GOTHENBURG, Sweden, Aug 14, 2006
RUSSIA consolidated its position as the second leading power in world athletics after the United States by dominating the medals table at the European championships here.
While the competition in Gothenburg might be remembered for sprint doubles in both the men’s and women’s events and the performances of home stars, Russia ended the seven days with a massive medal haul of 12 gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze from 47 events.
The Russian performance was built on the solid and experienced women’s team, who claimed 11 gold, 9 silver and 8 bronze.
Their dominance is underlined by the tally of second-ranked country Germany, which claimed just four gold, three silver and two bronze.
Russians aside, Francis Obikwelu of Portugal and Kim Gevaert of Belgium provided the glamour in the sprints, both claiming double gold in the 100m and 200m events.
Obikwelu, the Olympic silver medallist, simply outclassed his rivals in admittedly weak fields, clocking 9.99sec and 20.01sec for his winning times despite a series of incredibly slow starts for the first men’s double in 28 years.
Gevaert had to work harder against a host of Russian rivals, and her true grit shone through in the 200m when under pressure coming off the bend into the home stretch.
Belgium had the added bonus of seeing Tia Hellebout winning gold in the women’s high jump from home favourite and Olympic and world champion Kajsa Berqvist, one of the biggest upsets of the week-long competition.
The showdown between Obikwelu and Dwain Chambers, whose gold medal in Munich four years ago was handed to the Nigerian-born sprinter after the Briton received a two-year ban, never materialised.
Chambers made the 100m final but finished well out of the medals, his performance mirroring that of many of the British athletes on show.
There was hope, however, for one of the former powerhouses of world athletics, with five silvers and five bronzes won.
Michael Rimmer, Mohammed Farah and Andy Turner look very sound medal contenders for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in the men’s 800m, 5000m and 110m hurdles respectively, as does Rebecca Lyne in the women’s 800m.
As it was, Britain had to wait until the seventh and final day of the competition for a gold medal, and that from their 4x100m relay team.
Celebrations were marred, however, when veteran sprinter Darren Campbell refused to join a lap of honour, the reasons for which were not immediately clear.
Sweden’s hopes of a handful of gold medals from the experienced quartet of Stefan Holm and Bergqvist (high jump), Christian Olsson (triple jump) and Carolina Kluft (heptathlon) didn’t quite work out.
The high jumpers both went home with bronze medals. But victories by Olsson and Kluft were boosted by an unexpected gold medal in the women’s 100m hurdles from Susanna Kallur.
Meet organisers cleverly spread the events featuring Swedish medal contenders throughout the week with the result that there was a daily average of more than 38,000 spectators packing into the Ullevi Stadium and an average 1.5 million domestic television viewers.
There were also lucky enough to see Jamaican-born Merlene Ottey, now a naturalised Slovenian citizen, running in the women’s 100m at the remarkable age of 46.
Ottey, who won a 200m bronze medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics for Jamaica, missed out on a place in the final by only 0.03sec - and vowed to carry on running.