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ATHLETICS

Gothenburg gears up for European athletics week

The European Athletics Championships gets under way in Gothenburg on Monday with a host of Olympic and world champions looking to add a continental title to their accolades.

The week-long tournament has been given a good dose of doping subplot in the wake of the Justin Gatlin scandal with the inclusion of returning drug offender Dwain Chambers in the British team.

Chambers won the 100m and gold in the 4x100m relay in the last European championships in Munich in 2002, but consequently tested positive for doping.

He was handed a two-year ban, had to forfeit both gold medals and was also stripped of the national record of 9.87sec he held with Linford Christie.

Chambers injured his thigh in the semi-finals of the British trials but is adamant he will be fit come the first round of competition here.

“I’m definitely running on Monday and we’ll see what happens then,” said the 28-year-old Londoner who posted an impressive 10.07sec behind Jamaican Asafa Powell’s record-equalling 9.77sec in Gateshead last month.

An added twist to the 100m race is that Portugal’s Nigerian-born sprinter Francis Obikwelu, who finished second behind Chambers in Munich, also runs.

Obikwelu has a sprint double in his sights, also going in the 200m, where his main contenders will likely be French duo Ronald Pognon and David Alerte and possibly Marlon Devonish of Britain.

Swedish hopes lie with an experienced quartet of gold medal contenders in Stefan Holm and Kajsa Bergqvist (high jump), Christian Olsson (triple jump) and Carolina Klüft (heptathlon).

Holm, with a world leading 2.34m to his credit this season, leads the charge in the men’s high jump but will have his work cut out against Russian duo Yaroslav Rybakov, the defending champion, and Ivan Ukhov.

World champion Bergqvist, who has recovered from an early season ankle injury, looks a safe bet to defend the title she won in Germany four years ago.

Local boy and reigning champion Christian Olsson goes into the triple jump as hot favourite, with British pair Nathan Douglas and Phillips Idowu expected to be close on his heels.

Klüft, who beat Eunice Barber by just 63 points to claim the world title last year in Helsinki, will be up against her French rival again but should prevail in front of her home crowd.

Elsewhere in the field, Lithuanian veteran Virgilijus Alekna, the double Olympic and world champion, arrives in Gotheburg striving for the one title he has not won.

The men’s javelin promises to be a dogfight between Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway and Tero Pitkamaki from Finland, with the 40-year-old Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic, a triple Olympic champion, providing the colour as he has a last tilt at winning the continental title.

Whether Yelena Isinbayeva will add to the five outdoor world records, during 2004 and 2005, in the women’s pole vault is in doubt, however, the Russian struggling somewhat with a change in her vaulting technique.

Indeed, her last visit to Sweden – Stockholm on July 25 – ended with her beaten on count back by Poland’s Monica Pyrek, the winning height that day a modest 4.62m.

ATHLETICS

Sweden’s Bahta denies Hassan to claim gold

Sweden's Meraf Bahta held off a late challenge from hot favourite Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands to win the 5,000m final at the European Athletic Championships in Zurich on Saturday.

Sweden's Bahta denies Hassan to claim gold
Photo: TT

The promise of Dutch delight turned to despair – and ultimately silver and bronze consolation – in the dramatic closing stages of the women's 5,000m final on the penultimate day of the European Athletics Championships in Zurich.

"With 100m to go I knew that nobody could beat me," said Bahta.

"I was never afraid to lose the duel with Hassan. This is my first time running for Sweden. It is great for me to hear the anthem for the first time."

Less than 24 hours after winning the 1500m final (on a night when Dafne Schippers completed a 100m sprint double), Sifan Hassan was closing on what would have been a famous double of her own and a record-equalling fourth for the Netherlands as she surged from seventh at the bell to the shoulder of Sweden's Meraf Bahta coming into the home straight.

A similar tactic had won the 21-year-old Ethiopian-born woman her metric mile crown in convincing fashion but this time she came up against an unyielding rival in Bahta.

The Eritrean refugee had pushed the pace from two laps out and dug deep to hold on for victory in 15min 31.39sec.

Hassan had to be content with silver, finishing 0.40sec, with her Dutch team-mate Susan Kuijken coming through for bronze and Jo Pavey, the 40-year-old 10,000m winner from Great Britain, down in sevent

The battle for first place in the medal table edged marginally in favour of France after wins for Renaud Lavillenie in the men's pole vault and Christelle Daunay in the women's marathon.

They have seven golds now, the same tally as Britain, but with 18 medals in all, three more than their rivals.

Lavillenie has been untouchable in 2014 and the Olympic champion extended his winning streak to a 20th competition with just two vaults.

After entering at 5.65m and clearing that at the first attempt, the Frenchman just needed a second time success at 5.90 to claim the gold.

He did, however, attempt to achieve his first 6m-plus vault of the outdoor season but registered three failures at  6.01m – 15cm shy of the world record he set indoors in Donetsk in February.

Daunay is not quite a member of the Fortysomething club – she turns 40 in December – but the French marathon runner maintained the gold standard for the older guard in Zurich, pulling clear after halfway to win the 26.2 mile event in 2 hr 25min 14sec – 13 seconds ahead of the 38-year-old Italian Valeria Straneo.

Farther down the field, there was a race within the race to become the first finisher between 28-year-old triplets from Estonia. It was won by Liina Luik, 29th in 2:41:18. Leila Luik was 43rd and Lily Luik 47th.

The seventh British gold came in the women's 400m hurdles. Favourite Eilidh Child held on for victory in 54.48sec, 0.08sec ahead of the fast-finishing Ukrainian Anna Titimets.

However, Child's fellow Scottish Commonwealth Games silver medallist Lynsey Sharp was unable to hang on after going our hard and fast in a bold defence of her 800m title.

She was caught and passed 80m from the line by Maryna Arzamasova, the Belarus athlete prevailing in 1 min 58.15sec. The consolation for Sharp was not just the silver but also a Scottish record: 1:58.80.

In the women's discus Croatia's Sandra Perkovic, the reigning world and Olympic champion, claimed gold with a 71.08m world lead and national record in the fifth round.

The men's hammer was a dramatic affair, Olympic champion Krisztian Parrs requiring a world leading throw of 82.69m in the final round to retain his title.

In the women's triple jump Ukraine's Olha Saladukha completed a hat-trick of titles, a second round effort of 14.73m edging out Russian Yekaterina Koneva by just 4cm.

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