Czechs poised for promotion in Heraklion

Czech Republic poised for promotion in Heraklion
European Athletics

Czech Republic had a strong first day at the 2015 European Athletics Team Championships First League in Heraklion but the hosts Greece will be chasing them in the promotion battle on Sunday. (Photo by Vasillis Koutroumanos)

Maximum points from the first two events set the tone of the afternoon in Heraklion as the Czech Republic finish the first day of competition with a commanding tally of 192 points ahead of Greece and Portugal with 174 points and 153 points respectively.

Helmed by two of their standout performers in the first two events, the Czechs immediately asserted themselves with victories from world bronze medallist Lukas Melich in the hammer with 74.84m before world 400m hurdles champion Zuzana Hejnova followed suit with a dominant win in 55.11.

Two-time European indoor champion Pavel Maslak added to their haul with victory in the 400m flat in 45.57 before the evening was capped by two more wins from two of the veterans of their team. Jaroslav Baba won the high jump with a 2.30m clearance ahead of Greece’s Konstadinos Baniotis who cleared 2.28m, while two-time Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova won the javelin with 62.56m.  

From a domestic and continental standpoint, the 400m hurdles was one of the most anticipated events of the weekend. The line-up included the gold and silver medallists from the European Championships in Zurich plus Ireland’s Thomas Barr, who recently lowered his national record to 48.65.

Running from lane six, Barr started quickly but with the advantage of having the European-leader in his vision, European silver medallist Rasmus Magi in lane four reeled in Barr over the last two flights of hurdles. Magi stopped the clock at 49.59 for twelve points for Estonia ahead of Barr in 49.66 with European champion Kariem Hussein from Switzerland third in 49.96.

After donning the Greek vest for the first time at the 1997 European Cup in Munich, Periklis Iakovakis made his farewell appearance this weekend. Taking part in this competition for a 16th time, Iakovakis looked set to close his illustrious career with victory in the first heat of the 400m hurdles but the 36-year-old was reeled in off the final flight of barriers and finished third in 51.33.

But as Iakovakis bows out, the Greeks have put themselves in a good position to gain promotion back to the Super League after a sterling combined effort on the first day. Another stalwart of the Greek team Louis Tsatoumas won maximum points in the long jump with a season’s best of 7.77m while Paraskevi Papahristou won the women’s triple jump with 13.99m.

In the pole vault, Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou produced one of the best performances of the first day to win the pole vault with a first-time clearance at 4.55m while Likourgos-Stefanos Tsakonas put together the first half of a sprint double with victory in the 100m in 10.32.

Meanwhile, Dafne Schippers’ quest for three wins got off to an unopposed start in the women’s 100m.

Competing for the first time since a knee injury forced her to withdraw from the Götzis heptathlon, Schippers didn’t show any ill-effects of that injury. The Dutchwoman isn’t particularly renowned for her starting prowess but the European 60m, 100m and 200m champion got out of the blocks well before driving away from her rivals.

With European 100m and 200m finalist Mujinga Kambundji from Switzerland a late scratch, Schippers produced a solo 11.12 run with Lina Grincikaite-Samuole more than four-tenths adrift in second for Lithuania in 11.56.

Schippers returned to the track at the end of the programme to run the second leg of the 4x100m relay. Joined by Nadine Visser, Naomi Sedney and Jamile Samuel, the Dutch team combined to win in a quick 42.88.

Other standout performances were achieved by European indoor champion Selina Buchel from Switzerland in the 800m in 2:00.68, Sara Moreira from Portugal in the 3000m in 9:01.67 while the Turks took two gun-to-tape victories on the track courtesy of Ilham Tanui Ozbilen in the 1500m in 3:38.03 and Ozlem Kaya in the steeplechase in 9:43.07.

STANDINGS (after 21 of the 40 events)

Czech Republic – 192

Greece - 174

Portugal - 153

Belgium - 144

Ireland - 143

Netherlands - 140

Switzerland - 137

Romania - 125

Lithuania - 115

Turkey - 113

Estonia - 99

Latvia - 95