Portugal storm to promotion into Super League with victory in Sandnes

Portuguese team
Organisers

The Portuguese team secured promotion into the European Athletics Team Championships Super League with a commanding victory in Sandnes. Photo courtesy of Ed Turk.

Six victories by Belarus on the third and final day of the European Athletics Team Championships First League here were not enough to dislodge overnight leaders Portugal from the sole Super League promotion place.

Norway, whose final day total of four wins did not include one from the third of the local heroes, Henrik Ingebrigtsen – second in the 3000m - finished third.

At the other end of things Ireland’s performance in the concluding men’s 4x400 relay lifted them out of the four relegation places by just one-and-a-half points, with Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Lithuania dropping down as European Athletics streamlines the competition to eight-team leagues.

Due to Russia’s suspension, the First League competition was staged with 11 teams only and Russia are the fifth team to be relegated.

Final day maximum points from Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the triple jump and Lorene Bazolo in the 200m brought the total of Portuguese wins in the championships to just four, following the earlier successes by Irina Rodrigues in the discus and Carlos Nascimento in the 100m.

But as Belarus and Norway collected most of the glory on a day when predicted rain never properly arrived, Portugal kept on ticking the box with second and third place finishes across the board, finally totalling 302 points, with Belarus on 281, Norway on 269 and the Netherlands fourth on 259 points.

While Portugal were home and dry – or at least, home and damp round the edges – before the concluding 4x400 relays, there was still a final drama to be played out.

While Ireland’s women won their ‘A’ Final in 3:35.77, three teams bettered that in the B final, led home by Norway in 3:33.69. At that point Ireland was in the highest of the four relegation places on 218 points, just half-a-point behind Romania, but with the result of the final event, the men’s 4x400m, still to come.

Ireland had won the ‘A’ final, with Harry Purcell holding off fast-finishing individual and IAAF world U20 champion Jonathan Sacoor to clock 3:08.83 ahead of the Belgian’s 3:08.96 but Hungary, on 217 points, had an opportunity to shake the relegation picture one last time with a good performance.

The Irish men dropped to third overall as Turkey and the Netherlands, but Hungary, who finished third in the final race, were not able to alter the final order.

The day’s action had begun a couple of kilometres away, with the women’s pole vault taking place at an indoor arena because of the rainy weather. Iryna Zhuk got the Belarusian victory march underway with 4.56m, as Norway’s Lene Retzius claiming second place with a national record of 4.51.

Belarus soon received another 11-point maximum in the opening track event of the day as Vitali Parakhonka, fastest in the field with a best of 13.40, won in 13.73.

The women’s 1500m, in classic championship fashion, began like a slow bicycle race. The group tippy-toed round all the way to the bell, where the race began.  

Britt Ummels went for broke on the back straight but she was caught 30 metres from the line by the in-form Daryia Barysevich, who provided a third maximum for Belarus from the day’s six completed events, clocking 4:50.60.

That start meant that after 27 of the 40 scheduled events, Belarus had moved up to second place, on 187 points, with Portugal still leading on 206 and Norway, the Netherlands and Turkey on 178.

The spirit of the home team had been epitomised by the performance of Tom Erling Kårbø in the men’s 3000m steeplechase.

The 30-year-old, who was eleventh at last year’s European Championships, went for home 500 metres from the end, establishing a 20 metres lead at the bell but then, to the consternation of home supporters, suffering a clattering fall over the barrier on the bend. By the time he got up, after a full somersault, his lead was less than 10 metres but he seemed energised by the shock, and perhaps the newly urgent support.

He regained his 20 metres lead, looking back once as he entered the home straight before winning in 8:52.00, with Portugal’s Andre Pereira contributing another 10 points to the leader’s total as he closed to finish in 8:53.60

Soon afterwards there was more celebration among home fans as Norway’s Ola Stunes Isene displaced Belgium’s former world and European silver medallist Philip Milanov from first place in the men’s discus with the last throw of the competition - 64.80m - which was seven centimetres further than the Belgian’s best.

A third home win was delivered down the road as Sondre Guttormsen won the men’s pole vault taking place indoors with 5.51m.

It had seemed on the cards that a third Norwegian win would have been delivered a little earlier – but Team Ingebrigtsen missed their win treble. After the previous day’s victories for local heroes Filip and Jakob in the 5000 and 1500m, elder brother Henrik was beaten to the line in the 3000m by Belgium’s SPAR European cross country silver medallist Isaac Kimeli.

The 28-year-old 2012 European 1500m champion, who set a national 3000m record of 7:36.85 at the Bislett Games in Oslo in June, was unable to break clear on the final lap and finished

“I still have to work on my speed as we get closer to the IAAF World Championships,” Ingebrigtsen said after finishing in 8:09.72 behind the winner’s 8:09.09. “The last 100 metres didn’t go as I had hoped.”

Portugal had earned a first win, as expected, in the men’s triple jump, thanks to their naturalised Cuban, the 2013 and 2015 world silver medallist Pichardo, who had a best of 16.98m on his debut for his adopted country.

The second Portuguese maximum of the day was delivered by Bazalo, who won a highly competitive women’s 200m in 23.78 from Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus (23.81) and Belgium’s Inke Vervaet (23.90).

At that point, with 10 events remaining, Portugal led with 229 points, ahead of Belarus on 218, Norway on 208 and Turkey on 198. Meanwhile the four relegation places were filled by Ireland on 171.50 – just two and a half points adrift of Romania and Hungary – Belgium on 168, the Slovak Republic on 148 and Lithuania on 139.

Belarus collected their fourth win of the day as Aliona Dubitskaya threw 18.78m in the shot put to finish ahead of Turkey’s Emel Dereli (18.11m) and Hungary’s Olympic bronze medallist and 2017 world silver medallist Anita Marton, on 17.66m.

Another Belarus maximum was reaped in the women’s high jump, where world U20 champion Karyna Taranda recorded 1.92m, and her teammate Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova was soon pointing at her team label with pride after a winning long jump of 6.76m.

The women’s 100m hurdles, one of the most competitive on the programme, went to Nadine Visser of the Netherlands in 12.98 into a 1.1 m/s headwind.  As one would expect, the European indoor champion got away best, knowing that her opponents in the next two lanes – European champion Elvira Herman of Belarus and home runner Isabelle Pedersen, who has run 12.72 – would be coming back at her.

On the eve of competition, former heptathlete Visser explained that she was now working hard on the second part of her race outdoors. On this evidence her labours have not been in vain, as she held her form finish well clear of Herman, second in 13.15, and Hungary’s Luca Kozak, timed at 13.20.

Christopher Garia of the Netherlands added to Visser’s earlier victory in winning the 200m final in 20.85 before Roxana Barca earned Romania’s first maximum of the day, clocking 15:59.66 in the women’s 5000m.

Portugal’s Mariana Machado kept the leaders in good shape as she finished second in 16:01.14 ahead of Ireland’s long-time leader Fionnuala McCormack, who clocked 16:02.78.