European Championships Preview, courtesy of Bob Ramsak/IAAF, note by Larry Eder

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Thorkildsen, Pitkämäki
, A battle of the Titans at Europeans? photo from adidas GP DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.

If I could be anywhere tomorrow on the planet, it would be Barcelona, Spain. The opening ceremony was tonight, and our star reporter, Alfons Juck told RBR that it was the quality of an Olympic opening ceremony. Some great battles this week, July 27-August 1, in Barcelona, Spain. We will have daily updates plus some video from around Barcelona by none other than my partner in video crime, Gary Morgan!


 


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Ecstacy! Marta Dominguez, gold medalist World Champs 2009, Berlin, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Look at the women's face in the picture above. You will be seeing a lot more of it. Marta Dominguez, won the Berlin Steeple.Watch for her to repeat this performancemin Barcelona, in front of her people! She has to deal some very tough Russian steeplers, but Marta should be up for the task! In 2010, Dominguez may be the best women steeple racer
anywhere!


European Championships Preview, by Bob Ramsak, IAAF, July 26, 2010


Tantalising head-to-heads galore on tap in Barcelona - European Championships preview Barcelona, Spain - It's one of the world's finest hubs of art and design, home of tasty tapas and the unparalleled architectural marvels of Gaudi. But the focus in the Catalan capital tomorrow (Tues, 27) through Sunday will fall squarely on track and field as the European Athletics Championships celebrate their 20th edition.

With a traditionally strong squad, there will be plenty of medal prospects for Spanish fans to enjoy and savour, and many have answered the call with more than 30,000 spectators a day expected to make their way to the 1992 Olympic Stadium which is charmingly nestled atop Montjuic, the long flat hill overlooking the city's sprawling harbour. But to international fans, the focus will be on thrilling head-to-heads. Topping that list is the women's High Jump.


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Blanka Vlasic, Greece, 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net.


Vlasic-Hellebaut rematch

Among the hottest tickets at the last edition of these championships four years ago in Gothenburg was for Day Five when the women's High Jump final took centre stage. While the names have changed slightly, the same will likely hold true again this time around when most of the world's finest women's jumpers vie for continental bragging rights on Sunday. The winner then was Tia Hellebaut whose surprise victory set the stage for the finest single day ever in Belgian athletics history.

But the dominant force in the event since has been Croatia's Blanka Vlasic, who's taken four World titles - two outdoors and two indoors - in the meantime. The European leader at 2.03m, the 26-year-old has been unbeaten in her four Samsung Diamond League appearances, and has yet to be out-jumped by a European this year. Remarkably Vlasic has yet to win a medal of any sort at a European championship, indoors or outdoors, an annoying item on the Croatian's to-do list. In Gothenburg, her 2.01m clearance for fourth place was up until that point the highest ever non-medal winning leap in any major competition, a distinction which quite likely doesn't rank too high on the Vlasic's list of career highlights.

But she hasn't been unbeatable. She was second to Hellebaut at the 2008 Olympic Games, and a distant fifth at the European indoors last year, a competition won by Arianne Friedrich who later went on to raise the German record to 2.06m. Along with Vlasic and Friedrich, Italy's Antonietta Di Martino and Spain's Ruth Beitia also have two-metre clearances to their credit this season, and arrive as solid medal contenders. Then there is Hellebaut who made a surprise comeback to the sport this season. With a pair of 1.95m efforts, she's hardly a favourite on paper, but she's a fierce competitor and wouldn't be here if she wasn't ready.

In the men's event Ivan Ukhov of Russia, the world leader courtesy of his 2.34m effort in Monaco last Thursday, will be the man to beat. He'll have a fight on his hands though against compatriot Aleksandr Shustov, the national champion, who has topped 2.33m twice this season.

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Christophe Lemaitre, Running 9.98 at 2010 French Champs, photo by PhotoRun.net


Sprints - Lemaitre vs Chambers in the 100

The battle for the mantle as Europe's fastest man has this season largely come down to two men - young Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre and British veteran Dwain Chambers, the World indoor 60m champion.

Lemaitre, barely 20, made waves last month when he joined the 100m sub-10 club with his 9.98 clocking at the French championships. But he also has a pair of 10.02 runs to his credit this year, along with a 10.05 for second behind Asafa Powell in Rome. As a former World junior 200m champion and a continental junior 100m champion, Barcelona signals a logical progression in Lemaitre's young career.

At 32 Chambers is among the oldest in the field but still among the fastest, as his 9.99 to take the Spar European Team Championships victory late last month clearly indicates.

With a 20.16 run at the French nationals, Lemaitre also arrives as the continent's fastest 200m runner, opening the door for a reasonable shot at emulating Francis Obikwelu's 2006 sprint double. Lemaitre is entered in the longer dash, but won't decide to take part until after the 100m. The next fastest in the field are Norway's Jaysuma Saidy Ndure at 20.31 and Frenchman Martial Mbandjock at 20.38.

In the battle of one-lap honours, Belgian Jonathan Borlée arrives with the best momentum. The 22-year-old lowered the national record to 44.77 in Paris earlier this month, by far the fastest time by a European this summer. Irishman David Gillick (44.95) and Martyn Rooney (44.99) of Great Britain have also dipped under 45 seconds this season while Rooney, at 44.60, has the fastest career best.

On the women's side, Team Russia brings the strongest squad in the longer sprints, with Aleksandra Fedoriva (22.41) and Kseniya Ustalova (50.33) leading the European lists at 200m and 400m respectively. Over the longer dash in particular Russia is looking for a sweep, with Antonina Krivoshapka, the reigning World bronze medallist among the powerhouse's trio.

Unlike the men's race, the women's 100m is wide open which will put European leader, Alena Neumiarzhitskaya of Belarus, to the test. She's the fastest European this season at 11.05, but hasn't been remotely close, before or since. Others to watch include Briton Laura Turner and German Verena Sailer.

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So, What does Jenny Meadows need to beat Mariya Savinova? Could be a real battle! photo from Gateshead DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.



At 800m Savinova vs Meadows

Over the past two seasons, Mariya Savinova has climbed admirably from among the strong corps of Russian 800m runners, first with a dominating performance at last year's European indoor championships, and more recently, with a convincing win at the World indoors this past March. She's run well outdoors this season, clocking a career best 1:57.56 at the Samsung Diamond League fixture in Eugene in June.

But so has Briton Jenny Meadows. The bronze medallist at last year's World Championships, Meadows clocked a national record when she finished second to Savinova at the World indoors this year and arrives in Barcelona with a 1:58.89 season's best.

On the men's side, Pole Marcin Lewandowski is the fastest coming in at 1:44.30 but defending champion Bram Som of the Netherlands is rounding into shape at the right time, most recently with a 1:44.58 clocking in Paris. With a pair of sub-1:45s this season, capped by a 1:44.49 career best in Lausanne, British champion Michael Rimmer could be a threat as well. Luis Alberto Marco is Spain's leading threat.

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Anna Alminova, invincible?, Areva Paris DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Can anyone stop Alminova? - 1500m

Three Europeans dipped under four minutes in the Paris 1500m 10 days ago, but two were still well behind the sensational 3:57.65 world-leading effort produced by Russia's Anna Alminova. Underscoring her fitness, that runaway victory in the French capital came just a day after the 25-year-old clocked a sizzling 4:00.84 at the Russian championships. Clearly, Alminova is ready to add the outdoor title to her indoor crown from last year.

Giving chase will be French record holder Hind Dehiba and Britain's Lisa Dobriskey who clocked 3:59.76 and 3:59.79 behind Alminova in Paris. A strong duo in Natalia Rodriguez and Nuria Fernandez will be carrying Spanish hopes.

Conversely, the men's race is fairly wide open, with Briton leading Andy Baddeley (3:34.50) leading the charge. He'll have to contend with a strong Spanish Armada which includes veteran Reyes Estevez, the 1998 champion; freshly-minted Spanish champion Manuel Olmedo, and Arturo Casado, the 2007 European indoor bronze medallist. Given Spain's solid tradition, a podium sweep is not outside the realm of possibility.




Double distance ambitions for Farah and Abeylegesse

There could be some dandy doubling in store before the week is out, courtesy of Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse and Mo Farah of Great Britain. Abeylegesse, who took Olympic silver over both distances two years ago, is the class of the women's field in the 5000m after a 14:31.52 performance in Paris. She hasn't run a 10,000m on the track this season, but the 27-year-old is clearly in shape.

Farah on the other hand has run well over both distances, most notably with a 27:28.86 career best from the European Cup 10,000 in the spring, marginally faster than his compatriot Chris Thompson, who improved to 27:29.61 in May.

In the 5000m he'll have to tackle - in addition to tired legs from the longer race - the defending champion, Spaniard Jesus Espana, whose most recent effort was a victory over Spanish record holder Alemayehu Bezabeh at the national championships. Bezabeh meanwhile joined the event's sub-13 club when he clocked 12:57.25 in Oslo. For his part, Farah lowered his lifetime best to 13:05.66 in Gateshead.

Dominguez's sole 2010 focus - gold at home

Marta Domínguez, the reigning World champion in the 3000m steeplechase and perhaps the most successful Spanish distance runner ever, has made it clear that her sole focus for the year will be to take gold on home soil this summer. Given the Spaniard's resumé, her single-minded march towards a third European title should be taken very seriously. She's the fastest European of the season at 9:17.07 (PB, 9:07.32, 2009); on paper, Russian Yuliya Zarudneva, at 9:23.00, is the closest among entrants.

The men's race will feature another of the week's highlights, a rare meeting between Frenchmen Bouabdallah Tahri and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad. Tahri clocked a European record 8:01.18 when taking bronze at the World Championships last year while Mekhissi-Benabbad is the event's reigning Olympic silver medallist. It'll take nothing short of a major surprise, similar to that of Finn Jukka Keskisalo's win four years ago, to break the anticipated French stranglehold here.

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Andreas Thorkildsen, Areva Paris DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.


Thorkildsen takes centre stage - Men's throws

The men's Javelin Throw field reads much like a start list for most of the Samsung Diamond League meetings, with one name looming large - that of Olympic, World and European champion Andreas Thorkildsen.

The Norwegian, with seven wins in eight starts this season along with the season's farthest throw, will be a difficult champion to unseat. Among the challengers is rising Czech star Petr Frydrych, who's improved to 88.23m; former World champion Tero Pitkämäki (86.92m SB) and his Finnish compatriot Teemu Wirkkala (86.53m); and Czech No. 2, Vitezslav Vesely, who's reached 86.45m.

As with the javelin, the majority of the world's finest discus throwers will assemble in Barcelona, lead by Olympic champion and current world leader at 71.45m, Estonia's Gerd Kanter. In a fiercely competitive event this year, Poland's Piotr Malachowski (69.83m), Zoltan Kovago (69.69m) of Hungary and reigning World champion Robert Harting (68.69m) of Germany can each walk away with gold.

The same holds true in the Hammer Throw at the moment, with nine of the current top-10 all from Europe. Slovak Libor Charfreitag is the world leader at 80.59m, Belarusian Pavel Kryitski (80.44m) is the season's other 80-metre man, while Hungary's Krisztian Pars, third on the world list at 79.64m, is a close second in the current Hammer Throw Challenge standings.

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Andrei Mikhnevich, at 22.09m, leads Europe, but men's shot will be huge battle, photo from 2006 Europeans, photo by PhotoRun.net.


In the Shot Put, Andrei Mikhnevich (22.09m) of Belarus is one of just three 22-metre men this season. He'll face rising Latvian star Maris Urtans (21.63m), Poland's Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski (21.25m), and World bronze medallist Ralf Bartels (21.14m SB).

Women's throws - Is Wlodarczyk back from injury?

Poland's World champion Anita Wlodarczyk got her season off with a bang when she broke her own World record with a 78.30m throw in June, but has been struggling lately with injury and hasn't competed since 8 June. That question mark could open the door for World silver medallist Betty Heidler (75.82 SB) and defending champion Tatyana Lysenko who has reached 76.03m this season.


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Barbora Spotakova, is back from injuries, as shown here from Areva Paris DL, photo by PhotoRun.net. Can she add a Euro gold to her medal case?


The Javelin Throw line-up will be one of the strongest on the programme, with Olympic champion and World record holder Barbora Spotakova chasing the one major accolade missing from her collection. The silver medallist four years ago has reached 68.66m this season, but with some minor but nagging injuries, she has struggled with consistency.

She'll take on Russia's Mariya Abakumova, the world leader at 68.89m from Doha's Samsung Diamond League opener in May. Rapidly improving Martina Ratej is tiny Slovenia's best medal hope, thanks to a 67.16m national record in Doha.

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Nadzeya Ostapchuk,has been in top form in the Samsung DL, will she add gold to her 06 Euro Silver? photo from Areva Paris DL, by PhotoRun.net. 

The women's Shot Put will be all about Nadzeya Ostapchuk. The silver medallist four years ago, the Belarusian has dominated the vent on the Samsung Diamond League circuit this season, and has four of the year's five best winning throws including the 20.95 World leader. With her compatriots - veteran Yanina Karolchyk-Pravalinskay (19.95m SB) and Natallia Mikhnevich (19.80m) - Belarus could sweep.

With no clear favourites, the women's Discus Throw promises a thrilling shoot-out. German Nadine Muller arrives as the world leader at 67.68m. Romanian veteran Nicoleta Grasu was the runner-up in Paris and at 38 remains a viable medal threat. Croatia's young upstart Sandra Perkovic (66.85m PB, 2010) is still seeking consistency but is nonetheless a medal contender.



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Teddy Tamgho, can he break Jonathan Edward's WR? adidas GP 2010 DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Jumps - Tamgho vs Idowu and an exhibition for Lavillenie?

Frenchman Teddy Tamgho, still just 21, came of age in Doha last March when he sailed to a 17.90m World indoor record. He went even farther outdoors in New York in June when he reached 17.98m, tantalisingly close to the 18-metre barrier. His form is questionable at the moment, however, when a minor injury forced his withdrawal from Paris 10 days ago. Meanwhile, World champion Phillips Idowu has had a quiet season besides his late spring 17.48m leap in Rio de Janeiro, which could open the door for someone to spring a surprise.

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Svetlana Feonfanova, from the era of Stacy Dragila, Feofanova looks to challenge for the European Champs, photo from Areva Paris DL, by PhotoRun.net.


In the women's Pole Vault, the battle to succeed Yelena Isinbayeva appears to be between former World record holder Svetlana Feofanova of Russia, the German duo of Carolin Hingst and Silke Spiegelburg, and World champion Anna Rogowska.



On the men's side, French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, the world leader at 5.94m who arrives riding a nine-meet win streak, is the class of the field.

Russia could well be chasing a podium sweep in the women's Long Jump as well, with national champion Ludmila Kolchanova (7.01m), world leader Olga Kucherenko (7.13m) and the vastly experienced Tatyana Kotova (6.90m, SB) leading the charge.

Russia is strong in the Triple Jump as well, led by national champion Nadezhda Alekhina who'll expect a strong challenge from Ukraine's Olha Saladuha (14.78m).

Among the favourites in the men's Long Jump are Germany's Christian Reif (8.27m), rising Russian star Pavel Shalin (8.26m) and Frenchman Salim Sdiri (8.24m). Defending champion Andrew Howe of Italy is on the rebound from injury.

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Jessica Ennis, Gateshead DL, photo by PhotoRun.net.


Ennis looking to succeed Kluft

Four years ago in Gothenburg, Jessica Ennis was lost in the long looming shadow of Karolina Kluft. This time, Ennis, as the reigning World champion will start as the prohibitive favourite to succeed the Swede. Ennis cruised to a 6689 point tally to win in Gotzis, the second best mark in the world this year. Russian Tatyana Chernova is the closest challenger with a 6572 score this season, but armed with a 6768 career best, better than Ennis's 6731.

In the Decathlon, Ukraine's Oleksiy Kasyanov (8381) and Romain Barras (8297) will be the men to beat.

In the 110m Hurdles, Czech Petr Svodoba is the fastest European this year at 13.27, just a few ticks ahead of Poland's Artur Noga who has improved to 13.29. Rounding out the close field, Briton Andy Turner has clocked 13.30 and Hungary's Daniel Kiss 13.32.

Over the full lap, Briton David Greene is the clear favourite, well ahead of the rest with a 48.49 season's best and regular jaunts into sub-49 territory.

On the women's side, German Carolin Nytra's 12.57 in Lausanne earlier this month elevated her into the favourite's role in 100m Hurdles, while Russian Natalya Antyukh (54.00) and Czech Zuzana Hejnova (54.13) lead the field in the grueling full-lap event.

On the roads...

Competition kicks off on Tuesday morning with the men's 20Km Race Walk with Italy's Alex Schwazer taking on Russian power Valeriy Borchin. Schwazer, the Olympic 50Km champion, also has strong ambitions this week, with his eyes set on a double. Over the longer distance, he'll have to swing past Russia's double World champion, Sergey Kirdyapkin.

Double World and Olympic champion Olga Kaniskina of Russia will be the strong favourite in the women's 20Km Race Walk on Wednesday.

In the Marathon, Russian women figure prominently, with a squad that consists of Irina Timofeeva (2:24:14, 2009), Boston runner-up Tatyana Pushkareva, and 2:27 runner Silviya Skvortsova.

In the men's race, the sentimental favourite will be Italy's Stefano Baldini, who came out of retirement in an attempt to claim his third continental title. Spain's Chema Martinez, the best finishing European at last year's World Championships, will have home field advantage.

Ottey, still going strong at 50

In all, 1,370 athletes - 761 men, 609 women - representing all 50 European federations will be competing this week. One who'll receive a great deal of attention is sprint legend Merlene Ottey who will be making her second European championships appearance - this time at the tender age of 50. The Jamaican-born sprinter, who has competed for Slovenia since 2002, will anchor her adopted country's 4x100m relay team in Saturday's first round. Now in her third decade of international competition, Ottey has a 100m season's best of 11.67 to her credit this summer.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

Click here for Timetable and startlists

For more on the IAAF, please link on www.iaaf.org










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