There is an old saying "save the best for last" and at the 31st European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Palais Omnisport Paris-Bercy that was certainly the case as clever planning saw the men's triple jump scheduled as the final event in anticipation that local hero Teddy Tamgho could conjure up something special. Part I of II.
Tamgho didn’t let anyone down as he bounded to his second indoor world record of the winter, and the third of his career, when he went out to 17.92m in the second round of the contest and then equalled that mark two attempts later.
However, Tamgho’s feats were only the icing on the cake as the delirious 8,000 capacity crowd - the official figure of 7,391 spectators was topped up with more than 600 athletes, officials and media - were lucky enough to witness the best ever indoor men’s triple jump competition.
Romania’s Marian Oprea, a silver medallist as a teenager nine years before, opened with 17.62m which Tamgho, initially taking his turn three men later, responded to with 17.42m.
In the second round, Italy’s defending champion Fabrizio Donato showed he was not going to relinquish his crown easily when he achieved a national record of 17.70m but it only spurred Tamgho to produce the first of his record efforts.
Donato improved further to 17.73m in the fourth round but then Tamgho equalled his earlier mark before having two fouls in his bid to become the first man to break the 18-metre barrier indoors.
"Jumps of 17.90m are no longer out of the norm for me. When Donato took the lead with his second jump, I knew I could go further. If someone had jumped 17.93m, I would have pulled off a big jump, but the goal was the gold medal and nothing more,” said Tamgho, enjoying being the centre of attention.
However, he paid tribute to Donato and Oprea, well aware that nobody had jumped better for second and third place indoors.
"It was war out there. I now understood that championship finals are not so much about performances but a war of nerves, you have to try and crack your opponents. A final isn't made only when you come to jump,” added Tamgho, a wry reflection on how he had crumbled at the championships two years before, when he failed to get beyond the qualifying rounds in Torino.
Triple jumpers seem to have a special affection for the European Athletics Indoor Championships and prior to Tamgho there have been five previous world indoor records in the event set at the championships.
It was also the first world indoor record at the championships since Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva cleared 4.90m in Madrid six years before.
Russia topped the medal table once again with 15 medals, including six golds, although their haul was down from the 10 victories they got in Torino, which perhaps will give the likes of France, Great Britain and Germany a little bit more optimism when June comes around and they try to usurp last year’s SPAR European Team Championships winners at the 2011 edition in Stockholm.
However, it was the host nation’s athletes who stole the headlines and not just because they were on home territory, with enthusiastic patriotism the flavour of the day.
In addition to Tamgho, the other championship record achieved in Paris also went to a Frenchman with pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie going over a national record of 6.03m.
It was a supremely authoritative performance by Lavillenie, who successfully defended the title he won at the 2009 European Athletics Indoor Championships.
His 27-centimetre margin of victory over his silver medal-winning compatriot Jerome Clavier was the biggest ever in the history of the championships.
Three men were still in competition at 5.81m but Lavillenie cleared with his first vault while Clavier and Germany’s bronze medallist Malte Mohr both brought the bar down three times.
Lavillenie then needed three attempts before going over 5.91m but edged over 6.03m at the first time of asking. He then audaciously had the bar raised to a world record height of 6.16m, and although he wasn’t too near on this occasion he will undoubtedly get closer to Sergey Bubka’s marks in the future.
“It still hasn’t sunk that I’ve got the French national record but it’s also just the start. Hearing the crowd supporting me was fantastic, it was so important for me to win a title like this on French soil but I am also sure I will be able to jump higher outdoors in the summer,” reflected Lavillenie, about 24 hours after his triumph.
Helping create an electric atmosphere inside the historic arena during the three days of competition, which also staged the 1985 World Indoor Games and 1999 World Indoor Championships; Leslie Djhone was a class apart in the men’s 400m.
He ran 45.54 to not only take the gold medal over two laps of the track but also set a national record on the second of three days of thrilling competition in the French capital.
Djhone then returned to the track the following day, on Sunday, to execute a superb second leg in the 4x400m.
Jonathan Borlée, Europe’s fastest 400m man last year, gave Belgium the lead on the first leg but, to quote from Athletics International, “The (French) strategy of placing their star turn, Djhone, on the second leg rather than the anchor paid off as, despite him being baulked early on, he took his team from fourth to second.”
The baton was then left in the hands of Mamoudou Hanne, who got France in front, and anchor man Yoan Décimus held off all challengers before crossing the line in a national record of 3:06.17, the quartet having a few minutes in the spotlight on their own before the men’s triple jump finished.
It is not just the French feats that deserve being recognised, after all, medals from the 26 events were spread between 21 nations and 33 European Athletics Member Federations had an athlete make the top eight of their event.
Russia’s dominant high jumper Ivan Ukhov ended his indoor season unbeaten and equalled his own best performance in the world this year by going over 2.38m for the third time this winter.
In an outstanding contest, three men went over 2.34m but only Ukhov could clear anything higher, going over 2.36m and then 2.38m with his first attempt at both heights.
He then tried a world indoor record height of 2.44m for the third time this winter, just like he had done at competitions in Hustopeče and Banska Bystrica where he had also jumped 2.38m.
It was not just the male jumpers who excelled in Paris either.
Poland’s 2009 World Championships pole vault gold medallist Anna Rogowska bounced back from a frustrating 2011 by going over an absolute national record of 4.85m, which moved her up to equal third on the global all-time indoor rankings, before three unsuccessful attempts at a championship record of 4.91m.
“I am so happy, not just because of the height, but because of the medal. Injuries meant that I could not be at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona last summer so this proves to me and everyone else that I am back to my best,” said a delighted Rogowska.
Italy’s women jumpers also struck gold with Simona La Mantia upsetting the odds and taking the triple jump title with a world-leading mark of 14.60m after Germany’s Kajta Demut, who had been on top of the 2011 world ranking prior to Paris and not jumped less than 14.20m in her previous three competitions, suprisingly failing to make the final.
Like Tamgho, La Mantia reached her winning distance not once but twice, in her case in the second and fifth rounds. For good measure, her third round effort 14.49 would have also won her the gold medal.
Much less of a surprise was the victory of La Mantia’s compatriot Antonietta Di Martino, who came out on top in the women’s high jump.
Three women were still in the competition at 1.99 but Di Martino, with her first attempt, was the only one to go clear and, with the competition won, she also went over 2.01m.
The second part of this retrospective of the 2011 European Athletics Indoor Championships follows Sunday.