There was no bigger star at the European Athletics Championships in Zurich last summer than double gold medallist Dafne Schippers, and the Dutch multi-eventer cum sprinter is set to shine again in Prague this weekend when she aims to win her first indoor title in the women’s 60m.
Schippers has lowered her personal best twice this season to 7.09 seconds and leads the European rankings by three hundredths from Dina Asher-Smith, the Briton who took double sprint gold herself two years ago at the European Junior Championships in Rieti.
The 19-year-old is unbeaten so far in 2015 and clocked 7.12 in Karlsruhe at the end of January where Schippers was disqualified and Germany’s former European 100m champion Verena Sailer was among the vanquished.
Here's a tweet from Asher-Smith in Prague:
— Dina Asher-Smith (@dinaashersmith) March 5, 2015
Sailer bounced back to win the German championships in the same time and could be another threat to Schippers in the 02 Arena.
Britons will expect to feature prominently in the 400m and 800m too, through Seren Bundy-Davies and Jenny Meadows, who top their respective event rankings by healthy margins.
Bundy-Davies is Britain’s find of the season, a 20-year-old with no international experience who’s reduced her indoor best by 2.4 seconds from 54.12 in 2014. She recovered from a dramatic fall at the British championships to win the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix a week later in 51.72 leaving no less an athlete than USA’s world indoor champion Francena McCorory in her wake.
France will provide the main opposition through Marie Gayot and Floria Guei, while the hosts have high hopes for Denisa Rosolová.
By contrast with her young teammate, the 33-year-old Meadows could hardly be any more experienced. The European indoor champion in 2011, and a former world medallist both indoors and out, Meadows has returned in sparkling form this winter after years of injury problems.
She opened the season with two sub-2 minute performances to lead the world rankings with 1:59.21, less than eight-tenths outside her own national record and exactly eight-tenths quicker than any other European this year.
Middle distance speed doesn’t always equal success at a championships, of course, and Meadows will be wary of Poland’s Zürich bronze medallist Joanna Józwik, Switzerland’s Selina Büchel, who just missed a medal at the world indoors last year, and world youth and European junior champion Anita Hinriksdóttir, who became the continent’s latest junior record holder at the Icelandic championships a month ago.
She may also need to keep an eye on Hejnova, who took almost eight seconds from her PB in Linz, and will hope to ride a wave of home support.
If Schippers’ double was the talk of Zürich, Sifan Hassan could become the toast of Prague as she goes for golds in both the 1500m and 3000m.
She leads the 1500m rankings by almost six seconds thanks to her Dutch record of 4:00.46 at the XL-Galan in Stockholm last month. Having just missed the 1500m-5000m double in Zurich, she would be delighted to make it two from two this time.
Her closest rivals in the 1500m are likely to be the Polish trio of Angelika Cichoka, Renata Plis and Katarzyna Broniatowska, plus Italy’s under-23 champion Frederica del Buono.
Russia’s former European junior champion Yelena Korobkina leads the 3000m rankings, while Britain again has strength in depth thanks to Laura Muir, Kate Avery and the two-times European junior cross country champion, Emelia Gorecka.
The sprint hurdles is always one of the most unpredictable events at an indoor championships and it will be no different in Prague where the field includes five women who have broken eight seconds, led by Gothenburg silver medallist Alina Talay.
The Belarussian has raced prolifically this winter and the hard work seems to have paid off as she’s matched or beaten her best three times, slicing it down from 8.02 to 7.88.
Belgian champion Eline Berings is the best of the rest with 7.95 this year, while Nexiri Nooralotta of Finland, Germany’s Cindy Roleder and Hanna Plotitsyna of Ukraine should also be among the contenders.