Their nerves could not really settle until the final hour but in the end Russia achieved their aim as they won the Super League of the European Athletics Team Championships on home soil in Cheboksary today.
But many a nail would have been bitten in a thrilling second day of such high-class track and field action at the Olimpiysky Stadium.
Russia won the trophy for the fourth time in the six staging of the competition with 368.5 points from Germany with 346.5 and France in third with 319.5. But the bottom three overnight remained the bottom three throughout, which meant relegation for the Nordic countries: Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Russia had 10 winners over the weekend, with five more yesterday.
Sergey Shubenkov brought early maximum points as he won the 110m hurdles before Anna Shchagina timed her finish to perfection to take the 1500m, Darya Klishina won the long jump with a championship record performance before the women triumphed in the 4x400m relay and then world and European indoor champion Mariya Kuchina won the high jump.
An Olympic and European champion on the track, now Russia’s new head coach Yuriy Borzakovskiy is a winner again as he led his strong squad to regain the trophy they last won in Gateshead in 2013.
Klishina summed it up as she said: "I was really nervous because we are in Russia and I wanted to get 12 points for my team."
A day of twists and turns
Beginning the afternoon on 181 points, five behind leaders Russia, Germany knew they had to make a positive start and they could not have asked for a better man to narrow that gap as Richard Ringer won the 3000m for the second year in a row.
In March, Alina Talay won 60m hurdles gold at the European Athletics Indoor Championships and she powered away in brilliant fashion from the fourth barrier to win in 12.80 from Russia’s Nina Morozova in 12.85. With 12 points, Belarus were now 25 clear of Sweden who were third from bottom.
But then, for the first and only time all afternoon, Germany went back to the top of the table after the finale of a brilliant men’s discus.
As Poland’s Robert Urbanek won with 63.03m, it was Germany’s Martin Wierig’s last effort that made a big difference as he secured second spot and 11 points with 60.23m in an event to forget for Russia’s Gleb Sidorchenko as he was sixth with 58.21m.
But Shubenkov’s 110m hurdles win in a season’s best of 13.22 as he beat France’s Pascal Martinet-Lagarde in 13.42 put Russia back on top.
Schwanitz is a record-breaker
It was not long before the lead was reduced to a point again thanks to Germany’s European shot put champion Christian Schwanitz who broke the first championship record of the day.
The second round was the moment as she reached 19.82m, a distance that Russia’s Irina Tarasova could not match. She achieved her best in the same round, and the 18.51m gave her second, to keep her country just ahead.
But even at this stage, with 14 more events to go, the bottom three looked doomed to the drop, with Sweden in 10th, 31 points adrift of Belarus, Finland in 11th with 98 and Norway propping up the table with 76.
The men’s 800m saw another championship record, a mark that had been held by Borzakovskiy with 1:45.41 from 2010.
It looked like it would be victory for France’s Pierre-Ambrose Bosse but in typical championship fashion, a fabulous fight to the finish saw Italy’s Giordano Benedetti come through to snatch a memorable win in 1:45.11.
Donato defies the years
The men’s triple jump was next to end and while the victory with 17.11m for Italy’s Fabrizio Donato at 38 showed that age means nothing in this sport.
The women’s 1500m brought glory for Russia as Shchagina won in 4:15.22, a vital time for maximum points, as she timed her finish really well.
"It was a hard battle," said Shchangina. "I knew that the last 100m would be the most important and I had enough power."
Typical of this competition, the match then drew closer as the women’s hammer reached a sensational conclusion between Anita Wlodarczyk, of Poland, and Germany’s Betty Heidler.
Wlodarczyk led with 74.38m but then Heidler produced a brilliant 75.73m before the Pole responded in some fashion, reaching 78.28m, a championship record and the best throw in the world this year.
But it meant 11 points for Germany, who were now on 279, just seven behind Russia with eight events left.
The men’s pole vault was significant on the current standings as Germany’s world champion Raphael Holzdeppe returned to this team event after missing last year with injury. He progressed to a season’s best of 5.85m in second with Lavillenie winning on countback.
Russia now had good reason to look over their shoulder as they led with 293.5 from Germany with 290 with France in third with 270.5.
Final hour of glory
As the championships entered their final stages, the last individual track event was the men’s 3000m steeplechase and suddenly the title was heading towards Russia.
The race itself was won by Poland’s Krystian Zalewski in 8:37.51 but in second for the host nation was Nikolay Chavkin in 8:39.39.
It was only getting better for Russia as Klishina won the long jump with her championship record of 6.95m, breaking the 6.90m mark set by Germany’s Malaika Mihambo last year.
Russia now led with 325.5 from Germany with 313 and France with 292.5 and that grew as the Russian 4x400m relay quartet of Alena Mamina, Kseniya Zadorina, Kseniya Ryzhova and Mariya Mikhailyuk won in a European leading time of 3:24.98.
When Kuchina was confirmed as the high jump winner with 1.99m, the match result was secured even before the final event, the men’s 4x400m relay, which was won by France in a championship record of 3:00.47.
But it was Russia’s day, and Russia’s weekend.
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) June 21, 2015