Delia Sclabas caught the eye at the Grosseto 2017 European Athletics U20 Championships when she won the women’s 3000m.
It wasn’t just the fact that she took the gold medal, a significant feat in itself, but how she did it.
Running away from the other 17 women in the race almost from the gun, she produced a pace no one else dared to follow before crossing the line in a 9:10.13, a time only she has beaten this year among European U20 runners.
The best of the rest of the field, France’s Mathilde Senechal, came home almost 10 seconds in arrears and needed a personal best to get even that close. One statistic from Sclabas’ splits stands out, the last kilometre was her fastest of the race.
"It was a great race," reflected Sclabas. "The race went exactly as I had intended. The first two kilometres were fast so some runners had trouble and, in the end, I could turn up again."
It is also worth remembering that Sclabas is still only 16 and was the only women’s winner in Bydgoszcz who will still be eligible to defend her title in two years’ time when the next edition of the championships are held in the Swedish city of Borås.
The prodigious Swiss miss came to international attention when she won both the European U18 1500m and 3000m titles in Tbilisi but shrewd domestic fans have known about her talent for several years.
The Swiss media, in the wake of her triumph in Grosseto, were recounting again earlier this week of what has now become a famous meeting with the local middle-distance running icon Anita Weyermann in 2011.
Weyermann was at a track in Sclabas’ home city of Berne watching the youngster, then only 11. Impressed by her nascent talent, Weyermann had a photo taken with Sclabas and memorably asked her “Are you going to be the one that’s my successor?”
It was remarkably prescient of the former world and European championships medallist – who has since met Sclabas on several subsequent occasions, most notably at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne earlier this month – who still holds the Swiss national records in 1500m (3:58.20), 3000m (8:35.83) and 5000m (14:59.28).
Sclabas has started closing in on them with gusto this year.
She ran European-leading U20 marks over the two shorter distances with outings of 4:12.00, when winning the international U20 race in Lausanne, and 9:09.33 when representing her country at senior level and finishing second at the European Athletics Team Championships First League in Finland last month.
Into the bargain, she also ran a European-leading U20 800m time and national U20 record of 2:04.30 six weeks ago.
Not surprisingly, competitors in the 800m and 1500m will have breathed a sigh of relief that she did not try to do an ‘Ingebrigtsen’ in Grosseto and just focussed on one event.
Getting within striking distance of Weyermann’s national records may still be a year or two away, and the consensus is that her 1500m and 3000m marks are two very good times indeed,
However, Sclabas has yet to run a 5000m on the track and it would be no surprise if she makes an attempt on Weyermann’s mark at that distance next year.
She will be looking to emulate her compatriot at next year’s IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
Weyermann won the 3000m at this championship in 1996 and was the last European to do so over seven-and-a-half laps but there is no doubt that Sclabas has the talent to take on the African runners who have dominated this distance in the last two decades.
However, despite the fact that the two Swiss runners are frequently, and inevitably, mentioned in the same sentence Sclabas is keen to set herself apart and forge her own identity.
"It is, of course, an honour to be compared to her. On the other hand, I am different from her. I am Delia Sclabas and she is Anita Weyermann,” comments Sclabas firmly when the comparisons arise.
Sclabas noticeably has come a long way in a short space of time in her running career and her parents Barbara and Dario attribute some of her fighting spirit and endurance to her unfortunate start in life.
As the smallest of three triplets, her sisters are called Ilenia and Silia and the latter is also a
promising 400m runner, she spent the first days following her birth in an incubator battling for survival.
She pulled through and has shown great heart in almost everything she has attempted since, certainly in athletics.