Men's sprinting events set to sizzle in Berlin

Hortelano gains rich reward with Spanish honour
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Bruno Hortelano will be defending his 200m title at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships

If the fast men at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships need any extra inspiration, they need only look down at the blue track and then around at the incredible Olympic Stadium because there is sprinting history with every stride.

From the glory of Jesse Owens winning gold at the Olympic Games in 1936 to those remarkable few days in 2009 when Usain Bolt obliterated both the 100m and 200m world records with times that remain untouched.

If it is about times, the four European men to have broken the 10-second barrier this summer – Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, France’s Jimmy Vicaut, Italy’s Filippo Tortu and Turkey’s and Jak Ali Harvey – will take star billing.

Hughes and Vicaut are joint top of the 2018 European lists with 9.91, both achieving the mark in June, with the Frenchman having not competed for a few weeks since sustaining an abductor injury at the French Championships in Albi in a year in which he wants to finally win European gold have taken silver in Helsinki 2012 and bronze in Amsterdam 2016.

Harvey was the silver medallist in 2016 behind Churandy Martina from the Netherlands while Tortu has already had a fantastic season whatever the outcome as Berlin. The European U20 champion last summer, Tortu broke the national record with 9.99 in Madrid in June and as the 20-year-old heads to Berlin, it is 40 years since Italy last won the European 100m title when Pietro Mennea triumphed in Prague.

 

That was some championship for Mennea as he also won the 200m crown and while Tortu is not competing in the longer sprint, the man who succeeded Bolt as world champion last summer will be there at the forefront of the distance.

Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev has built superbly on his unexpected glory in London last summer. His 19.90 for victory at the Bislett Games in Oslo was followed up with 19.92 in Stockholm a few days later and then 19.99 in Monaco last month.

No other European athlete has broken 20-seconds but what a story it would be if defending champion Bruno Hortelano from Spain retained his title after battling back from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2016. He is very much in form having broken the national record with 20.04 in the semifinals at the Spanish Championships in Getafe last month, as did Alex Wilson with his 20.14 at the Swiss Championships in Zofingen.

Along with Guliyev, another athlete doubling up in Berlin is Martina. He won gold in the 100m in front of his own fans in Amsterdam and then celebrated glory in the 200m before Hortelano was given the title after the Dutchman was disqualified for a lane infringement.

He will also be part of the Dutch 4x100m relay team in an event where both Adam Gemili and Chijindu Ujah are both again in the British squad. Not only are the Brits the defending champions, they are also world champions after Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake anchored Great Britain to gold in London last August.

Since Godfrey Brown in Paris in 1938, Great Britain has won gold in the men’s 400m 10 times at the European Championships, with Martyn Rooney triumphant in Zurich in 2014 and Amsterdam in 2016. While he is far from the quickest man in the field on times this year, his championship pedigree is immense as he looks for the hat-trick. His teammate Matthew Hudson-Smith is Europe’s fastest with 44.63.

He was also the runner-up to Rooney in Zurich four years ago while reigning world and European indoor champion Pavel Maslak from Czech Republic won silver behind him in Amsterdam, although Norway’s Karsten Warholm could be the man to surprise them all.

Warholm, who is aiming for an unprecedented double, heads to Berlin sixth on the 2018 European lists with 45.14 in his only outdoor race on the flat this summer. He is not necessarily the favourite in the 400m flat but he is the outstanding favourite in the 400m hurdles.

A sensational world champion in London, Warholm is having another memorable outdoor season. He won the IAAF Diamond League in London last month, breaking his national and European U23 record with 47.65 on the track where he had won gold a year ago.

He is arguably one of the bankers of the championships, although Yasmani Copello from Turkey will not give up his title without a fight.  At 32, British team capitain Dai Greene is back eight years on from winning gold in Barcelona.

In the 4x400m relay, it is hard to look beyond defending champions Belgium whose squad includes the winning quartet from Amsterdam of Julien Watrin and the Borlee brothers – Jonathan, Dylan and Kevin. Their team is strengthened further by the inclusion of recently crowned world U20 400m champion Jonathan Sacoor who clocked 45.03 in Tampere, just missing East Germany’s Thomas Schonlebe’s European U20 record of 45.01.

 

Sergey Shubenkov has twice stood on the top of the European podium after winning the 110m hurdles titles in 2012 and 2014 but now he wants more after breaking his Russian record of 12.92 in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, in July.

As he has said throughout, he wants Colin Jackson’s European record of 12.91 which the Welshman achieved back in 1993. History is on his side because Jackson also set the mark - which stood as a world record for more than a decade - in Germany at the World Championships in Stuttgart.

But it will be a competitive event with Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega from Spain, 2015 European indoor champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde from France, world bronze medallist Balazs Baji from Hungary and reigning world and European indoor champion Andrew Pozzi from Great Britain all capable of denting Shubenkov’s hopes of a hat-trick.