First-time world champions vying for honours in Vilnius

Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
European Athletics

Ramil Guliyev upset world and Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk to claim the 200m title at the World Championships in London

The three men who are vying for the honour of European Athlete of the Year at Saturday’s Golden Tracks award ceremony in Vilnius, Lithuania represent a new wave of champions. 

But that is the beauty of sport, and particularly a sport as individual as athletics. With immense hard work and the burgeoning of brilliant talent, the top of the podium can become yours.

It is fair to say that Turkish sprinter Ramil Guliyev, French decathlete Kevin Mayer and German javelin thrower Johannes Vetter have had the greatest seasons of their lives thus far. 

When the sprinters slipped into their blocks for the 200m final at the IAAF World Championships in London, the gold medal was going to a new home whatever the outcome as the title had been the property of Usain Bolt since Berlin 2009. Now it is owned by 27-year-old Guliyev - who was seventh in that final in 2009 - after a sensational run from lane five. 

The big question before the final was whether South African 400m world champion Wayde van Niekerk would complete the double. He was in lane three but two lanes away, Guliyev - the silver medallist from the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam in 2016 - had other ideas. 

The Turk hit the bend in the lead and he would not be beaten, winning in 20.09 from van Niekerk in 20.11 to became the first European winner of this title in sixteen years. “This is not a shock but it still does not feel real. I am so proud, I delivered my best race at the right time,” said Guliyev, who also set a championship record of 20.20 to win the European Team Championships First League in Vaasa, Finland in June. 

Mayer, 25, had the target of winning two gold medals in 2017 and he achieved them both, winning the heptathlon at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in March and then being crowned world decathlon champion in London. 

In Belgrade, he scored 6479  points to break Roman Sebrle’s 13-year-old European indoor heptathlon record of 6438 to move to second on the all-time world lists and five months later, Mayer won the decathlon title in London with another world-lead of 8768 points to win by more than 200 points. In the process, he achieved a landmark moment for his country as he became the first Frenchman to win a world decathlon medal. 

“I am so proud to be the one to take it for the French. It was an amazing two days,” said Mayer. 

After an illustrious junior career, he has proved a glorious successor to the now-retired world record-holder Ashton Eaton and will head into 2017 as the favourite at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin. 

 

But the noise level in Berlin, which is co-hosting the inaugural multi-sport European Championships with Glasgow, will be at its highest when it comes to the men’s javelin where Vetter has become one of country’s sporting superstars this summer. 

Fourth at the Olympic Games last year, Vetter responded to missing out on a medal by six centimetres in the most incredible manner. The turning point came in Lucerne on 11 July when Vetter sent the javelin soaring through the air to reach 94.44m, the closest anyone has come to breaking the world record of 98.48m which Jan Zelezny set 21 years ago. 

In a summer which produced a series of great duels with Olympic champion Thomas Rohler on the Diamond League circuit, Vetter suddenly blown the event apart. 

Vetter was now the favourite for the IAAF World Championships a month later and he could not have made a greater impact from the moment he picked up the javelin, reaching out to 91.20m with his first throw of qualifying - the longest throw ever recorded in championship qualifying - to sail into the final where it was a repeat story. 

Round one and the scoreboard flashed up 89.89m. The task for the rest had just got tougher and even by then, Vetter had done enough. “It was amazing for me. It was very emotional at the end of the competition because of the pressure in the last few weeks and days,” he said. 

And just for good measure, Vetter delivered another amazing throw with 93.88m in Thum six days after winning the world title. 

By the time of Berlin, Vetter will be eyeing gold again - just like Guliyev and Mayer.