Harting wins epic battle with Kanter and Kovago

Harting Robert
"The atmosphere in the stadium was awesome
tonight," said Harting after winning the European
discus title in Helsinki on Saturday.
Robert Harting, Germany's double world champion, secured the European gold which eluded him two years ago in Barcelona as, on an evening of wind and heavy rain, he produced the two biggest throws of the competition, the best of which, 68.30, was the eighth best registered in the world this year behind his own world-leading 70.66.

But Harting, who lost out in 2010 to Poland's Olympic silver medallist Piotr Malachowski absent here needed to be at his competitive best against a world class field which included Estonia's 33-year-old Olympic champion Gerd Kanter, who took silver with 66.63, and Hungary's 2004 Olympic silver medallist Zoltan Kovago, who contested second place to the last before setting for bronze with a best effort of 66.42. In terms of quality, this was one of the best competitions of the championships.

"I'm very happy," said Harting. "I wished for a rainy competition before London and I got it. However, I was surprised; I didn't expect the rain today, so I left all my rain-utilities in my hotel room. Nevertheless the Finnish organisers did a great job, so it was possible to have a smooth competition. The atmosphere in the stadium was awesome tonight."

Harting, who had only been the third best qualifier with behind Spain's Mario Pestano, who had registered 66.27, set down a first round marker with 63.02, but it soon became clear that the 27-year-old German was not going to have an easy night of it as Kanter and then Kovago responded to the challenge.

Kanter, whom Harting beat to the gold at last year's World Championships in Daegu, took over the lead with a throw of 65.11, getting a special cheer as the nearest the Finns had to a finalist. Then Kovago, with the last throw of the round, took over the gold medal position himself with 65.45.

Would there be a response? Oh yes. Next round, 65.80, Harting back in a lead he was not to relinquish again, despite the enduring efforts of his two principal rivals. It was with his fourth attempt, however, that the world champion effectively sealed the win. As the discus landed well over the 65m line, the crowd reacted instinctively and the German puffed out his cheeks in anticipation before laying his hand on top of his head for a moment as the digital display showed 68.30. It was surely the gold medal throw. But neither Kanter not Kovago was prepared to accept that.

Having fallen just a centimetre short of Kovago and the silver medal position with his fourth round of 64.44, Kanter buoyed again by the clapping of the home crowd - sent the disc whirling out to 66.53 with his fifth effort, pumping the air with his right fist in response. The Estonian was competing like the Olympic champion he is, and a final effort of 65.47 completed a highly consistent night's work as he secured another European silver to add to the one he won in Gothenburg six years ago. Kovago too fought to the end, producing his best effort with his last throw 66.42, just 11 centimetres short of Kanter. Fittingly Harting, who had sat out the fifth round, returned for the final throw of an outstanding competition, registering the second best throw of the event, 67.07.

Thus Harting extended his unbeaten run to 28 competitions, running all the way back to August 2010. Will anyone be able to stop him adding an Olympic gold to the two he has from the last two world championships?

While the medallists fought out what was effectively a private battle, fourth place went to the shot put silver medallist of the previous evening, Rutger Smith of the Netherlands, with a sixth round best of 64.02.

For Pestano, who had entered the final with such high hopes, there was disappointment as he could do no better than 63.87 for fifth place, 27cm ahead of his Spanish team-mate Frank Casanas.

There was disappointment too for Britain's 20-year-old Lawrence Okoye, who registered a national record of 68.24 in Halle less than two months ago. He missed the cut, finishing last with a best effort of 60.09.