Sifan Hassan and Anzhelika Sidorova were Team Europe’s only winners on the first day of the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 on Saturday but the continental selection are in second place with 123 points after 19 of the 37 events, just 12 behind their expected rivals Team Americas.
Hassan, the European 5000m champion and record-holder, dropped down in distance slightly to contest the 3000m and showed that she still has plenty of running in her legs by pushing the pace with two laps to go before crossing the line in a championship and Dutch national record of 8:27.50; additionally a world-leading mark.
“This is a reflection of the fact that I was in great shape for the Diamond League final in Zurich last week; that race didn’t quite go to plan and I finished second. I then travelled overnight to Brussels but didn’t sleep at all that night, so I was tired there despite getting third there and running under four minutes (for the 1500m there).
“However, once I got some sleep and a chance to recover a little, I knew I was still in good shape and this week I have been back to training and focusing on this race. I knew the race was fast and I was happy with that but I had no proper idea I was going quite so fast and I didn’t come here (to Ostrava) aiming for a record," said Hassan.
After going through the first kilometre in 2:54.29, the pace started to quicken on the fourth lap and 2000m was reached in 5:46.70. With two laps to go, as she passed the finish line, Hassan suddenly changed gear and left her rivals in a quality field unable to respond.
“I had no idea of my 2K split,” said Hassan. “But I’d made the decision that I was going to go with two laps to go. I’ve run 1:56 for 800 so I thought I could sustain the pace. This is the race I should have run in Zurich,” she joked, her win made all the sweeter by a first prize cheque of $30,000.
Sidorova pocketed the same amount of money after but, unlike Hassan, it took a while for her to realise she had won; taking the victory on count back after three vaulters, including herself, had cleared 4.85m on their second attempts before failing three times at 4.90m.
“To be honest, I thought I was second and for a short while I couldn’t understand why everybody was congratulating me,” said the slightly bemused Russian, who was competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete.
“It hasn’t been the best season for me, I didn’t get a medal at the Europeans (the 2014 European champion finished fourth in Berlin) but jumping high here in Ostrava proves to myself that we are still preparing the right way. I am satisfied with my winning height (which equalled her outdoor best) but I also know I was very close to clearing 4.90m today,” she said.
Also over 4.85m was Greece’s reigning Olympic, world and European champion Ekaterini Stefanidi but she had to settle for second on this occasion.
“First would have been better but I can’t be disappointed as I jumped well and jumped high,” said the constantly effervescent 2017 European Athlete of the Year.
Another second place went to another Greek European champion with long jumper Miltiadis Tentoglou reaching 8.00m exactly.
Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk was not quite at her best and the European hammer champion succumbed to her first defeat for three months, only able to throw 73.45m.
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic opened with 68.44m, a distance only she has reached in 2018, but under the head-to-head rules of the contest which saw her have one winner-take-all throw in the fifth round against Cuba’s Yaime Perez, her foul meant that she finished a very disgruntled second.
Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith finished second in the 100m in 11.16, the times depressed due to chilly and breezy conditions early in the afternoon, but only 0.02 away from Ivory Coast’s Marie Josee Ta Lou, with who she shares the 2017 world-lead with 10.85.
Asher-Smith then returned to the track two-and-a-half hours later to anchor Team Europe in the shape of an all-British quartet to second place in the 4x100m.
Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev looked for 150 metres like he was going to take the 200m, but he tied up over the final quarter of the race and had the frustration of Panama’s Alonso Edward coming past him on the outside, the Team Americas representative clocking 20.19 to the world and European champion’s 20.28.
“I had a tactic for the 200m here, I had to start fast, and everything would be OK, but I couldn’t manage to keep my speed until the end. It’s been a long season and, to be honest, I am a bit tired,” reflected Guliyev who, like Asher-Smith, had a second outing of the afternoon.
In the very last event of the day, Turkey’s Berlin 2018 4x100m silver medallists flew the flag for Europe but not even another storming anchor leg from Guliyev could overhaul a rampant Americas team who won in 38.05.