Mariya Lasitskene, by her own admission, has had better competitions this winter but proved herself again to be the leading female exponent of her discipline in the world when she cleared 2.00m to win at the famous Banska Bystrica high jump meeting in Slovakia on Saturday.
The Russian, competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, won for the second successive year at the European Athletics Indoor Permit Meeting, which was celebrating its 25th edition.
Jumping last of the seven women still in the competition at 1.94m, she went over on her first attempt and then watched the rest all bring the bar down with their second efforts before Italy’s Alessia Trost alone, the winner in 2015 in the Slovak town, slithered over on her third attempt.
However, Lasitskene went cleanly over 1.97m on her first attempt to win the contest after Trost could go no higher and then cleared 2.00m on her third attempt.
Clearly not on top form technically despite her convincing win, a judgment made not only from her earlier efforts but also her own reaction to her jumps, she ended the afternoon bringing the bar down with three not-particularly-close attempts at what would have been a world-leading and meeting record height of 2.06m.
“Some days are like that,” she commented ruefully, almost shrugging her shoulders.
Lasitskene knew that there had been high expectation that she would give more of a fright to the long-standing meeting record of 2.05m, held by Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic since 2006, in the wake of her outstanding clearance at 2.04m a week ago on home soil in Moscow but nevertheless it was still a mark of her calibre as a high jumper that she could still go over 2.00m when not at her best and beat a classy field by two heights.
Lasitskene’s two remaining competitions of a busy winter, which has seen her win seven out of her eight competitions and go over two metres or more whenever she has triumphed, will be at the Russian national championships next weekend and then the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships, where she will start as the favourite to regain the title she won in 2015.
The only other woman over 1.94m was Trost, who has a long-standing rivalry with Lasitskene which stretches back almost a decade to when the pair first met as teenagers as the IAAF World U18 Championships in 2009.
On that occasion, Trost won and Lasitskene finished second but the Italian has not finished in front of her rival since she won the 2015 European U23 title and it proved to be the case again on Saturday.
Nevertheless, now coached by Marco Tamberi, she could be in contention in Glasgow to add to her major championships medal collection which includes a bronze from last year’s world indoor championships.
Naoto Tobe became the first Japanese winner in the history of the Banska Bystrica competition, going cleanly over 2.33m before three unsuccessful attempts at what would have been a national and world-leading mark of 2.36m.
Former European champion and 2016 Banska Bystrica winner Gianmarco Tamberi was flawless up to and including 2.27m. showing that he should be a medal contender in Glasgow, but couldn’t negotiate 2.30m and on this occasion had to settle for a share of second place with Mexico’s Edgar Rivera.
Dignitaries and invited guests in Banska Bystrica to celebrate the competition’s silver anniversary included European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen, Sweden’s 2004 Olympic gold medallist and four-time Banska Bystrica winner Stefan Holm, Great Britain’s former European indoor champion Dalton Grant and Czech Republic’s Sarka Kasperkova, won at the first edition of the meeting in 1993 before going on to get greater international recognition as a triple jumper.