Preview: Middle Distance

Preview: Middle Distance
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France's Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad will attempt to add the 1500m European title to his collection next week in Zurich.

Mekhissi-Benabbad goes for a historic double

At 29, Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is one of the best 3000m steeplechasers in the world, his two Olympic silvers and two IAAF World Championship bronzes are proof of that.

But now he is plotting a small piece of history as he plans to run both the 1500m and the steeplechase next week in Zurich.

No athlete has ever achieved this specific double at the European Athletics Championships, but can it be done?

This year the timetable allows it and the Frenchman is entered for both events in Switzerland.

The heats of the 3000m steeplechase are on the opening day, Tuesday 12 August, with the final taking place two days later.

Here’s where the difficulties begin. He will not get any rest following the steeplechase final because the 1500m heats are the following morning, before a break until the final on the Sunday afternoon.

Mekhissi-Benabbad has proved his European steeplechase supremacy having won the last two European Athletics Championships, in Barcelona in 2010 with a time of 8:07.87, a Championship record, and then two years later in Helsinki, in a much more pedestrian time of 8:33.29.

He is highly favoured for his own succession in Zurich and is leading the European list by nearly nine seconds with 8:07.45.

He only started to make a name for himself in the 1500m when claiming the crown at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gothenburg in a thrilling finish, taking the title by just 0.05 in 3:37.17 from Turkey’s Ilham Tanui Oziben who will be serious threat to Mekhissi-Benabbab’s quest in Zurich.

Defending champion over the distance, Norway’s Henrik Ingebrigtsen, is having another great season as he leads the rankings with 3:31.46 from Germany’s Homiyu Tesfaye with 3:31.98.

Mekhissi-Benabbad is only ninth on the list with 3:35.54

France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the European under-23 800m champion from Tampere, achieved a national record of 1:42.53 in Monaco last month, the fourth best European time ever, and will be highly favoured in Zurich.

Bosse will be chased by two Polish stars in Marcin Lewandowski, the 2010 European champion from Barcelona, and Adam Kszczot, two-times European indoor champion in 2011 and 2013. They could easily team up tactically to make things more challenging for the Frenchman.

Swedish stars have only gold in mind

Charlotta Fougberg proved she deserved to lead the 3000m steeplechase list with her victory for Sweden at the Braunschweig European Athletics Team Championships in June.

She has continued to improve the national record which now stands at 9:23.96 from the meeting in Glasgow last month. On that day she finished ahead of fellow Nordic runner, Sandra Eriksson, who is second in the rankings with 9:24.70 from that same race in Glasgow which also happens to be a Finnish national record.

Their biggest rival will certainly be Germany’s Gesa-Felicitas Krause, who after winning European junior and under-23 titles, is ready to make her mark on the senior stage. Her personal best is below that of Fougberg with 9:23.52 set at the 2012 Olympics.

Entering the season it looked like Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi would be the overwhelming favourite for 1500m gold in Zurich after what was an exceptional 2013 year where she remained unbeaten.

No one would have expected her to be currently placed second in the European rankings with only a few days until the start of the championships. It’s Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands who leads them with 3:57.00 when she won the Diamond League meeting in Paris on 5 July.

Six days later in Glasgow Hassan won again, but this time Aregawi was right on her heels as the pair battled tooth and nail over the final lap before the Dutch woman edged ahead in the last two strides to take victory by less than three tenths of a second.

Much of the same is to be expected in Switzerland, with the birth of this new and fascinating rivalry which could last for years to come.

Hassan is also entered in the 800m which will likely be a Russian affair, the top three leaders on the lists are Yekaterina Poistogova, Svetlana Karamasheva and Svetlana Rogozina.

Poistogova, an Olympic and European bronze medallist, leads the way this year in 1:58.55 and is tipped for the win in Switzerland but Hassan has shown her speed and all eyes will be on her as she aims to medal over both distances.

We must not forget the defending champion, Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp, who earned a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and will try to go one step up this time in Zurich.

Another outsider is Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir, the 2013 European Athletics Rising Star has not competed much this year and could create a surprise to earn her country what would be a remarkable medal.

ALL THE MIDDLE DISTANCE STATS

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS

Men
800m - Yuriy Borzakovskiy (RUS), who won in 1:48.61
1500m - Henrik Ingebrigtsen (NOR), 3:46.20
3000m steeplechase - Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (FRA), 8:33.29  
Women
800m - Lynsey Sharp (GBR) 2:00.52
1500m - Aslı Çakır Alptekin (TUR), 4:05.31
3000m steeplechase - Gülcan Mıngır (TUR), 9:32.96

EUROPEAN LEADER

Men
800m - Pierre-Ambroise Bosse (FRA), 1:42.53 Monaco,  18 Jul
1500m - Henrik Ingebrigtsen (NOR), 3:31.46 Monaco, 18 Jul
3000m steeplechase - Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (FRA), 8:07.45 Sotteville-lès-Rouen, 14 Jun
Women
800m - Yekaterina Poistgova (RUS), 1:58.55 Adler, 30 May
1500m - Sifan Hassan (NED), 3:57.00 Paris Saint-Denis, 5 Jul
3000m steeplechase - Charlotta Fougberg (SWE), 9:23.96 Glasgow, 12 Jul

EUROPEAN RECORD

Men
800m - Wilson Kipketer (DEN), 1:41.11 Köln, 24 Aug. 1997
1500m - Mohamed Farah  (GBR), 3:28.81 Monaco, 19 Jul. 2013
3000m steeplechase - Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (FRA), 8:00.09 Paris Saint-Denis, 6 Jul. 2013
Women
800m - Jarmila Kratochvilova (TCH), 1:53.28 Munich, 26 Jul. 1983
1500m - Tatyana Kazankina (URS), 3:52.47 Zurich, 13 Aug. 1980
3000m steeplechase - Gulnara Samitova-Galkina (RUS), 8:58.81 Beijing, 17 Aug. 2008

EUROPEAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Men
800m - Olaf Beyer  (GDR), 1:43.84 Prague 1978
1500m - Fermin Cacho (ESP), 3:35.27 Helsinki 1994
3000m steeplechase - Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (FRA), 8:07.87 Barcelona 2010
Women
800m - Olga Mineyeva (URS), 1:55.41 Athens 1982
1500m - Tatyana Tomashova (RUS), 3:56.91 Gothenburg 2006
3000m steeplechase – Yuliya Zarudneva (RUS), 9:17.57 Barcelona 2010.