Farah back for a hat-trick
At the 2010 European Athletics Championships in Barcelona, Mo Farah signalled his intentions to the world with double gold, winning the 5000m and 10,000m.
Now, even in a season where he has run on the track only once because of illness, he is back for more. Only this time he is here as a double Olympic and world champion at the distances which saw him triumph four years ago.
First up will be the 5000m and Farah is going for a hat-trick, having retained his crown in Helsinki in 2012 and in both events he will find himself facing men who are also seeking a golden double themselves.
It is not often that Farah does not top the European Athletics rankings but that is the case ahead of Zurich, with the fastest 5000m man being his British teammate Andy Vernon with his 13:11.50 from Stanford on 4 May.
Farah is fifth on the list with 13:23.42 from Portland on 15 – his only track appearance of the year – while it is Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri and Bashir Abdi, of Belgium, who will aim to play significant parts in both races.
Tahri is second behind Vernon with 13:12.22 while Abdi has run 13:20.61. Both are in the 10,000m, with the Belgian top of the rankings.
The dilemma they all face is how to deal with the presence of Farah, the British star who has run himself into a different league. There was no better example of his versatility on the track than the IAAF World Championships in Moscow last year where Farah dictated both races, moving throughout the field, taking the lead, dropping back before then making his move for gold.
Now it is the turn of Europe’s runners to ponder how they are going to deal with him.
Italy’s Daniele Meucci, second on the list with 27:36.53, knows all about success in this event at the European Athletics Championships, having won 10,000m bronze in Barcelona and silver in Helsinki. Can he complete the set?
Germany’s Arne Gabius, who has run 27:55.35 and Russia’s 29-year-old twins Yevgeniy Rybakov, with 28:02.79 and Anatoliy Rybakov, with 28:03.59 should be among the leading pack.
The marathon has not been run at the European Athletics Championships since Barcelona and what a story it would be if the defending champion retained his title. He is Switzerland’s Viktor Rothlin, who triumphed in 2010 in 2:15:31 and while he is just two months away from his 40th birthday, he will be given a huge reception from the home crowd.
And the Swiss supporters could still be cheering towards the end because Rothlin’s teammate Tadesse Abraham is likely to be among the favourites as he showed by winning the 2013 Zurich Marathon in 2:07:44.
As so often in championships, the marathon is wide open in Zurich and this time there is a team championship too.
Farah is Europe’s fastest man from London with 2:08.21 while on the same April day in Warsaw, Henryk Szost, of Poland, ran 2:08:55 for second on the rankings to make him the quickest man in the field where Spain have a strong squad led by Ayad Lamdassem, whose personal best is 2:09.28.
Felix could create history
No woman has won either the 5000m or 10,000m twice at a European Athletics Championships but that statistic might need revising by the end of Tuesday, the first night of competition, in Zurich.
The women’s 10,000m final will capture the imagination of the Letzigrund Stadium and the field includes the defending champion, Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix.
Her triumph in Helsinki 2012 came in a time of 31:44.75 and it would be fair to say that for the woman who finished second in 31:49.03, many might have thought that would be her last appearance at the European Athletics Championships.
How wrong they would have been because, now 40, Jo Pavey, of Great Britain, is back and ready for the podium again, still reeling in delight from her bronze medal over the 5000m at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow at the start of August.
The 10,000m has the makings of a great race.
European Athletics rankings are led by Great Britain’s Julia Bleasdale with 31:42:02 with Belgium’s Almensch Belete, second on those lists with 31:43.05, a big danger.
Pavey is also in the 5000m where the race could become a shoot-out between the fastest two women in Europe this year, Sifan Hassan, of the Netherlands, who has run 14:59.23, and Sweden’s Meraf Bahta, who has produced a 14:59.49.
On times alone these two women standout, with Pavey next best in the field over five seconds slower.
Belarusian Aliaksandra Duliba broke the national record when she finished sixth in the Boston Marathon in April in 2:21:29 and can she now turn that performance into a gold medal?
Equally interesting will be defending champion, Anna Incerti, of Italy, as she bids to regain the crown she won in Barcelona while for Ireland, their double SPAR European Cross Country champion Fionnuala Britton is making her debut at the distance and could be a significant entry with the team event in mind.
Britton is also in the 10,000m but as her coach Chris Jones told the independent.ie: “Championship marathons are very different, they are not about super-fast times, they suit strong, well-conditioned athletes who manage their race well.”
ALL THE LONG-DISTANCE STATS
5000m - Mo Farah (GBR), who won in 13:29.91
10,000m - Polat Kemboi-Arikan (TUR), 28:22.27
Marathon - Viktor Rothlin (SUI), 2:15:31
5000m - Olga Golovkina (RUS), 15:11.70
10,000m - Ana Dulce Felix (POR), 31:44.75
Marathon - Anna Incerti (ITA), 2:32:48
5000m - Andy Vernon (GBR), 13:11.50, Stanford, 4 May
10,000m - Bashir Abdi (BEL), 27:36.40, Stanford, 4 May
Marathon - Mo Farah (GBR), 2:08:21, London, 13 Apr
5000m - Sifan Hassan (NED), 14:59.23, Stanford, 4 May
10,000m - Julia Bleasdale (GBR), 31:42.02, Stanford, 4 May
Marathon - Aliaksandra Duliba (BLR), 2:21:29, Boston, 1 Apr
5000m - Mo Farah (GBR), 12:49.71, Brussels, 25 Aug. 2000
10,000m - Mo Farah (GBR), 26:46.57, Eugene, 2 Jun. 2011
Marathon - Antonio Pinto (POR), 2:06:36, London, 16 Apr. 2000
5000m - Liliya Shobukhova (Rus), 14:23.75, Kazan, 19 Jul. 2008
10,000m - Elvan Abeylegesse (Tur), 29:56.34, Beijing, 15 Sep. 2008
Marathon - Paula Radcliffe (GBR), 2:15:25, London, 13 Apr. 2003
EUROPEAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP RECORDS
5000m - Jack Buckner (GBR), 13:10.15, Stuttgart 1986
10,000m - Martti Vainio (FIN), 27:30.99, Prague 1978
Marathon - Martin Fiz (ESP), 2:10:31, Helsinki 1994
5000m - Alemitu Bekele (TUR), 14:52:20, Barcelona 2010
10,000m - Paula Radcliffe (GBR), 30:01.09, Munich 2002
Marathon - Maria Guida (ITA), 2:26:05, Munich 2002