Dafne Schippers has transformed herself this season from a highly promising heptathlete to a major contender for European gold at both 100m and 200m. But the 22-year-old Dutch athlete was not taking anything for granted as she looked ahead to her competition here, flanked by two of her main rivals, the defending 100m champion Ivet Lalova, and 100m gold medallist from Barcelona 2012 Verena Sailer.
When she was asked about her prospects of matching the sprint double won by her fellow countrywoman Fanny Blankers-Koen at the 1950 European Championships – a feasible prospect given that she is joint top of this year’s European 100m listings with 11.03, and leads the 200m rankings with 22.34 - Schippers replied: “It doesn’t matter. I will go with these girls for a medal. We will see which colour medal it is.”
Schippers, who plans to get back to being a multi-event athlete next season, says she is relishing her sprinting this year after being encouraged to specialise in it following her performances earlier this year during a training camp in Florida.
“My training in Florida was really good, the weather was warm. I ran times I hadn’t done before so my coach and I thought maybe I can spread the events this year to the 100m and 200m.”
But while other multi-eventers have enjoyed the relative freedom of concentrating on different events – world and Olympic champion Carolina Kluft, for instance, loved the opportunity to switch into long jumping – Schippers believes her current schedule is exacting enough.
“If you run the 100m, 200m and relay it is eight races. It’s a lot,” she said. “In the heptathlon when you finish you are tired in all of your body. But now I think it is only in the legs.”
Lalova, an ecstatic winner two years ago in Helsinki, believes that seeking to defend a title is a harder task than winning it.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s different,” she said. “It is more difficult. To win is great, but when you are defending your title you are expected to win again and you have a lot of pressure on you, so it is much more difficult, but it is also a good motivation.
“I skipped the indoor season this year, I usually compete much more, but everything was towards Zurich, because I want to do the 100m, the 200m and the relay here. So skipping the indoor season was big step towards making a better preparation. Running the 60m is often not quite good for 200m when want you want to run outdoors.”
Sailer, meanwhile, is hoping for another successful outing in the European arena having been part of the German victory in the European Athletics Team Championships in June.
“I didn’t party too much because my focus was on these Championships,” she said. “But we were really happy to win the team event. We made our target, and it was great.”
Sailer would not be drawn on whether the 100m would be won in under 11 seconds. But if conditions in the Letzigrund Stadium have anything to do with it, the time will be fast.
As Patrick Magyar, chief executive officer of the Zurich 2014 Organising Committee, explained, the track has been relaid, with another eight millimetres being added to the original 14, thus creating a thicker surface which, he believes, can improve performances by elite athletes.
“The upper part of the surface even more dense and compact. Overall the absorption of thls energy going back in vertical movement is roughly 10 per cent better than before.
“That doesn’t mean athletes will be running 10 per cent faster! The Biomechanical Institute of Cologne has done a study and they say the new surface allows athletes to keep their limbs more open – ankle, knee, hip have larger angles than they normally would have, which allows us to elevate the centre of gravity a bit more.
“Once athlete’s ligaments and muscules are able to to cope – the higher you are, the more pressure you put on them – then athletes should in theory be able to run faster. But you only benefit from it if you are in a very high state of fitness. Tests with club athletes show no difference.”
All three sprinters had had the opportunity to test the track in official training. “It feels kind of hard,” said Lalova. “I think it’s going to be a very fast track. The facility is amazing.”
Schippers agreed: “It feels like a very good track. We will see.”