Jan Volko is not wasting any time in suggesting 2018 will be as exciting and successful as 2018 was.
Barely two weeks into the New Year and the Slovakian sprinter has already broken the national record over 300m with a run of 33.93 in Ostrava, his first ever outing over the distance, indoors or out.
Nevertheless, the reigning European U23 200m champion is not getting carried away with his impressive early-season form. “I am staying on the ground,” said Volko. “It is step by step.”
"With my coaches Nada [Bendova] and Robert [Krescanko] and physio Janka [Zavacka] we want to maintain the level from 2017 and, if possible, to improve a little bit in every aspect. I am aware it is not easy, but I want to try,” he added.
“Running so quickly at this stage of the season is always pleasing but we have a lot of work to do before the main part of the season,” added Bendova cautiously.
However, on his results of 2017, the 21-year-old can put his faith in his coaches as he heads towards the two main competitions of the year: the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham in less than two months’ time and then the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships in August.
A year ago, Volko was a developing sprinter with ambitions after a solid - but far from spectacular - U20 career which saw him compete in the 100m and 200m at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Eskilstuna 2015 when he failed to make the final in either event.
By last March, he was on the podium at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade where he won 60m silver in 6.58, breaking the national record of 6.62 he had set in qualifying and just 0.04 away from Great Britain’s gold medallist Richard Kilty.
“I am speechless. I hadn’t hoped for this even in my wildest dreams,” he said at the time. “I can’t really explain what actually happened. My goal in Belgrade was to get into the semi-finals, and now I’m travelling home with silver, it’s unbelievable. Maybe it’s because I had only such modest expectations.”
Modest expectations maybe but he has showed he is an athlete with immense talent, even if he assiduously keeps any forecasts of glory in check.
By the end of July he had a gold medal, winning the 200m at the European Athletics U23 Championships in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz in 20.33, a championship and national record, after earlier signalling his ascendancy by taking the 100m silver.
The following month, Volko was knocked out in the 100m heats at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, albeit setting a national record for the third time in less than three months when he clocked 10.15 in the preliminary round, but he made the 200m semifinals. It is over that latter distance where he sees his main hopes for Berlin.
“I have two main goals for 2018 and I am taking them one at a time. At the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, my first aim is to qualify from the heats to the semifinals, and then we will see. Even more important is Berlin in the summer. I am dreaming about the finals in at least one event. The bigger possibilities for that could be in the 200m," commented Volko.
His winning time and national record of 20.33 in Bydgoszcz saw him finish the year ranked equal-tenth on the European list for the event but the gap between him and the men in front of him - led by Turkey’s 2017 world champion Ramil Guliyev with a list-leading 20.02 - is far from insurmountable, especially considering he is the youngest sprinter in the top ten for last year.
Volko’s next outing will be a return to Ostrava for the Czech Indoor Gala, a European Athletics Indoor Permit Meeting, on 25 January. He will face an international field in the 60m which potentially will provide another indicator of how potent his potential is.
More information on the 2018 European Championships:
- The Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships will be part of the first multi-sport European Championships along with co-hosts Glasgow.
- It will be a must-watch, must-attend experience that elevates the status of European Champions, uniting existing European Championships to celebrate the highest honour in European sport and celebrating the defining moments that create Champions.
- It is the continent’s ultimate multi-sport event, an 11-day celebration of European sport staged every four years.
- Seven of Europe’s leading sports (athletics, aquatics, rowing, golf, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon) will be brought together for the first edition.
- The European Athletics Championships in Berlin will be staged 7-12 August. The six other sports will be staged in Glasgow through 2-12 August.
- 4500 athletes and 52 nations will compete across the seven sports.
- Potential TV audience of over one billion with millions more across multiple digital platforms.
- Over half a million spectators expected.