Two decades ago, the 26th edition of the European Athletics Indoor Championships got underway in the Belgian city of Gent.
Its unusually early date on the calendar, being held from 25-27 February and indeed it was the last European Athletics Indoor Championships to be staged in February, had caused some comment but there was a celebration feel in the air as the Flanders Sports Arena on the outskirts of the city had only recently been opened.
Talk about how quick the Mondo surface that had been installed in the Arena was also circulating widely among athletes after the Belgian championships and an international indoor meeting had been held there earlier in the month and both meetings had produced a spate of records and personal bests.
Star performer in many people’s eyes in the 3500-capacity Arena was Great Britain’s Jason Gardener who won the 60m in a championship record-equalling 6.49 to win his first international title and the first of four European indoor 60m gold medals.
In a thrilling race, Gardener just held off Georgios Theodoridis with the Greek sprinter equalling his personal best of 6.51. It’s worth noting nostalgically that these were faster times than any European has run in 2020.
However, considerable plaudits also went to Tomas Dvorak.
Coming off a year which had seen the Czech multi-events exponent improve the decathlon world record to 8994 points on home soil in Prague and then take the world title later that summer, the 1999 European Athlete of the Year dominated the indoor seven-event discipline of the heptathlon, winning in a European record of 6424 points and just missing out on the world record by 52 points. Aided by a personal best shot put of 16.82m, he finished 151 points ahead of his compatriot Roman Sebrle.
A plethora of athletes had arrived in Ghent determined to defend their European indoor titles but only one did so, Romania’s Gabriela Szabo.
Szabo, throwing in a 30.3 last lap, came home to win the 3000m in 8:42.06 to confirm the Mondo track’s qualities across all disciplines. Only Szabo herself had run faster indoors in 2000 and the three women behind her, with Poland’s Lidia Chojecka taking the silver medal in a Polish record 8:42.42, occupied places 2-3-4 on the 2000 world indoor list and set national records in Gent.
A world-leading mark was also delivered by Germany’s Charles Freidek, who bounded out to 17.28m in the third round of the triple jump to take the gold in his specialist discipline.
European-leading marks were also produced in all the women’s sprints, notably France’s prodigious 20-year-old Muriel Hurtis, who sped around one lap of the Arena to take the 200m gold in 23.06 having earlier run 23.03 in her semi-final.
The championships were a landmark event, the first European Athletics championship of the new millennium and heralding the arrival of the 21st century for the sport, helped by superlative performances on the Mondo surface.