Nordic success in Vaasa and history for Switzerland

Scandinavian success in Vaasa and history for Switzerland
European Athletics

Sweden and Finland finish first and second respectively at the European Athletics Team Championships First League in Vaasa, Finland 

After finishing third overnight, Sweden produced a brace of victories on the final day of competition at the European Athletics Team Championships First League in Vaasa to clinch top-spot in the rankings and immediate promotion back to the Super League in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2019. 

By contrast, Finland only chalked up three victories over the course of the three days but the hosts’ consistency in a competition where every event is as important as the next was rewarded with a fine second-place finish while Switzerland ensured promotion into the Super League for the very first time in third. 

Victories might have been few and far between for the host nation but former world javelin champion Tero Pitkamaki produced arguably the top performance of the weekend across all four leagues. Pitkamaki was trailing Estonia’s Magnus Kirt with his first round throw of 83.31m but with his next attempt, the Finnish veteran launched the spear out to a championship record of 88.37m, a season’s best by four metres and his best throw since 2015. 

“Today was a great team effort for Finland and I was following the team standings the whole time. After throwing another 83 metre throw in the second round I really wanted to improve and in my third throw the run-up worked better than it has lately which resulted in the 88.27m,” said Pitkamaki, who moves to fourth on the world lists behind Germans Thomas Rohler (93.90m), Johannes Vetter (89.68m) and Andreas Hofmann (88.79m). 

The hosts also won the men’s triple jump courtesy of Simo Lipsanen with 16.75m - another individual victory which helped Finland to immediate promotion back to the Super League in two years’ time. 

But it was the Swedes who claimed the overall title, as well as the Nordic bragging rights at the Karl’s Stadium. Their final day began on a good note with a victory from Daniel Stahl in the discus with 66.41m before in-form Sofie Skoog added to the tally with a 1.90m clearance to win the high jump. Khaddi Sagnia followed suit in the long jump, setting a season’s best of 6.52m against a 2.2 m/s headwind. 

One of the biggest shocks of the weekend came in the 1500m with Romania’s Claudia Bobocea outsprinting Olympic finalist Meraf Bahta - 4:15.50 to 4:15.51 - but the Swede, who was initially supposed to race in the 3000m, still added handsomely to her country's tally. 

Switzerland led overnight after a strong first day but their promotion prospects began to waver as they fell to fourth behind Turkey midway through the final day. With only seven points separating the top four teams with six events left to count, one poor event could make all the difference in the standings but steeplechaser Fabienne Schlumpf bolstered her country’s promotion chances with her second victory of the weekend over 5000m in a lifetime best 15:47.29.

Noemi Zbaren also won a competitive 100m hurdles in 13.28 ahead of Estonian heptathlete Grit Sadeiko in 13.32, helping an inspired Swiss team into the top flight of continental athletics for the very first time. For posterity, the Swiss were competing in the European Athletics Team Championships Second League as recently as 2014.

Out of the four countries vying for promotion, Turkey just missed out by just 3.5 points. Ramil Guliyev produced one of the standout performances of the day, setting a championship record of 20.20 to win the 200m on a dry but cold afternoon but European silver medallist Aras Kaya only finished seventh in the steeplechase. 

Estonia, Bulgaria and Denmark were all relegated into the European Athletics Team Championships Second League. After a disqualification in the 100m and a dropped baton in the relay, Ivet Lalova-Collio did conclude her weekend with victory in the 200m in 23.33 while Denmark had two individual wins on the track on the final day: Andreas Martinsen won the 110m hurdles in 13.64 and Ole Hesselbjerg won the steeplechase in 8:37.02.