French men win first ever European Cup while Russian women confirm continental hegemony
Sunday 22 June 2003
Florence – The 24th edition of the SPAR European Cup held at the Luigi Ridolfi stadium concluded today in Florence’s tremendous heat.

With five individual wins France totalled an overall score of 109 points to win its first ever European Cup well clear of Germany, 100.5 points, and Great Britain (96 points), who was leading after day one.

Katharine Merry running in the 4x400m relay at the European Cup
(Getty Images)

With just two months to go to the IAAF World Championships in Paris which start on 23 August, France seems to be in top shape with her women also finishing an excellent third in the final standings.

The women’s competition was dominated as expected by Russia with 7 individual wins and a final score of 130 points. Germany came in second just like last year with 103 points, just one point ahead of France.

Thanks to a very consistent second day of competition the Italian men’s team managed to climb up from last to fifth thus avoiding relegation to the First League. The two newly promoted teams of Spain and Greece finished respectively 7th and 8th and will therefore have to return to the first league next year after their brief appearance in the major league.

Ladji Doucoure of France winning the 110m Hurdles at the European Cup
(Getty Images)

Russia had already secured a women’s team victory even before the 4x400m relay but this didn’t prevent the quartet of Lavshuk, Ivanova, Firova and Pospelova setting a new 2003 world best of 3:26.02.

Karagounis, Merry, Murphy and McConnell of Great Britain were second in 3:26.52 with France (Landre, Kamissoko, Desert and Bevis) third in 3:28.39.

A surprising team from Greece who eventually set a new national record of 3:29.94 in fifth was in the lead after the first leg, closely followed by teams of Germany and Russia.

Kostantinos Kederis of Greece winning the 200m at the European Cup
(Getty Images)

Olympic individual bronze medallist Katharine Merry ran the second leg for Great Britain and proved to have put her injuries behind her as she out-sprinted consecutively the runners from Germany, Russia and France, to hand the baton over in first position.

But Russia had saved her best for last and individual event winner Svetlana Pospelova seemed to have no trouble taking the win. With 300 metres to go she had a lead of five metres which she held on to at the finish.

World season’s Hammer Throw leader Manuela Montebrun of France, who has been making French sports headlines for the past few weeks, came just 7 centimetres short of her own world best.

Pavel Potapovich of Russia winning the 3000m steeplechase in the European Cup
(Getty Images)

Exactly one week after improving her national record to 74.50m, Montebrun had a fantastic series of four attempts over the 70-metre mark. After an opening effort of 71.63m, she had throws measured at 73.11 - 72.60 - 74.43.

“I am happy I have given 8 points to my team. This competition was important obviously because of the team spirit but for me it was more a question of confirming my good form. There was good competition with Kuzenkova and Melinte today. After all Melinte is still the one athlete with the best resume.”

Throwing in oppressive heat – temperatures reached 36 degrees today – Montebrun didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather conditions and her satisfaction today was well visible.

Eunice Barber of France wins the European Cup Long Jump
(Getty Images)

“It was very hot today but the judges were very intelligent and let us rest in the shade in between attempts.”

Montebrun scored her fifth consecutive win of the year citing her hard technical and physical work as the turning point of her career. Despite such a marvellous boost of confidence, Montebrun keeps her feet well on the ground.

“I know the Hammer Throw is still small compared to the 100m or other races but I am happy that my progression has helped my discipline gain in popularity in my country.”

Matt Elias anchors Great Britain’s 4x400m to victory in the European Cup
(Getty Images)

Romania’s World record holder Mihaela Melinte was second with a season’s best of 71.99m, with 2001 World silver medallist Olga Kuzenkova finishing third with a 69.89m effort.

Once the Hammer Throw was over the interest turned to the track where the first event of the day saw another French win. 20-year old Ladji Doucoure who is now fully a high hurdles specialist after beginning his athletics career in the combined events won the 110m Hurdles in 13.55, just two centimetres ahead of Germany’s Mike Fenner (13.58). Andrea Giaconi of Italy was third in 13.66.

Former World Youth champion and World Junior medallist Doucoure came to the senior international scene this winter with an amazing 4th place finish at the World Indoor Championships of Birmingham.

“I was very confident coming to Florence,” explained Doucoure, “but then during warm up I hit a hurdle with my trail leg and the twirling wind disrupted my stride pattern. I decided not to push too hard in the blocks to avoid coming too close to the hurdles during the race but it ended up with me taking a terrible start.”

Doucoure indeed seemed to be struggling over the first few obstacles but after hitting hurdle 6, he powered through and held his lead to the finish.

“What is important today is that I was able to make ground up after a poor start. It means I have a good second half of the race and it is generally what makes the difference in the biggest races.”

Thanks to Doucoure’s win, France took the lead in the men’s standings three points ahead of Great Britain.

It was now time for Spain to take the spotlight with important wins in the women’s 100m Hurdles and the men’s 800m. Olympic silver medallist Glory Alozie won her event in a respectable 12.86 considering her best so far this year is ‘only’ 12.82. After her customary blistering start, Alozie had a clear race and eventually out-sprinted Svetlana Laukhova of Russia by just two hundredths of a second, with Patricia Girard third in 12.95.

“I feel so bad, you wouldn’t believe it,” said an exhausted Alozie after her race. “I just cannot run in such a heat. I ran the 100m and the relay yesterday, and today I just couldn’t run. I simply tried to control the race and secure the win which was so important for the team. I could see the girls on my left so I was practically sure I had the race!”

As expected the men’s 800m resulted in a tactical race with four athletes spread over two lanes, reaching the bell in 56.14. Italy’s Christian Neunhauserer who would eventually finish second to last, took the inside with World Cup winner ,Spain’s Anotnio Reina, former world junior medallist Florent Lacasse of France and Rene Herms of Germany, all within the same stride. With 200 metres to go Reina made his move, and the only one who could follow was Lacasse a mere metre behind. It seemed as though Reina was going to blow it but it was Lacasse who gradually faded, the Spaniard crossing the finish in 1:48.13 with the Frenchman clocking in 1:48.37.

“I wanted to control the race because Lacasse is a very strong competitor and also because I need to save energy for the 4x400m relay,” said Reina after his win.

The women’s 1500m saw a surprising win for Natalia Rodriguez of Spain who helped Spain progress to fourth in the women’s provisional standings. Rodriguez clocked 4:07.18 to defeat Helen Clitheroe of Great Britain into second (4:08.18), with Konstandina Efentaki of Greece clocking a personal best of 4:09.06.

Russia’s Yekaterina Rozenberg was in the lead at the bell followed by Maria Cioncan (ROM) and Clitheroe, while Rodriguez was trailing a good ten metres back. Rozenberg launched her final sprint with 300 metres to the line and had a margin of up to 10 metres entering the final bend. She gradually faded and Clitheroe who had visibly been gaining ground on her seemed destined to win the race, when Rodriguez coming out of nowhere sprinted like a 400 metre runner to the line.

Rozenberg eventually finished fifth, with Cioncan a disappointing fourth.

With Russia well in the lead in the women’s standing one, would have expected that today’s first Russian individual win would come from a woman athlete. But it didn’t. 24-year old Pavel Potapovich was indeed a superb winner of the men’s 3000m steeplechase in a new personal best of 8:26.28. With his characteristically long and discontinued stride, the Russian took all the risks and set the pace going through the 2000m mark in 5:42.63. By the bell he had gained a four-metre lead on European champion Antonio Jimenez of Spain and Italy’s Angelo Iannelli.

While Potapovish kept increasing his lead, Jimenez surprisingly faded away leaving the way free for Poland’s Radoslaw Poplawski, 20 years of age, to claim the second place in 8:29.70. Iannelli held on to third in 8:30.40 with Jimenez fourth in 8:31.63.

Anastasiya Kapachinskaya took the women’s 200m scoring the first win for the Russian women’s team today. Kapachinskaya came out in the very last metres of the race and crossed the line in 22.71, with Ionela Tirlea of Romania who won the 400m Hurdles yesterday second in a new season’s best of 22.78.

In the women’s 200m, European champion Muriel Hurtis who was running in lane 4 had an excellent bend and entered the final straight with a comforting, if small lead. But the Frenchwoman suddenly contracted like she did in last week’s meeting in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and could only manage a 22.89 clocking for third.

The men’s 200m was expectedly won by European, World and Olympic champion Konstantinos Kederis of Greece who was making his first appearance of the season here in Florence.

Running in lane 8 and into a strong headwind of 2.3m/s, Kederis typically powered through in the second half of the race. Kederis clocked 20.37 to win the race ahead of Christian Malcolm (GBR) in 20.45, and Marcin Jedrusinksi (POL) in 20.53, both athletes improving their best time of the year. Coming home fourth Alessandro Cavallaro, who had anchored the Italian 4x100m team yesterday, set a new season’s best of 20.54 with 22-year old Leslie Djhone of France improving his personal best to 20.68.

Russia’s Giulnara Samitova set a new Championship’s record of 9:40.89 to win the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, which was only being contested for the second time in the Cup. Samitova decided to set the pace and went through the first kilometre in 3:22.68. She gradually quickened her pace and reached the 2000m mark in 6:37.37. No one seemed able to keep up with the Russian who even lapped a few runners in the process. Cristina Casandra-Iloc of Romania was a distant second in 9:48.47, with Elodie Olivares of France third in 9:54.51.

Fouad Chouki of France won the men’s flat 3000m overtaking Carlos Castillenos of Spain (8:22.79) and Vyacheslav Shabunin of Russia (8:22.79) in the last few metres of a tactical slow paced race. His was France’s fifth individual win of the competition which highly contributed to them winning the Cup.

In the women’s 5000m, Russia’s Yelena Zadorozhanya broke away from the pack with one kilometre to go gradually increasing her lead up to 10 metres. Jo Pavey of Great Britain was a distant second then but didn’t lose hope as she progressively closed the gap. It eventually wasn’t enough for Pavey, who had to content with second in 15:35.31 behind Zadorozhanya’s 15:34.07.

The Italian crowd braved the striking sun today and sat in the tribune facing the Long Jump pit to support and cheer for local heroine Fiona May, and she responded to the people’s support with a first attempt, season’s best of 6.67m, which was good enough for third.

“It was good to have the chance to compete in my home town today. I never finished outside the top three positions in my ten participations in the European Cup and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint the Italian crowd today,” said May.

The competition was won by Heptathlon world leader Eunice Barber of France who jumped 6.76m on her last attempt. Barber who has a personal best of 7.01m in the Long Jump is speculating about a Heptathlon-Long Jump double at the World Championships in Paris.

Former World junior champion Concepcion Montaner of Spain was third in a new season’s best of 6.67m.

26-year old Daniela Rath set a new personal best of 2.00 metres to win the women’s High Jump, ahead of Ruth Beitia of Spain and Marina Kuptsova of Russia who both cleared 1.95m.

Rath had a dream-like competition today clearing 1.92-1.95-1.98 and 2.00 with her first attempts. With no black mark on her competition sheet and the win already secured, Rath asked for the bar to be raised at 2.02m but had three consecutive failures.

“Today was the perfect competition for me. I usually suffer in the heat but today I didn’t, don’t ask me why!” said Rath. “I know I can jump high and I am happy of my result today. This will help me regaining confidence after missing three years through feet injuries.”

World leader Marina Kuptsova didn’t seem at ease struggling to clear even 1.95m, which she passed with her last effort thus losing the second position to Beitia on count back.

At the other end of the field, Germany was to clinch another win with former World champion Astrid Kumbernuss taking the women’s Shot Put with a best effort of 19.46m. Kumbernuss had no rivals today, her shortest put being better than runner-up Russia’s Svetlana Kriveleva’s 18.98m effort. Laurence Manfredi of France was third thanks to her last throw of 17.97m, just seven centimetres better than Italy’s Assunta Legnante in fourth.

The men’s Pole Vault went to France’s Romain Mesnil who was the only man to clear 5.75m. It took Mesnil only three jumps to win the contest, the Frenchman clearing 5.50m, 5.65m and 5.75m with his first effort.

With the 8 points well under his belt, Mesnil then asked for the bar to be raised at a 2003 world leading height of 5.90m. While his first try at such a height was a narrow failure, his second and third attempts were clearly insufficient.

Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy finished second with a new season’s best of 5.70m, the same height cleared by European silver medallist Lars Borgeling of Germany in third.

It took European silver medallist Sergey Makarov of Russia only two throws to secure victory in the men’s Javelin. This year’s world best performer with 90.11m, Makarov had a best throw of 85.86m in Florence. Germany’s Christian Nicolay was second with a second round effort of 81.93m, with Dariusz Trafas of Poland third with 79.36m.

The only man to clear 17 metres in the Triple Jump today was Italy’s Fabrizio Donato. After an opening of 16.62m – which would have been enough for victory today – Donato leapt 17.16m with his second jump contributing to Italy’s progression to the fifth overall position in the provisional standings. Julien Kapek of France was second with 16.59m, with Greece’s Chritos Meletoglou a good third with 16.52m.

The men’s Discus Throw went to Russia’s Dmitry Shevchenko with a third attempt effort of 65.39m. Michael Moellenback of Germany came second with 65.26m, while Poland’s Andrzej Krawczyk was a distant third with 61.27m.

The last event of the competition, traditionally the men’s 4x400m relay, saw a win of the British quartet of Rawlinson, Benjamin, Baulch and Elias. The British team clocked 3:02.43 ahead of a surprisingly strong team of Greece, who set a new national record of 3:02.69 with Germany third in 3:02.83 and Spain fourth in 3:02.85.

European 400m champion Ingo Schultz ran the first leg for Germany and handed the baton in first ahead of Greece and Great Britain. Running the second leg, Tim Benjamin ran a very intelligent lap gradually taking the lead with teams of Greece, Germany, Spanish and France following in that order.

At the last exchange Hurdles specialist Matt Elias was just slightly ahead of Periklis Iakovakis another 400m Hurdler with the Greek defying the Briton on the back straight.

Elias had enough energy left to regain the lead and cross the line in first for the immense pleasure of the numerous British fans who by then were up on their feet supporting their man.

RESULTS click here

Final Standings

France 109 points
Germany 100.5 points
Great Britain 96 points
Russia 92 points
Italy 84 points
Poland 83 points
Spain 80 points
Greece 74.5 points

Russia 130 points
Germany 103 points
France 102 points
Great Britain 83 points
Spain 82 points
Greece 78.5 points
Romania 77.5
Italy 62 points