Preview: Close sprints contests on the cards; field wide open in the 400m | 27.02.2013
|European outdoor champion Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria.
Ashia Philip is among those young athletes Britain's head coach Peter Eriksson is hoping will make a "step up" at these European Athletics Indoor Championships. The 21-year-old's 60 metres victory this month at Sheffield in a personal best of 7.15 ranks her seventh in this year's world listings, and she enters the Göteborg competition as the second fastest European this season behind Mariya Ryemyen of the Ukraine, who won in Moscow this month in 7.12.
For Philip, the 2007 World Youth champion over 100m, the successes she has established in the last couple of years represent a comeback after an injury while trampolining wrecked her knee, keeping her out of the running for almost four years.
But Philip's performance at the British trials has offered evidence that she is ready to become the athlete her 2007 showings promised. That said, her opposition in Göteborg will be formidable. Not only does she have Ryemyen to contend with – there will also be the hugely experienced and effective figure of Verena Sailer, Germany's 2010 European 100m champion and sprint relay gold medallist from last year's European Athletics Championships in Helsinki.
Sailer, who set her personal best of 11.05 in the run-up to the London 2012 Games last year, was a 60m bronze medallist at the European indoors in 2009 and knows exactly how to get the best out of herself on the big occasion. Her winning time of 7.18 in Dortmund on February 24 indicates she has got her preparation right once again.
Another sprinter with this capacity, par excellence, will also be in the Göteborg field – Bulgaria's European 100m champion Ivet Lalova, who was European indoor 200m champion seven years ago in Madrid before, like Philip, she suffered a catastrophic injury which took her out of the action for two years, breaking her leg in a freak accident while warming up for an event.
The 29-year-old, who has a personal best of 7.14sec and a season's best of 7.19, will not be the only Bulgarian in the field capable of winning – her colleague Tezdzhan Naimova has a personal best of 7.13, although she has not recorded a 60m time so far this year.
Norway's Ezinne Okparaebo, with a personal best of 7.17, and Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, the 2010 world junior heptathlon champion who has a season's best of 7.26 but a personal best of 7.19, will both be dangerous outsiders in the short sprint.
Women's 60m hurdles:
|Two-time European outdoor hurdles champion Nevin
Yanit of Turkey. (Getty Images)
Kondakova, sixth in her semi-final at last summer's Olympics, is hoping to make a breakthrough this year at the age of 31 and underlined her current form with victory at the Russian indoor championships in Moscow on February 13, where she clocked 7.98. Fellow Russian Svetlana Topilina, another of the national indoor medallists, will also present a threat given her personal best of 8.04 this season.
But the closest challengers to Kondakova are likely to be Alina Talay of Belarus, who is just one place below her in this year's world and European rankings, on 7.94, and Belgium's Eline Berings, who won in Ghent earlier this month in 7.95. It looks like being a very tight finish, with no margin for error.
In the women's 400m, Britain are holding similar hopes for Perri Shakes-Drayton as they are for Philip in the 60m. Shakes-Drayton looked ready to challenge for an Olympic medal in the 400m hurdles last summer when she earned an emphatic victory in the Samsung Diamond League meeting in London in a personal best of 53.77sec, making her the second fastest Briton of all time behind former world and Olympic champion Sally Gunnell. But a minor injury hampered her chances at the Olympics, where she narrowly failed to reach the final, and she is eager to earn tangible reward from the next major event on her radar.
Shakes-Drayton's chances look good, given her season's best of 51.37sec, a personal best, which has been bettered by only one of her fellow runners in Göteborg, Russia's Kseniya Ustalova, who has also recorded a personal best this season, 51.31.
|Olympic medallist Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech
Republic will be a very strong contender for the
400m gold. (Getty Images)
Not that the medal possibilities are restricted to this trio. The Czech Republic pair of Zuzana Hejnova and Denisa Rosolova are proven world class athletes. Hejnova, who set an indoor flat best of 52.13sec this season, won 400m hurdles bronze at the London 2012 Games.
Rosolova – with a season's best of 52.55 but a personal best of 51.73, has shown consistency and versatility throughout her career, winning the 2004 world junior title and 2007 European indoor bronze at long jump before switching to the track, where she won the last European indoor 400m title in 2011 and added a silver in last year's European 400m hurdles final.
France's Marie Gayot, who set a personal best of 51.98 this season, also appears a likely medal contender.
Women's 4X400m relay:
The women's 400m relay offers Britain perhaps their strongest gold medal possibility of the Championships, given that Shakes-Drayton and Child will be joined by the third individual selection for Göteborg, Meghan Beesley, who has a personal best of 52.80 this season, and the superlative championship performer Christine Ohuruogu, restricting her competition to the relay in Sweden, who emphasised her competitiveness in defending her Olympic title in London last year, settling narrowly for silver.
Ohuruogu's inspirational run set up Britain's 400m relay victory over the United States at last year's World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, where Shakes-Drayton held onto the three-metres lead the Olympic champion had given her to hold off the world indoor individual champion Sanya Richards-Ross on the final leg.
That kind of teamwork can overcome any opponents. But that does not mean the invariably outstanding Russian team cannot take gold themselves. The Czech Republic quartet including Hejnova and Rosolova will also have strong possibilities, as will a potentially outstanding French team which features Gayot, Myriam Soumare, the 2010 European 200m champion, and 33-year-old Muriel Hurtis, the European indoor and outdoor champion of 2002 who helped her team to European indoor 400m relay bronze two years ago. Myriam Soumare, the 2010 European 200m champion. This is going to be one hell of a final.