World champions Lasitskene and Stefanidi in pursuit of gold medals in Berlin

Mariya Lasitskene
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Two-time world high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene equalled her world lead of 2.04m in the London Diamond League

Mariya Lasitskene, the two-time world high jump champion, has been virtually unbeatable since she was able to return to competition as an Authorised Neutral Athlete last April. Having lost only once in that time – at the IAAF Rabat Diamond League meeting on 13 July – she will be rightly confident of earning a first European title.

The fact that Belgium’s world and Olympic heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam, who jumped a personal best of 2.01m in Gotzis this season, is concentrating on winning her first European title in the multi-events has made her task of adding to her own 2014 European silver an easier one.

But Lasitskene will not be able to relax given the challengers who have emerged in recent weeks, notably the athlete who has cleared 2.00m this season and who beat her in Rabat albeit with a relatively modest 1.94 clearance: Mirela Demireva of Bulgaria. Demireva naturally has aspirations of improving on her silver medals from the European Championships in 2016 and the Olympic Games later this month.

Normal service was resumed, however, for Lasitskene when she won at the IAAF Diamond League in London, equalling her 2018 world-lead of 2.04m. “Everything went really well and I feel in good shape I have the power to keep going forwards and going higher. The next step for me is preparation for the European Championships,” she said.

But victory was only assured when Elena Vallortigara decided to forego her final attempt at 2.04m. The Italian, who is breaking into the top ranks after a series of injuries since her junior days, cleared 2.00m on her third attempt to improve her lifetime best by four centimetres before going clear again at 2.02m on her third attempt.

 

With other contenders including Ukraine’s 20-year-old world silver medallist Yuliya Levchenko also in the field, along with Vallortigara’s compatriot Alessia Trost, Germany’s Marie-Laurence Jungfleisch and Britain’s 21-year-old Morgan Lake who cleared 1.97 in June, this promises to be a fascinating competition.

For Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi - the Olympic, world and European pole vault champion - Berlin is the first experience she will have of defending a major title. After a stuttering start to her season due to injury, she is now proceeding well having cleared 4.82m to win the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne last month.


But Authorised Neutral Athlete Anzhelika Sidorova announced her own European title ambitions in Monaco, equalling her personal best to win with 4.85m, the highest cleared this season by a European athlete. Now Sidorova, who won the European title ahead of Stefanidi in Zurich 2014 and the European indoor title in 2015, is aiming for higher. She said: "To win in Berlin, 4.90m would be needed and that is exactly the result I want to achieve."

The women’s long jump, too, promises to be a richly competitive event with Great Britain arriving with three performers in the top five places on the 2018 European lists. Lorraine Ugen’s 7.05m leads not just the continent, but also the world lists. Teammates Shara Proctor and reigning silver medallist Jazmin Sawyers are not far behind her with 6.91m and 6.86m respectively.

Immediately behind Ugen, however, on both the European and world lists, are Germany’s Malaika Mihambo and Serbia’s defending champion Ivana Spanovic, both of whom have reached 6.99m this year.

 

Spanovic – who added the world indoor to her European indoor and outdoor titles in March – looks favourite to add another gold to her collection. She won the Mediterranean Games title in June with that aforementioned 6.99m but she was also credited with a wind-aided 7.04m.

Ukraine’s former three-time European champion Olha Saladukha, 35, will be competing once again in the triple jump. Although she has only cleared 14.20m this season, her experience could give her chances in what looks a very open competition.

Greece’s 2016 European bronze medallist Paraskevi Papahristou leads the 2018 European lists with 14.60m from Spain’s Ana Peleteiro, who has reached 14.55m. Portugal’s reigning champion Patricia Mamona has a best of 14.19m this season, set on 17 July as she returns from injury.

Also watch out for Maria Vicente who was the outstanding athlete at the European U18 Championships in Gyor, Hungary last month when she won titles in the heptathlon and triple jump. The 17-year-old will be making her senior championships debut in the latter event after winning the title with a sixth round jump of 13.95m.

With that mark, Vicente supplanted Bulgaria's pre-competition favourite Aleksandra Nacheva. Nacheva was richly compensated the following week with victory at the World U20 Championships in Tampere with 14.18m. At 16, she will be the youngest competitor in Berlin.