Another day in Prague, another round of ear-splitting screams in the 02 Arena.
Just 24 hours after home-town hero Pavel Maslák’s pulsating 400m triumph, Jakub Holusa delivered another priceless gold for the Czech Republic at the European Athletics Indoor Championships today, this one all the more special for being so unexpected.
Holusa won the men’s 1500m this afternoon with a thrilling last lap sprint to overhaul Turkey’s long-time leader Ilham Tanui Özbilen in the final two strides of a scintillating race.
Deafening doesn’t really describe the sound as Holusa crossed the line, throwing his arms in the air, the clock stopping at 3:37.68. Not just gold but a national record too.
The distraught Özbilen couldn’t believe it. Nor could the crowd, as once again the packed stadium rose to its feet and opened its collective throat to roar one of their own to victory.
With the decibel level rising and rising as Holusa made his move – from the back of the pack soon after the start, to fourth at 800m, to third with 400m to go – so the Czech runner’s confidence grew.
Özbilen had led from the start, chased in turn by Russia’s Valentin Smirnov and Britain’s Chirs O’Hare. He kicked hard at the bell, at first extending his gap to almost 10 metres down the back straight.
But Holusa timed his move to perfection and, screamed on by the crowd, his pattering strides brought him gradually closer and closer around the top bend. Even as they entered the final straight it looked as though Özbilen would hold on.
But this was a wave of noise to drown a continent and Holusa rode it all the way to the line.
“I still cannot believe I found the energy,” he said. “The crowd was pushing me till the very end and it was not possible for me to lose.”
For the record, Özbilen was just six hundredths back in second, running 3:37.74, while O’Hare took bronze for Britain in 3:38.96, season’s bests for both.
Holusa won a world indoor silver at 800m back in 2012, but has never won a senior title before. He started the final ranked seventh out of the nine athletes on this year’s times. But in this race he ran with 10,000 people on his side and with that support there was no stopping him.
“This is the top moment of my whole career,” he said. “The silver in Istanbul was amazing but this gold is much more important to me.
“It is on home soil, it was unexpected and it was in front of my family, friends and supporters from my hometown, Opava. I think there are about 15 people supporting me here.”
The women’s 1500m final couldn’t have been any more different as Sifan Hassan ran alone from gun to tape to deliver the Netherland’s first gold of the championships in 4:09.05.
Seven months ago Hassan won the race of the championships when she outkicked Abeba Aregawi to take the European outdoor title in Zürich. Today she added the Swede’s indoor crown to her growing list of honours.
In the end her time was not that special, but the manner of the victory was certainly eye-catching as the 22-year-old streaked to the front of the field over the first 100m and rapidly opened a 30m lead.
Behind her, Poland’s Angelika Cichoka led the chase, but Hassan maintained her gap, hitting 800m in 2:11.85 and 1200m in 3:20.30. Cichoka closed over the final circuit, but it was too little too late, and Hassan crossed the line 15m clear.
Cichoka took silver in 4:10.53 with Federica del Buona bagging bronze for Italy in 4:11.61.
Another Dutch runner, Thijmen Kupers, kicked life into the men’s 800m final when he attacked at half way. But it was Marcin Lewandowski who claimed victory at the end in 1:46.62, adding another gold to the European outdoor title from 2010.
Ireland’s Mark English came through for silver in 1:47.20, while Kupers reaped the rewards of his brave burst, taking bronze in 1:47.25.
Selina Büchel won the women’s 800m in 2:01.95 after Britain’s pre-championships favourite Jenny Meadows withdrew overnight with illness.
The Swiss athlete triumphed by just four hundredths from the fast-finishing Russian, Yekaterina Poistogova, with defending champion Nataliya Lupu bagging bronze for Ukraine in 2:02.25.
Poistogova may have been pipped on the line but with four gold medals it still was still a very good afternoon for Russia.
First, Ilya Shkurenyov won the heptathlon with 6353 points, a world leading score and just 85 short of Roman Sebrle’s European indoor record.
Then, Daniyil Tsyplakov clinched the men’s high jump on countback from Silvano Chesani of Italy and Adónios Mástoras of Greece after all three cleared 2.31m.
Anzhelika Sidorova pinched the pole vault gold from Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece with a personal best of 4.80m. Angelica Bengtsson won bronze with a Swedish record of 4.70m.
And finally, Yekaterina Koneva took the triple jump with a world lead of 14.69m ahead of Gabriela Petrova of Bulgaria. Hanna Knyazyeva jumped 14.49m for bronze in that event, her second Israeli record of the weekend.
It was then time for the final relays. First, the women’s in which Marie Gayot held off Britain’s Kirsten McAslan to bring the baton home for France in 3:31.61. Poland took third at the end of a competitive final in which all six teams were split by less than a second.
And then the men’s, in which a Belgian quartet containing three Borlée brothers broke the European and championships record running 3:02.87, the first time any European team has dipped under 3:03 and a performance only USA have ever bettered.
It was Kevin Borlée who eventually brought the baton home, overtaking Poland’s Jakub Krzewina on the line. Poland had led from the start, but in the end they had to be satisfied with silver and a national record of 3:02.97.
Fittingly, it was Pavel Maslák who secured the last medal of Prague 2015, the hosts’ poster boy bagging bronze for the Czech Repubic in a national record of 3:04.09.