EUROS Day 5: Hellebaut steals the show

Hellebaut steals the show - European Champs Day 5
Friday 11 August 2006

Gothenburg, Sweden - It was said that the hottest ticket in Gothenburg was for Day Five of the European Championships. With a pair of solid gold medal prospects, it promised to be among Sweden’s brightest evenings. But in less than four minutes that night of would-be Swedish celebration turned into perhaps the finest-ever moment for Belgian Athletics.

Hellebaut’s stunningupset

It began in the women’s High Jump, when Belgian Tia Hellebaut stunned the capacity crowd at Ullevi Stadium – and with it the entire athletics world – with her upset victory over host favourite Kajsa Bergqvist in the deepest competition these championships have ever witnessed. With a long string of national records under her belt this year, the 28-year-old brought remarkable momentum to Gothenburg, and on this evening, she raised her national mark twice more, ultimately topping out at 2.03 to take a wholly unexpected gold.

“I still don’t believe that I won today,” said Hellebaut, a former world class heptathlete who only this year decided to focus solely on the High Jump. “It’s been a crazy evening. I think I have to get a little sleep to figure out what’s going on.” Her leap also added a centimetre to the championships’ set by Ulrike Meyfarth in 1982.

Perfect through 1.99, Hellebaut needed a pair of jumps at 2.01, to temporary fall behind both Bergqvist and Bulgaria’s Venelina Veneva who each needed just one attempt. But she quickly took the driver’s seat when she sailed over 2.03 on her first, with plenty of room to spare. After missing her first attempt, Bergqvist passed to 2.05; meanwhile Veneva solidified her runner-up position with a second-attempt clearance at 2.03. With 2.05 proving too much a barrier for the three, the order remained.

“I’m very pleased,” said the veteran Veneva, after her claiming her first major medal. “I was a little disappointed not to win though.”

Bergqvist was gracious in defeat, but didn’t mask her disappointment.

“I had a chance at both 2.03 and 2.05, but I had the milimetres a little bit against me today,” said Bergqvist, the defending champion. “Tia is a very worthy winner, but I’m disappointed. I really wanted to win the gold.”

Consolation for 22-year-old Blanka Vlasic of Croatia, the World Indoor silver medallist who finished fourth here: her 2.01 clearance was the highest non-medal winning jump ever at a European, World or Olympic competition.

Double for Geveart

Less than five minutes after Hellebaut was declared the winner, Kim Gevaert followed up her 100 metre title with a resounding victory in the 200, clocking 22.68, well ahead of runner-up Yuliya Gushchina of Russia.

“Before the race I shouted when Tia won the gold,” said Gevaert, whose double was the first at these Championships since Irina Privalova two victories in 1994. “It gave me even more energy. To see Tia win just gave me wings.”

The double dash silver medallist four years ago, Gevaert won the first-ever gold for her country on Wednesday. “I wonder what is going on right now in Belgium after three gold medals,” she said.

Natalya Rusakova joined Yuliya Gushchina on the podium to take the bronze, reaching the line in 23.09.

Tia Hellebaut and Kim Gevaert celebrating in Gothenburg

Kallur: “The most amazing feeling in my life”

But the enthusiastic crowd hardly left disappointed. About an hour before the Belgian celebrations, Susanna Kallur delivered an overwhelming victory in the 100m Hurdles, the first-ever medal in the event for the host nation. After building a clear lead by the third barrier, the Swede powered over the remaining seven to a her solid 12.59, her second fastest clocking ever.

“It was happiness more than relief,” said Kallur, who didn’t let the crowd’s expectations get the better of her. “It was just unbelievable. I felt the crowd. It was one of the most amazing feelings in my life.”

After two hard-earned Golden League victories this year, Kallur has steadily climbed the event’s elite, and hopes the trend will continue. “This season’s been very successful for me, I’m bettering my times, and I’m consistent,” said Kallur, after explaining that what she likes best about the hurdles is that it gives her “something to do while I’m running.”

Behind her, the race for second was so tight that officials eventually decided to award two silver medals. Away from centre stage in lane one, Derval O’Rourke, the surprise winner at the World Indoor Championships in March, again rose to the occasion to sneak across the line in 12.72, an Irish national record and one identical to that of Germany’s Kirsten Bolm.

Defending champion Glory Alozie was fourth in 12.86, while the entire field cracked the 13-second barrier for the first time ever at a European Championship.

Sebrle defends

World record holder Roman Sebrle encountered little difficulty in retaining his Decathlon title after tallying 8526 points, 170 points clear of Hungary’s Attila Zsivoczky.

Perhaps a somewhat modest score by the World record holder’s standards, the Czech was nonetheless content after spending much of the two days battling the elements as much as his opponents.

“This was not the weather for 8800 points,” he said, referring to his total in Munich four years ago. “So I’m totally satisfied. We had lots of interruptions because of the rain so it made it a tough competition.” Sebrle was most pleased with his 5.00m clearance in the Pole Vault, most disappointed with his performance in the Javelin – “I didn’t have a single good throw” – and admitted to a lack of motivation in the final event, which brought him across the line in the 1500 metres in 4:46.91. Next up for Sebrle, after a brief holiday with his family, will be next month’s IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Talence, France.

Zsivoczky, the bronze medallist in the World championships last year, edged Russian Aleksey Drozdov by just six points, 8356 to the Russian’s 8350 personal best. Aleksandr Pogorelov was fourth (8245) with Germany’s Pacsal Behrenbruch fifth, tallying a personal best 8209.

Keskisalo’s steeple surprise

The first final of the evening also produced a major surprise when unheralded Finn Jukka Keskisalo burst to the lead heading into turn three of the final lap to kick to a runaway 8:26.89 victory.

“It is a big surprise for me,” said the 25-year-old, who has been dogged by injury since his ninth place finish at the 2003 World Championships. “The key was the slow pace. Then I knew I had a chance.”

Despite several lead changes throughout the proceedings, the pace was modest from the outset, playing perfectly into the Finn’s hands to become the first-ever Finnish European champion in the event.

Spaniard Jose Luis Blanco, who assumed the lead at the bell, wound up a well-beaten second in 8:26.22, while French record holder Bob Tahri took the bronze in 8:27.15, his first medal in the event at a major competition. Sidelined with food poisoning, European record holder Simon Vroeman did not start.

Few surprises in qualifying

Qualifying in the women’s Long Jump was predictably fierce, with at least a 6.51 jump needed to advance to Sunday’s final. Russia’s Oksana Udmurtova led qualifiers with her opening 6.88 leap, with teammate Ludmila Kolchanova reaching 6.74. Heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft needed all three jumps to move on. Reaching 6.45 in the first round, she followed up with a 6.34 leap, before the vociferous crowd helped her to a 6.53.

No major casualties emerged form a pair of tactical 800 metre semi-finals. Florent Lacasse of France won the first and slower heat in 1:49.12 after a pedestrian first lap of just over 5 seconds, just ahead of Dutchman Bram Som (1:49.15) and Briton Sam Ellis (1:49.23). Miguel Quesada of France was the fastest on the day, taking the second heat in 1:47.12, with Italy’s Andrea Longo, Latvian Dmitrijs Milkevics, David Fiegen of Luxembourg and Great Britain’s Michael Rimmer also moving on the Sunday’s final.

As expected, the formidable Russian trio of Yuliya Chizhenko, Yelena Soboleva and Tatyana Tomashova dominated the semi-finals of the 1500 metres, with a podium sweep on Sunday a very distinct possibility. The most notable non-qualifier was Commonwealth Games champion Lisa Dobriskey who was a distant seventh in heat two.

Germany’s Nadine Kleinert led all qualifiers in the Shot put with an 18.75 throw, with 17.15m the qualifying cut-off for Saturday afternoon’s final.

Stanislav Olijar, the 2002 silver medallist, was the fastest qualifier as the race to succeed four-time 110 metre Hurdles champion Colin Jackson. The Latvian cruised to a 13.25 victory, nearly a quarter of a second faster than the rest of the field.

A near-full slate of finals is on tap for Day Six, beginning with the women’s Marathon on a day when women’s events will receive much of the attention. Besides the Shot Put, the Pole vault, 3000 metre Steeplechase and 5000 metres will be decided, while new men’s champions will be crowned in the sprint hurdles, Triple Jump, Discus and Hammer throws.

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Bob Ramsak for the IAAF