Preview - Men’s sprints: French hero Lemaitre faces stiff opposition in Helsinki
|Barcelona hero Christope Lemaitre is in peak form and is
well capable of defending his titles in Helsinki.
But the French pair will face strong challenges from widespread opponents, with the most likely contenders including Rytis Sakalauskas of Lithuania, Jaysuma Saidy Ndure of Norway and one or two British sprinters whose names will be revealed once their Olympic trials have had their say.
There will also be a potentially formidable challenge from Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, who may well be fancying the prospect of emulating Lemaitre’s double of two years ago.
Lemaitre, 22, with a personal best of 9.92sec from last season, stands well clear at the head of this year’s European listings with the 10.04 he registered in following Usain Bolt - who set the world’s fastest time so far this year of 9.76 - and Asafa Powell home at the Samsung Diamond League in Rome on May 31.
The European Athlete of the Year for 2010 has already had the feeling of running extra-fast this season, given his wind-assisted clocking of 9.94sec in winning the national title in Angers at the weekend, ahead of Vicaut, last year’s European junior 100m champion, who recorded 10.05, and Emmanuel Biron – another French sprinter who will be in Helsinki – who finished in 10.10.
But last weekend also saw other contenders getting into final racing trim for the European Championships, as Ndure clocked 10.15sec as he finished fourth in Edmonton. That puts the Norwegian equal second in this year’s European list behind Lemaitre, along with Vicaut – whose 10.15 came in Villeneuve D’Ascq on June 9, and Sakalauskas, who ran the same time the previous day at the President meeting in Valmiera.
Martina, fourth in the Beijing Olympic 100m in a personal best of 9.93sec, is always a dangerous contender if he is fit – and he is fit, as he proved in finishing third in the Doha Diamond League 200m on May 11 in 20.26, a performance which earned him third place in the European Athlete of the Month award for May.
The point was underlined on June 9, when he won the Diamond League meeting in New York in 19.94, which established him at second place in the world rankings behind the 19.91 of Yohan Blake, and replaced his 20.26 as a European best for 2012.
Martina’s 100m best this season is 10.18, his winning time in Hengelo on May 27. He shares that time in the 2012 rankings with James Dasaolu, who recorded 10.18 at Montgeron on May 13. Dasaolu has often performed well early in the season before succumbing to injuries at the business end, but this year, after a change of set-up and coach, he is showing greater robustness.
That may of course mean he does not end up running individually in Helsinki. Britain’s head coach, Charles van Commenee, has said on the eve of this weekend’s Olympic trials that any track athlete clinching selection for the Olympics will not run individual events in Helsinki for fear of tiring themselves with too many rounds. (Although there may be exceptions, such as Mo Farah in the 5000m).
That said, there are five provisional British selections in the 100m, and with only three Olympic places available, that could mean at least two strong individual challenges to Lemaitre and Co. from Dasaolu, world indoor 60m bronze medallist Dwain Chambers, who is currently struggling to reach the Olympic A standard of 10.18, former world junior 100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, European and Commonwealth 100m silver medallist Mark Lewis-Francis and Richard Kilty, who has run a personal best of 10.23 this season.
|Lemaitre's biggest challenge will come from Churandy Martina.
Martina’s effort in New York establishes him as the favourite in the 200m, but it never does to discount Lemaitre, who has decided belatedly to double up, in European competition. Lemaitre, who ran a personal best of 19.80 in winning world bronze last year, was victorious at the recent national championships in 20.31.
That said, Martina’s task at 200m will be complicated by several contenders including Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee, who recorded 20.31, just 0.01 off his personal best, at last weekend’s national championships in Brussels, Ndure, who was run 20.34 this season and has a best of 19.89, Alex-Platini Menga of Germany, who has run 20.33 this year, and the French pair of Ben Bassaw and Vicaut, both of whom have a 2012 best of 20.58.
The British challenge is subject to the same circumstances as the 100m, but if their supreme stylist Christian Malcolm, the Commonwealth bronze medallist, fails to reach his fourth Olympics at the age of 33, he will present a serious threat to the medals. Malcolm’s best this season is 20.46, one hundredth of a second slower than his compatriot James Alaka. Fellow Briton James Ellington, who turned to e-bay this year in seeking a sponsor for his Olympic challenge, has run 20.55.
There are possibly three other men who will go to Helsinki with realistic 200m medal ambitions.
Alex Platini-Menga, of Germany, with a 2012 best of 20.33, is fast but doesn't always show his best on the right occasion and was well-beaten at the German Championships last weekend by his compatriot Julian Reus.
Patrick Van Luijk of the Netherlands has a best this season of 20.47 but has been struggling to overcome a groin problem in recent weeks.
However, Greece's 2011 European Athletics U23 Championships gold medallist Likourgos-Stefanos Tsakonas, who is still only 22 and has improved to 20.52 this summer, and could be the dark horse and showed his big time appetite in Ostrava last summer.
Wide-open field in the men’s 400m
The men's 400m looks very open in the absence of the three European runners who have gone under 45 seconds this season.
|The fast-improving Czech Pavel Maslak may spring
a surprise in Helsinki.
Williams improved to 45.08 in the sprinters' haven of Geneva last month but the 2011 European Athletics U23 Championships gold medallist Levine impressed greatly when he clocked 45.11 to win at the Samsung Diamond League meeting on Oslo a few weeks ago.
Britain has historically been the dominant nation over one lap of the track at the European Athletics Championships, its runners taking the gold medal on nine occasions including the only two-time champion Roger Black, the winner in 1986 and 1990.
By contrast, no Czech runner has ever won but the 21-year-old Pavel Maslak could change that statistic.
The 2011 European junior 200m bronze medallist has twice improved the national record over one lap of the track this season and it now stands at 45.17.
“I really want to win a medal in Helsinki,” says Maslak, who is usually is instantly recognisable due to his penchant for a Robert De Niro-Taxi Driver mohican haircut.
Yannick Fonsat, who departed in the semi-finals two years ago in Barcelona will lead the French challenge, having reduced his personal best three times this year and it now stands at 45.30. Perhaps more significantly, Fonsat clocked 45.39 to win the French title last weekend in far from ideal conditions.
Poland’s cause will be represented by Piotr Wiaderek, who has a 2012 best of 45.46.
He may be just out of the medals on this occasion but there will be attention also paid to Hungary's 2011 European junior champion Marcell Deak-Nagy, who is more likely to be challenging the big boys for a place on the podium in two years time at the next edition in Zurich.
The fastest man in the field is Sweden's Johan Wissman, the 2009 European Athletics Indoor Championships 400m gold medallist, who clocked 44.56 back in 2007 but he has not been in sub-45 form for several seasons.