As I return to the Bay area, the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade are still fresh in my mind. Here are five lessons I learnt from the 2017 European Indoors.
1. You do not have to have an outlandish budget to host a global championships well!
Serbia has become well known to young people as a country where one can live well, but live reasonably. And that is how Belgrade put on the championships. There was no daily printed program, only printed programs were available for VIP. They printed a limited number of souvenirs, and t-shirts sold out in one day, rest by Sunday morning. Snacks were terribly reasonable as were the ticket prices. Results were fine crowds all sessions but first on Friday. Good turnouts, and Serb fans could bring their families. The track was fantastic, and it fit inside the Belgrade arena called Kombank Arena. In fact, it was one of the finest indoor facilitiies that I have ever seen, and it was not permanent.
2. Laura Muir has not only won two Euro Indoor titles, she set CR in both!
Laura Muir destroyed both records in the 1,500 meters and the 3,000 meters. Her tactics in both races were quite different. Her long run from home, actually running for gold for 1200 meters was a dangerous way to race, but it worked. In the 3000 meters, Laura followed a hard racing Yasemin Can, and took off with 1000 meters to go, running very hard for two and one half minutes. Both the 4:02 and 8:35 were championship records. Laura Muir will look to double at 1,500m and 5,000m at London 2017. But, what else would you expect from this young Scottish soon to be veterinarian? Laura Muir could be around for many years to come. Her British records at 1000m, 3000m and 5000m indoors showed she will consider to get faster. That 1000m speed is a great way to take out the kick of many of her competitors.
Racing outdoors against the best distance runners in the world may seem daunting to some, but I am not sure it scares Laura Muir. Developing the leg speed to neutralize the kickers at times, and, with other times, be able to keep her top speed for longer than others, will be part of the equation.
3. Who can compete with Ivana Spanovic?
A foul, then 7.16 meters WL, then 7.24 meters, longest indoor LJ since 1989, and then, 7.17 meters, another WL, and gold for the country of Serbia! I remember watching Ivana jump in Malmo in 2015 indoors. I had seen her jump before, but her speed, her athleticism, are amazing to watch. Watching her compete in London 2017 against the likes of Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, will be fascinating.
Ivana Spanovic prepared for Belgrade with an intensity that can only be partially comprehended. Spanovic wanted to win in front of her people almost as much as the Serb sports fans wanted to see her win.
That intensity produced three jumps that would have won the championships, but put together, equal the second best LJ series in indoor history.
4. Pavel Maslak is the finest European 400 meter runner indoors, period.
Pavel Maslak has won indoor titles in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now, 2017. His battle in 2017 was his hardest as he was pushed, and went by the competition with serious speed and tactical prowess. Now being called the chairman of the boards (a la Eamonn Coghlan), can Maslak take his indoor prowess and convert to outdoor titles? We will have to wait and see.
The Czech star is the best 400 meter runner indoors in Europe, and has won two World Indoor titles. If he can stay healthy outdoors, we should see him get close to 44 seconds.
5. Ekaterina Stefanidi is the queen of the pole vault
Stefanidi nearly gave up the pole vault a few years ago. She was down on herself and she was going to Stanford. But, she perservered and has just won European indoor title for 2017. In 2016, she took gold in Rio and bronze at World Indoors in Portland. In the 2015 European Indoors, she took gold, after having taken silver in the European Outdoor Champs in 2014 in Zurich.
But what was impressive in Belgrade was her ability to stay in the game. She passed at 4.75m and 4.80m, knowing that she would not win if she cleared them. She let the German vaulter falter and then, at 4.85m, when the German missed, Stefanidi was able to clear on first attempt and take the gold.
The pole vault is an intense game of chess, and the Greek vaulter, Ekaterina Stefanidi, gets it.
Ekaterina is on a hot streak now. She is a competitor, but she also knows that the she needs to vault higher and higher as the new stars are coming, and soon.