor Painter, Belgrave) and Katie Snowden (Stephen Haas, Herne Hill) while a further five ensured their own finals place on the opening morning.

In between Johnson-Thompson, as well as Jade O’Dowda (John Lane, Newham & Essex Beagles), navigated the first two events of the heptathlon. After solid efforts in the 100m hurdles, both impressed in the high jump, both clearing 1.83m to put Johnson-Thompson fourth overall and O’Dowda sixth.

Lawrence Okoye (Zane Duquemin, Croydon) kick-started the British qualifiers by advancing out of the men’s discus pools, while Elliot Giles (Jon Bigg, Birchfield) and Thomas Randolph (Craig Winrow, Tamworth) advanced to the men’s 800m semi-finals.

Jacob Fincham-Dukes (Matt Barton, Leeds) and Lizzie Bird (Pat McCurry, Shaftesbury Barnet) then impressively wrapped things up in the men’s long jump and women’s 3000m steeplechase respectively, the former leaping to within two centimetres of his personal best.

Johnson-Thompson, who claimed the second world title of her career in Budapest last summer, opened her heptathlon in Rome with a solid season’s best run of 13.66 (0.7) in the 100m hurdles.

That placed her 13th overall while in the second of the three 100m hurdles heat O’Dowda ran 13.70 (-0.1) to rank 14th. Everything changed after the high jump with Johnson-Thompson surging to fourth overall after first-time clearances at 1.77m, 1.80m and 1.83m. She fouled three times at 1.86m and sits fourth with 1027 points.

O’Dowda had a drama filled high jump after going clear at 1.65m, 1.68m and 1.71m. On all four successive heights through to 1.83m, O’Dowda was drinking in the last chance saloon but cleared with her third attempt each time. She chose to retire after clearing 1.83m, a performance that moved her up to sixth overall with 1021 points with the shot put and 200m to follow in the evening session.

In just her second 1500m outing of the year, Reekie made smooth progress in the first of two women’s heats. Congested through the first 300m where she settled behind the leaders, she soon pushed to the front and controlled the race.

Reekie was challenged by Esther Guerrero of Spain down the back straight on the last lap, but the Brit kicked on around the final bend and pulled away before easing down with the win easily secured.

Reekie clocked 4:06.68 minutes, the quickest overall into the final after a slower second heat, and she said: “I’ve got no pressure here, just that I want to do well. I’m relatively happy. I just wanted to stay out of trouble and get through those rounds because I have never got out of a 1500m round before. The first job is to get that done.”

Snowden and Bell were drawn together in the second of the women’s 1500m heats and went to the front early. That proved to be a smart move as a slow pace ensued with both Brits remaining at the front alongside Aleksandra Plocinska of Poland.

As the race entered the final lap a group of ten bunched together down the back straight with Snowden and Bell avoiding two fallers behind them. Both then went wide down the home straight to comfortably secure progression.

Bell surged slightly ahead to take second overall behind France’s Agathe Guillemot in 4:12.01 while Snowden was a close third in 4:12.17. Bell said: “I made it through, but it was messy – I don’t like it when it is like that.

“I do usually like the heats because it gives you a run out before the bigger race but obviously lots can go wrong, people are bunched together and that’s what happened. But it’s nice to represent your country – it’s only my second GB vest ever so I ‘m loving it.”

Snowden said: “I think I did the right thing to be on the shoulder of whoever was leading. I didn’t want to lead the whole thing. It was important to be in the top three the whole way around because I knew – going through the first lap in 70s-ish – it was going to come down to the last 600m, and a really hard last 400m.”

As impressive as all of the eight British qualifiers were, Fincham-Dukes was arguably one of the most impressive in the men’s long jump. After opening with a 7.71m, he soared out to 8.18m with his second attempt to qualify automatically for the medal showdown.

That was just two centimetres shy of the personal best he set back in April and ranked him second overall. Fincham-Dukes said: “It was only two centimetres short of my PB into a -1.1 headwind, so there is definitely way more distance to come. I am just glad I did the job and got the auto qualifier.

“It feels good to have a contender for GB in these finals, it has been a few years since we’ve got these types of distances, so I’ll be happy to contend in that final.”

Okoye had the honour of being the first British athlete to walk out at the famous Stadio Olimpico in Rome as these Championships kicked off – and he comfortably did enough to advance to the men’s discus final.

Drawn in qualification group A, Okoye warmed up with an effort of 62.77m in round one before soaring out to 63.62m next time out, that his third best effort of the season so far. He fouled with his third attempt to rank fourth.

After qualification group B, that best effort of 63.62m placed Okoye sixth overall and with a place in the final later in the evening. He said: “I’m glad that I got the job done. It’s a quick turnaround for the final.


“It’s unusual, it’s the first time I’ve known discus to be qualifying and final on the same day, but you have just got to be adaptable and get the job done. My last medal was from the Europeans in Munich [in 2022] and that was my best performance of my career so hopefully I can replicate that.”

Bird was the last of the eight British qualifiers as she took to the track in the women’s 3000m steeplechase heats. Sweden’s Emilia Lillemo went clear out in front for much of that second heat with Bird running her own race in a group behind.

As the laps ticked down, Spain’s Carolina Robles took on Lillemo but both paid the price as the chase group, involving Bird, caught them. Bird pushed through the field from eighth at one stage to cross the line in fourth in 9:32.87 for a place in the final.

Bird said: “I just wanted to stay in the top eight or within striking distance. I knew I’ve got a pretty good kick, so I was not too worried when I was a bit further back in the middle and I just wanted to stay within contact. I was tempted to sprint finish and I looked round and thought ‘nope you’re already in fifth there’s plenty of space’ so just chill.”

Giles was the first of the three Brits to go in the men’s 800m heats and went wide at the end of the first lap of that second heat to move into second. He pushed ahead on the back straight to take the lead ahead of a battle for the top three down the home straight.

The Brit put in a fine surge and made sure he knew who was around him after Adrian Ben of Spain took the lead, holding onto second with ease as he qualified for the semi-finals in 1:46.44.

He said: “I’ve got three rounds in three days, so I was trying to save some energy. I knew I was comfortable – I knew they were closing but I could have gone up another gear if necessary.”

The heats that would follow would be packed full of drama with the first three and the next four fastest overall progressing to the semi-finals. Callum Dodds (Matthew Yates, Enfield & Haringey) hit the front and set a good pace in the third heat but had a battle down the home straight and placed fifth in 1:46.39 so did not progress to the semis.

That did keep him in contention however the fourth and final heat involving Randolph was supremely quick. Paul Anselmini of France stormed to one of the quickest men’s 800m heats at the European Championships ever, which dragged Randolph home.

Anselmini clocked 1:44.73 and while Randolph was rarely in contention for the lead, the pace dragged him to a time of 1:45.58 for seventh in that last heat and the fourth and final non-automatic qualifying spot.

He said: “I was expecting someone to make the pace solid, but that was like a paced-race [going through 400m in just over 50s]. It was nice and quick and I‘m really pleased to get through as the fastest loser.”