16 Europeans to defend titles at the IAAF World Athletics Championships

Kevin Mayer
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World record-holder Kevin Mayer won one of three gold medals for France at the last edition of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London two years ago

European athletes won 18 gold medals at the last edition of the IAAF World Championships in London and 16 of them will be defending their titles in Doha between 27 September and 6 October.

A resurgent French team was the highest ranked European country on the medal table two years ago with three gold medals courtesy of Pierre-Ambroise Bosse in the 800m, Kevin Mayer in the decathlon and Yohann Diniz in the 50km race walk.

If Diniz successfully defends his title in Doha, he will become the oldest athlete in IAAF World Championships history to win a gold medal, surpassing Belarusian Ellina Zvereva who won the discus title in 2001 at the age of 40.

Diniz missed the European Championships in Berlin last summer due to injury but he demonstrated to his rivals that he is far from a spent force even at the age of 41, taking a trademark gun-to-tape win at the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus, Lithuania in May in a world-leading time of 3:37:43.

He is no stranger to disaster or misfortune on the major stage but the charismatic Frenchman memorably set the second fastest time in history of 3:33:12 two years ago to add the world title to a lengthy list of accolades which includes a trio of European titles, plus the world record of 3:32:33.

It has been a similar case of feast or famine for Mayer in recent international championships. 

After winning silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Mayer improved to gold in London but his campaign for the European title famously came to grief in Berlin when he recorded his third foul in the long jump. His title challenge in London almost vanished in an instant after requiring an unplanned third attempt at his opening height in the pole vault.

The unpredictability - combined with the high attrition rate in arguably the most gruelling event on the programme - is such that very little is guaranteed in the decathlon but on current form and with all being well, Mayer is certainly the one to beat. He smashed the world record in Talence last September with 9126 points and has still found room for improvement since then, setting sizeable lifetime bests in both the 110m hurdles (13.55) and in the shot put (17.08m).

Bosse has competed very sparingly this summer but the reigning champion should not be discounted even though he hasn’t broken the 1:45-barrier in 2019. Bosse knows how to handle the rounds, having reached seven successive major finals dating back to the 2013 World Championships.

Warholm favoured to cap an unbeaten season in the 400m hurdles

Karsten Warholm was still a relative newcomer when he won gold in London in just his second season in the event but the Norwegian’s stock has only risen since then to the extent he is being touted as a successor to Kevin Young as world record-holder.

Warholm went unchallenged through the early months of the season, winning each race by more than one second and with a sub-48 second clocking each time as well. His unbeaten streak came under jeopardy in the Zurich Diamond League but Warholm weathered the significant challenge of Rai Benjamin, keeping the American at bay off the final barrier to produce the second fastest time in history of 46.92 to Benjamin’s 46.98.

Another variable is Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba who beat Warholm six times in 2018. Samba has raced very sparingly this season due to injury and it remains to be seen if the home favourite is in the shape which saw him dominate the event last year.

For the first time in World Championships history, European athletes swept both 200m titles in 2017 courtesy of Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev and Dafne Schippers from the Netherlands. Guliyev had his best race of the season in the Brussels Diamond League, finishing second in 19.86 behind Noah Lyles. 

Schippers is aiming for her third successive title which would match Allyson Felix’s haul from 2005 to 2009 but the Dutchwoman is still feeling the lingering effects of a back injury during the indoor season. Based on current form, this title could be passed from Schippers to a fellow European in the form of treble European champion Dina Asher-Smith who is contesting both the 100m and 200m. 

Asher-Smith’s compatriots in the men’s 4x100m relay will be defending their title and they will be buoyed after setting a 37.60 world lead in the London Diamond League - just 0.13 slower than their winning time at the World Championships.

Seven European athletes to defend field event titles 

The field events is where the balance of power very much lies with Europe and history beckons for some of the reigning champions in Doha.

Russia’s Mariya Lasitskene, who has cleared 2.06m this season, is in contention to become the first athlete - male or female - to win three successive titles in the high jump at the IAAF World Championships - a feat not even achieved by world record-holders Javier Sotomayor and Stefka Kostadinova. 

Her closest challenger is expected to be reigning silver medallist Yuliya Levchenko from Ukraine who cleared 2.02m at The Match two weeks ago, beating Lasitskene in the process.

Poland’s Pawel Fajdek could become the first male hammer thrower to win four medals in the event at the World Championships and a fourth successive gold medal would make him just the third field eventer in history to achieve this feat after discus thrower Lars Riedel (1991-1997) and shot putter Valerie Adams (2007-2013).

Czech Republic’s Barbora Spotakova regained her world title in London a decade after first striking gold in the javelin in Osaka. Spotakova already has four medals from the World Championships to match Steffi Nerius’ record haul and a fifth medal would match the record of her former coach Jan Zelezny who won five medals at the World Championships between 1987 and 2001.

The European prospects are looking good in the men’s javelin and they are looking even better for reigning champion Johannes Vetter who was injured during the early months of the season. A season’s best of 90.03m at The Match demonstrated Vetter will very much be a factor in Doha along with his compatriots Thomas Rohler, Julian Weber and Andreas Hofmann. The world lead stands to Estonia's Magnus Kirt with 90.61m.

Lithuania’s Andrius Gudzius will be defending his title in the discus but the overwhelming favourite this time around is Daniel Stahl from Sweden who missed out on the world title by two centimetres in London.

Perkovic, Stefanidi and Thiam in search of more major honours

What do Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic, Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam and Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi share in common? None of them have been beaten in a major outdoor competition since 2015.

Even at the age of 29, Perkovic can already lay claim to being the greatest female discus thrower in history and a third world title to accompany her two Olympic and five European crown will only strengthen her case. She will face opposition from the formidable Cuban pair of Yaime Perez and Denia Caballero, the latter handing Perkovic a rare defeat at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

Ekaterini Stefanidi is also one of the most bemedalled pole vaulters in history. The Greek set her lifetime best of 4.91m to win gold in London and she also produced championship records of 4.81m and 4.85m to win back-to-back European titles in 2016 and 2018. Her first title defence went superbly and she will be looking to produce another big performance in Doha. 

Thiam hasn’t been beaten in a major combined events competition in over three years and the Belgian will be seeking her fourth successive major title since making her breakthrough with gold at the 2016 Olympics. Thiam holds the world lead with 6819 points and this is despite the fact her competition was nearly thwarted by a recurring elbow injury.

Thiam was on course for a score in excess of 7000 points having improved her world best in the high jump to 2.02m in Talence and setting a national record of 6.67m in the long jump - a mark which she has since improved to 6.86m. If Thiam matches these performances in Doha, she would yield almost 2400 points alone which would put her in a near unassailable position for a second world title.

Portugal’s Ines Henriques made history in London by becoming the first winner of the women’s 50km race walk, setting a world record of 4:05:56. The world record now stands at below four hours but Henriques will still be in the mix for the medals after proving she can withstand adverse conditions at the European Championships in Berlin on a brutally hot afternoon last summer.

Final entries here.