Slovakia take gold in Baku

Slovakia take gold in Baku
European Athletics

Slovakia were the winners in the European Athletics Team Championships Third League with Austria, Israel and Moldova joining them in promotion to the Second League in 2017.

It could not have been closer in the European Athletics Team Championships Third League in Baku and while Slovakia and Austria were always the favourites for automatic promotion, in the end they were divided by just half a point.

Back they go into the Second League for 2017 after the event broke new ground as it was staged as part of the first European Games.

And while hosts Azerbaijan just missed out on making the top four, they had one of the stars of the whole weekend across all the leagues as distance runner Hayle Ibrahimov won three events.

Azerbaijan's Hayle Ibrahimov was the man of the weekend winning three events for the hosts in Baku.
Azerbaijan's Hayle Ibrahimov was the man of the weekend winning three events for the hosts in Baku.

In the end Azerbaijan finished fifth with 387 points, just behind the quartet who won promotion, an increased number going up as the Second League now becomes a 12-team event.

Slovakia scored 485.5 points from Austria with 458, Israel with 439 and Moldova with 401 and the top three teams received medals counting towards the European Games.

The Athletic Association of Small States of Europe finished bottom of the 14 with 99 points.

Relegated 12 months ago in Riga, Slovakia and Austria were always the dominant force in an event staged in the Olympic Stadium on Baku where 22,000 people saw an opening day which finished with those two countries ahead.

Infact, the top four overnight - Austria led with 250 points from Slovakia’s 239, Israel’s 238 and Moldova’s 216 - stayed the same.

Slovakia had 13 individual winners over the weekend, and by taking the last two events, both 4x400m relays, they were crowned champions.

Ibrahimov, the 5000m silver medallist from last summer’s European Athletics Championships in Zurich, was outstanding as he won two events on the opening day before adding another 24 hours later.

On Sunday he produced a fine sprint finish to take the 1500m in 3:49.69 and then won the 5000m in 14:02.16, the fastest time from all the leagues, just as his time was in the 3000m which he won in 7:54.14.

It was a memorable occasion and as he said after his Sunday double: "I wanted to put on a show and have a good run, to make it nice for Azerbaijan. The support was great."

Azerbaijan were just a point behind Moldova after the first day but their opponents stretched away on the second.

Among the Slovakian winners, their women’s relay teams really made their mark as they broke the national record in both events.

On Sunday, the women’s 4x100m quartet of Lenka Krsakova, Iveta Putalova, Jana Veldakova and Alexandra Bezekova won in 44.92 and then on Monday, Bezekova and Putalova were joined by Silvia Salgovicova and Alexandra Stukova to run 3:35.03 for the 4x400m.

Veldakova also took the long jump with 6.68m and her twin sister Dana finished second in the triple jump with 13.95m as Israel’s Hanna Knyazyeva Minenko triumphed with 14.41m.

Minenko’s teammate Donald Sanford won 400m bronze in Zurich and he was the easy winner of the event here in 45.75 and in what has been a superb season for teammate Margaryta Dorozhon, who broke the national javelin record in Oslo with 64.56m, she won with 58.00m. Israel's Olga Lenskay won the sprint double, with 11.61 for 100m and 23.40 for the 200m.

Austria banked the maximum 14 points with Jennifer Wenth in the 3000m in 9:11.98, Verena Menapace in the 400m hurdles in 58.94 and Kira Grunberg in the pole vault with 4.35m on Sunday.

And while on Monday they had four winners - Dominik Siedlaczek in the 110m hurdles in 14.07, Beate Schrott in the 100m hurdles in 13.18, Gerhard Meyer in the discus with 59.48m and Anita Baierl in the 5000m in 16:33.09 - it was Slovakia who finished top. But only just.