Britain won three gold medals in Paris but out of that triumvirate, only Jenny Meadows will be defending her European indoor title this weekend. The 800m runner is among the team’s leading aspirants for medals along with Asha Philip, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Holly Bleasdale and Shara Proctor in Gothenburg.
Gothenburg has twice hosted these championships and on both occasions, British athletes have come away with medals in the 60m through Andrea Lynch in 1974 and Bev Kinch in 1984. Surely this is a good omen for Asha Philip, who is ranked second in Europe this year with a 7.15 PB?
Unlike some events, most of Europe’s best are giving the 60m their due regard and this should ensure a high-quality final. Mariya Ryemyen is the fastest with a 7.12 PB and the Ukrainian will be looking to upgrade her silver medal from 2011 in the absence of team-mate Olesya Povh. Fellow sub-7.2 performers Verena Sailer, Ivet Lalova and British-based Norwegian Ezinne Okparaebo, who is gunning for a hat-trick of European indoor medals, will also be in title contention.
Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child started the season with scant indoor experience but the 400m hurdlers have both enjoyed fruitful campaigns on the boards which should climax with medals over 400m. They ran 51.37 and 51.50 respectively in Birmingham which ranks them a close second and third in Europe to Ksenia Ustalova’s 51.31. Ustalova is the sole Russian representative in the individual with no doubt most of her team-mates choosing to keep their powder dry with the World Championships in Moscow on the horizon.
The Russians have named a strong relay-pool but Christine Ohuruogu’s inclusion in the British team might give our quartet a marginal edge.
Two-time European outdoor champion Nevin Yanit concluded her preparations with a 7.98 Turkish 60m hurdles record to win the Balkan Championships. A quartet of athletes led by Yuliya Kondakova’s 7.93 have run slightly faster but Yanit is a championship specialist as illustrated by her fifth-place at the Olympics.
Team captain Jenny Meadows made an auspicious comeback after eighteen months out and a 2:02.86 performance a fortnight ago in Birmingham convinced her to defend the title she was retroactively handed after Evgeniya Zinurova’s disqualification due to a doping violation.
Russian athletes hold the ten fastest times in Europe but their selectors have adopted an approach of prioritising quality rather than quantity. Despite an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Yelena Kotulskaya (nee Kofanova) is their sole representative and she’ll be the Brit’s greatest danger as her outdoor PB of 1:57.77 is marginally faster than Meadows’ 1:57.93.
Many events lack a resounding favourite but the home-crowd will be pleased this is not the case over 1500m as Abeba Aregawi arrives in fearless form. The 1500m in Stockholm last week was her first race for her adopted nation and the 22-year-old made an emphatic statement with a 3:58.40 national record. Her time was just 0.12 shy of Yelena Soboleva’s world indoor record and even though Soboleva’s in the Russian team, don’t expect her to be a threat as she hasn’t broken the 4:10-barrier in 2013.
The 3000m is much more difficult to call though. Yelena Korobkina’s 8:50.42 leads the way but sole British representative Lauren Howarth, who ran 8:52.00 in Birmingham, could cap her breakthrough campaign with a major title. European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton from Ireland, fourth-placer Almensch Belete from Belgium and former silver medallist Sara Moreira from Portugal are also among the dangers.
Holly Bleasdale has a great chance of claiming her first major title as she is the holder of the two best vaults in Europe with 4.75m and 4.77m. She had a minor setback in Stockholm finishing fourth with 4.45m but she tweeted afterwards the run-up was her best ever which hopefully bodes well for Gothenburg.
She will need to rediscover her 4.70m-plus form in order to fend off the Russian threat of Anastasiya Savchenko, who has improved markedly since crashing out in Olympic qualifying last year. Savchenko has upped her PB from 4.60m to 4.71m and what’s more, she’s also beaten Bleasdale in their last two encounters in Bydgoszcz and Stockholm.
Shara Proctor produced a season’s best of 6.78m to win in Birmingham and the UK record-holder now comes up against a field including some of her likely rivals at the World Championships this summer. Two of Russia’s finest in reigning champion Darya Klishina and world outdoor silver medallist Olga Kucherenko, who holds the world-leading mark at 7.00m, are set to start along with European outdoor champion Eloyse Lesueur from France.
Two-time European outdoor triple jump champion Olha Saladuha makes her first appearance at these championships and the Ukrainian starts as the comprehensive favourite. An operation in the off-season accounts for Yamile Aldama’s slow start to the winter but a 13.91m season’s best in Birmingham indicates she’s rounding into competitive form.
Yevgeniya Kolodko is one of the few Russian A-listers making the trip but the Olympic silver medallist might play second-fiddle to Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, the holder of the three best puts in 2013 including a world-leading 19.79m.
Alessia Trost is unbeaten in the high jump this year and the Italian starts as the favourite ahead of former Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut and Spanish veteran Ruth Beitia.
The pentathlon lacks some lustre with Jessica Ennis, Tatyana Chernova and Nataliya Dobrynska all absent but the competition should be intriguing nonetheless. Antoniette Nana Djimou Ida will defend her title against a line-up including world-leader Yekaterina Bolshova, who will be looking to convert her best form to the major events this year.
The field also contains up-and-comers such as Kristina Savitskaya and Laura Ikauniece, who were eighth and ninth aged 21 and 20 respectively at the Olympics, and 18-year-old Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium, who recently broke Carolina Kluft’s world junior record.
Published in Athletics Weekly on February 28