Trost and Kuchina to renew their rivalry at the European Athletics U23 Championships

Trost and Kuchina to renew their rivalry at the European Athletics U23 Championships
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It's going to be an exciting duel in the high jump between Russia's Mariya Kuchina and Italy's Alessia Trost at the European Athletics U23 Championships which start on Thursday 9 July.

At the time of entries closing, 23 individual champions from the 2013 European Junior Championships are set to compete for titles at under-23 level over the four days of competition in Tallinn, while five reigning champions will be looking to defend their titles.

One of the five returning winners is Italy’s Alessia Trost, who equalled the championship record in the high jump two years ago with a 1.98m clearance. Trost won by six centimetres in Tampere but the reigning champion will be thoroughly pushed by her long-time rival Mariya Kuchina from Russia in one of the standout clashes of the programme.

Their rivalry stretches back to the 2009 World Youth Championships where Trost claimed the title on home-soil in Bressanone with Kuchina second. Kuchina has made a better transition to the senior ranks and leads the head-to-head 13-5 but they had a close battle at the European Indoor Championships in Prague with the Russian prevailing in a jump-off.

Cyprus will be in the running for a rare medal courtesy of 1.93m performer Leontia Kallenou, while European junior heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium will be competing in the individual event en route to the World Championships where she will revert back to the multi-events. 

The women’s long jump is arguably the most competitive event of the programme with five women in the field boasting lifetime bests in excess of 6.70m. Reigning champion Lena Malkus from Germany leads the rankings by four centimetres with 6.94m ahead of team-mate Malaika Mihambo, who won the European junior title from Jazmin Sawyers in a see-saw competition two years ago.

Sawyers and 6.78m performer Maryna Bekh, the bronze medallist from that competition, will also be in the line-up in Tallinn. 

The Germans took a one-two in the women’s discus in Tampere but they arrive in Tallinn with a trio capable of sweeping the medals. An Olympic finalist at the age of 19, Anna Rüh is expected to retain her title ahead of European bronze medallist Shanice Craft, who has also entered the shot put. 

Rüh and Craft boast personal bests of 66.14m and 65.88m respectively and to underline their superiority at this level, team-mate Kristin Pudenz is the only other thrower in the field to surpass the 60m mark.

Meanwhile, the French will be in the hunt for a one-two in the women’s hammer. Alexandra Tavernier recently finished third at the European Athletics Team Championships in a national under-23 record of 74.05m while Alexia Sedykh, the daughter of former Olympic champions Natalya Lisovskaya and Yuriy Sedykh, has improved her best ever mark to 70.77m this year.

The Swedes are expected to dominate the women’s pole vault with former European junior champion Angelica Bengtsson and Michaela Meijer the leading contenders. 

On the track, Ali Kaya from Turkey won a long distance double at the European Junior Championships two years ago, and the 21-year-old is tipped to repeat this feat at under-23 level. Nobody in the line-up has come within half-a-minute of Kaya’s best ever time in the 5000m of 13:00.31, and the Turk is the fastest by over a minute over 10,000m with 27:24.09.

These races are usually slow and tactical but Kaya is a noted front-runner and the championship records of 13:30.48 and 28:31.12 should be in his grasp.

On the women’s side, Jip Vastenburg from the Netherlands will be aiming to follow suit with a long distance double. The 21-year-old won the European junior 5000m title in 2013 but the 10,000m is probably her stronger event on the basis of a recent 31:35.48 personal best.

A small handful of European senior medallists will be in action in Tallinn, including two in the 800m. Silver and bronze medallists Artur Kuciapski from Poland and Mark English from Ireland are the only runners with sub-1:46 times to their credit this year although Slovenia’s Zan Rudolf arrives confident after a recent 1:46.00 national record. 

In the women’s middle distances, reigning 1500m champion Amela Terzic will be chasing two gold medals. The 22-year-old is also a renowned cross country exponent but the Serb showed some newfound speed with victory over 800m in the Team Championships Second League where she lowered her personal best by nearly five seconds to 1:59.90.

In two of the standout clashes on the track, Terzic goes head-to-head with the in-form Renelle Lamote from France over two laps while the reigning champion faces Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui, who won the 3000m in Cheboksary with a sub-60 second last lap, over 1500m.

The French are set for successful championships with world and European junior champion Wilhem Belocian highly tipped in the 110m hurdles. Belocian only turned 20 a fortnight ago but a bronze medal in the 60m hurdles at the European Indoor Championships shows the Frenchman has adjusted to life in the senior ranks. Opposition will come from his long-time junior rival David Omoregie. 

And in the longest event of the programme, Czech Republic’s Anezka Drahotova, who finished seventh at the World Championships at the age of 18, starts as the outright favourite in the 20km walk. The multi-talented Drahotova has also entered the 5000m.