17 Jul 2017

Bydgoszcz: A championships to remember

As the curtain came down in Bydgoszcz on Sunday evening, one thing was certain: the 2017 European Athletics U23 Championships will be remembered for a long time.

And perhaps in Finland as much as anywhere else after the record-breaking exploits of the country’s triple jumper Simo Lipsanen. Who could have imagined history would be in the making when he took to the runway for his fifth jump in the final but within seconds, as he landed at 17.14m, he had smashed the national record of 17.00m which was achieved by Pertti Pousi in June 1968.

That jump was just one of the glorious memories banked from Bydgoszcz, with that competition alone proving golden for Azerbaijan as Nazim Babayev signalled himself on the international stage with victory, becoming the first male athlete from his country to claim gold in championship history.

As Great Britain’s 100m champion Ojie Edoburun said following up his European U20 success in 2015: "This is why we need these championships. It is hard to go just from a youth straight to being a senior. I think there should be even more emphasis on a championship such as this one because it is a transition championship."

The level of performance was immense, as was the ability of so many favourites to deliver. Polish shot putter Konrad Bukowiecki was under a great deal of pressure to succeed at home.

His first effort in qualifying on the opening morning on Thursday showed what an event it was going to be for him as he broke the championship record with 21.26m, replacing the old mark of 20.45m set by Germany's David Storl in Ostrava in 2011.

But there was more to come as Bukowiecki won gold in the final with another championship record, this time 21.59m.

He was not alone in winning gold for his country as Ewa Swoboda maintained her brilliant championship record with 100m glory and then on the final afternoon, the nation’s 4x400m relay team landed a fabulous victory.

Bukowiecki was not alone in rewriting the record books.

Turkey’s Yasemin Can again demonstrated what a force she is over the long distances by winning the 10,000m (31:39:80) and the 5000m (15:01.67) both in championship records to repeat her double from the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam last summer.

And what a few days it was for Slovakia’s Jan Volko, who showed what a world class sprinter he is becoming by winning 100m silver and then 200m gold, the latter in a national and championship record of 20.33 to become the first Slovakian man to land a major sprint title.

Norway's Karsten Warholm put himself through both the rounds, the semifinal and then the final of the 400m flat and 400m hurdles and left Bydgoszcz with gold and silver medals and a championship record.

Having finished second in the 400m, when he tied up in the home straight having run a 400m hurdles race a few hours earlier, he was then bang on the mark in the final over the barriers the following day as he triumphed in a championship record of 48.37.

And in the roll call of glory, it was Germany who topped the medal table with four golds – Marius Probst and Konstanze Klosterhalfen in the 1500m, Claudine Vita (discus) and the men’s 4x100m relay – to go with their six silver medals and eight bronze medals for a total of 18 from Great Britain and Poland, who were joint second with 10 apiece and the exact record: three gold, four silver and three bronze.

In total, 23 countries won gold medals in Bydgoszcz along with Klavdiya Afanasyeva in the 20km walk, who was competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete.

Wherever you looked in Bydgoszcz there were amazing stories but perhaps we should not have been surprised because Spain's Carlos Mayo had set the tone in the first final of the competition, the men’s 10,000m, on Thursday.

With 250 metres to go, Mayo suddenly made his move for home from the shoulder of Germany’s Amanal Petros and crossed the line, going crazy as he triumphed.

The man who had won a collection of silver and bronze medals was now a champion, at last, at the final step before the senior ranks await full-time.

"It is a dream," said Mayo. "I have made that podium in the past but not won the gold. I am so happy."

He then won 5000m bronze to complete “four days to remember”. He would not be the only one saying that.