Preview: The Sprints

The Sprints
Getty Images

The men's 100m is set to be one of the most exciting events at the European Athletics Championships with double reigning champion, Chistophe Lemaitre, up against his French teammate and European leader, Jimmy Vicaut.

Lemaitre can sense history

It is 80 years since the first European Athletics Championships in Turin and in all that time only one athlete has broken 10 seconds in the men’s 100m. That came in 2006 when Francis Obikwelu, of Portugal, won gold in Gothenburg in 9.99.

But now it is a championship record which is hanging by a thread ahead of the explosion of speed which awaits this event at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. Rarely have so many of Europe’s all-time top sprinters come together for what could be the race of the season.

Four of the six fastest men in European Athletics history will be in Switzerland chasing this gold medal, with Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut the quickest among them this season after his 9.95 from Aix-les-Bains in May.

Injury has played a part in his preparation, and should he slip up, it could be the moment his teammate Christopher Lemaitre has been waiting for.

History is there for the taking for Lemaitre. Not only does he hold the French record of 9.92, and not only is he chasing a hat-trick of 100m golds after his glory in Barcelona in 2010 and then Helsinki two years ago, but he could become the first man to achieve the European 100m and 200m double on two occasions.

Churandy Martina, of the Netherlands, and Great Britain’s James Dasaolu, both with 9.91, are above the French duo in those all-time European rankings. They will be have a say of their own while Julian Reus, who broke the German national record with 10.05 in July, cannot be ruled out.

Lemaitre has been concentrating more on the 200m - he won the European crown in 2010 - and leads the rankings with 20.08 from Britain’s Adam Gemili, who has run 20.20 and is fresh from his 100m silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

In the absence of Pavel Maslak, the defending 400m champion who is injured, the event is wide-open. It could be the place where a new European star is born - and that man might be Matthew Hudson-Smith, of Britain.

Infact, make that teenager. He is not 20 until October but in Glasgow showed maturity to hold off Bahamas’ Olympic relay champion Chris Brown to bring the baton home for Team England in the 4x400m.

With a best time this summer of 44.97, he is the fastest man in Zurich from the rankings with his British teammate Martyn Rooney, 45.03 this year, and Poland’s Jajub Krzewina, with 45.11, not far behind. The Borlee brothers from Belgium - Kevin and Jonathan - should also play a big part in the final outcome.

Schippers ready to go back in time

Dateline: Brussels 1950. That was the only occasion a Dutch woman has won either the 100m or 200m at the European Athletics Championships and no prizes for guessing who it was. But now in Zurich, Dafne Schippers is ready to match the double exploits of the brilliant Fanny Blankers-Koen.

Yet when this summer began, it was probable that Europe’s quickest sprinters, such as Bulgaria’s defending 100m champion Ivet Lalova and Myriam Soumare, of France, did not pay too much attention to how a multi-eventer from the Netherlands was running.

Everything changed though, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Glasgow in July when Schippers, the heptathlon bronze medallist from last summer’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow, produced the sprint performances of her life with two national records – all in the space of two hours.

First she won the ‘B’ 100m in 11.03 and then triumphed in the 200m in 22.34, in the latter beating American star Allyson Felix.

Within a few days she decided to go for the sprint double in Zurich and what a fascinating story she has brought to both events.

It will be tough. Soumare now shares top billing with Schippers in the European Athletics rankings while Lalova is a sprinter with blistering power - take one look at the contortions on her face when she runs to see what emotions she is going through. She will not give up her 100m crown that easily. Equally, Germany’s Verena Sailer, the 2010 champion, will be determined to make an impression.

The 200m will bring Schippers into contention with two women who have just won medals at the Commonwealth Games - Britain’s Williams duo, Jodie and Bianca. They are now second and third respectively on the European Athletics rankings behind Schippers with their Glasgow personal best times of 22.50 and 22.58.

Italy’s Libania Grenot leads the lists in the 400m with 50.55, but will she be leading in the home straight at the Letzigrund? Possibly, but that may not mean gold if the powering presence of Christine Ohuruogu is in her slip stream.

Britain’s Ohuruogu, Olympic and double world champion, has never won the European title over this distance and while she has not raced much this summer, her trademark is delivering at the championships - with a style which sees her surge from behind in the final stages. The Russian trio of Yekaterina Renzhina, Tatyana Veshkurova and Kseniya Zadorina will be a threat.

ALL THE SPRINT STATS


DEFENDING CHAMPIONS
Men
100m - Christophe Lemaitre (Fra), who won in 10.09
200m - Churandy Martina (Ned), 20.42
400m - Pavel Maslak (Cze), 45.24
Women
100m - Ivet Lalova (Bul), 11.28
200m - Mariya Ryemyen (Ukr), 23.05
400m - Moa Hjelmer (Swe), 51.13

EUROPEAN LEADER
Men
100m - Jimmy Vicaut (Fra), 9.95 Aix-les-Bains, May 18
200m - Christophe Lemaitre (Fra), 20.08 Monaco, Jul 18
400m - Pavel Maslak (Cze), 44.79 Doha, May 9
Women
100m - Dafne Schippers (Ned), 11.03 Glasgow, Jul 12
          - Myriam Soumare (Fra), 11.03 Monaco, Jul 18
200m - Dafne Schippers (Ned), 22.34 Glasgow, Jul 12
400m - Libania Grenot (Ita), 50.55 Roverto, Jul 19

EUROPEAN RECORD
Men
100m - Francis Obikwelu (Por), 9.86 Athens, Aug 22, 2004
200m - Pietro Mennea (Ita), 19.72 Mexico, Sep 12, 1979
400m - Thomas Schonlebe (GDR), 44.33 Rome, Sep 3, 1987
Women
100m - Christine Arron (Fra), 10.73 Budapest, Aug 19, 1998
200m - Marita Koch (GDR), 21.71 Karl Marx-Stadt, Jun 10, 1979 and Potsdam, Jul 21, 1984.
          - Heike Drechsler (GDR), 21.71 Jena, Jun 29, 1986 and Stuttgart, Aug 29, 1986
400m - Marita Koch (GDR), 47.60 Canberra, Oct 6, 1985

EUROPEAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP RECORDS
Men
100m - Francis Obikwelu (Por), 9.99 Göteborg, 2006
200m - Konstantinos Kenteris (Gre), 19.85 Munich 2002
400m - Iwan Thomas (GBR), 44.52 Budapest 1998
Women
100m - Christine Arron (Fra), 10.73 Budapest 1998
200m - Heike Dreschler (GDR), 21.71 Stuttgart 1986
400m - Marita Koch (GDR), 48.16 Athens 1982.