Serbian sporting morale dipped and soared within the space of a couple of minutes in the morning session at the Kombank Arena as the failure of medal hope Asmir Kolasinac to reach tomorrow’s shot put final was followed by a first-time long jump qualifying mark of 7.03m, the furthest achieved this season, by home poster girl Ivana Spanovic.
It was a massively assured statement of intent from the defending long jump champion, who had just watched her struggling compatriot strive so hard to break into the top eight qualifiers with his third and final attempt that he lost control of the shot and it flew wide of the cage surrounding the blue target sector before rumbling down the 60m track.
Immediately after Britain’s Lorraine Ugen had reached tomorrow’s final with an impressive season’s best of 6.80m, Spanovic – who took the European outdoor title last summer before winning Olympic bronze - stepped up to the mark and encouraged the home fans in the arena to offer their support before producing a superb effort which underlined her status as a championship performer par excellence.
Serbian athletics followers were thus assured of their prospective golden finale here.
“Today I didn't think about the distance at all,” Spanovic said. “I just wanted to jump the qualification mark on the first attempt. The surface here is really good and I like competing here. The home crowd is great and really supportive. I can't wait for the final.”
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By contrast, Kolasinac – who won this title in 2013 and took silver in Prague two years ago – endured a miserable morning, fouling two of his three attempts. The 32-year-old’s first round effort of 19.96m earned him no better than 11th position as Germany’s double world champion David Storl and Poland’s 19-year-old rising force Konrad Bukowiecki staked their claims to gold with throws of 21.16m and 21.06m respectively.
Asked on the eve of competition if he was feeling the pressure of seeking another medal on home territory, Kolasinac confessed that his recent performances had not been at the level he had hoped and that, yes, he had some doubts given the strength of the field this year.
“Physically and mentally I feel a little pressure because everyone expects for me to win the gold medal,” he said. “I think it will be hard to win a medal because the guys in the shot put are very strong. So we’ll see. But I think the crowd will help me.”
The crowd certainly tried, at one point spreading a vast Serbian flag across the top of the tiered stand immediately above the throwing circle, but Kolasinac was unable to respond as he would have wished, revealing afterwards that he had encountered a physical rather than a mental problem:
“Twelve days ago I felt some pain in my leg and I've been diagnosed with a tense nerve in my back,” he said. “I haven't trained at all since then, so I'm really disappointed.”
Earlier in the morning session the third of Serbia’s promoted medal contenders, European outdoor bronze medallist Mihail Dudas, felt the force of home support in the first two events of his heptathlon, finishing fourth overall in the 60m after winning his heat in 7.03 and then ending the long jump in sixth place overall after a best effort of 7.40m.