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The night the party started

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Tom Fordyce | 22:46 UK time, Friday, 30 July 2010

The nicknames were knocked about all day - Fiesta Friday, Vamos Viernes, Fastuoso Friday, Viva El Viernes.

Ten finals, six British medals, personal bests with fat chunks taken out of them and a golden finish for one of the unsung talents of the GB team.

It was one of those frantic, action-packed nights that make a big athletics meet special - track final chasing track final, shocks and surprises coming thick and fast, almost every finish a ding-dong delight.

At one point it looked like being the stuff of UK Athletics chief Charles van Commenee's wildest fantasies. If the failure of the three British men in the 1500m denied him his big climax, it was still a breathless night of cut and thrust.

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Turner wins surprise gold in hurdles (UK only)

The caveat that keeps cropping up at these championships is the times and distances. They're too slow or low, or they mean nothing on a global scale, or they're not what they used to be.

To some in the sport it's the stats that matter. To others, it's something more corporeal: nail-biting contests where the outcome is in doubt to the very last moment.

Records are the shock and awe, but close contests are what makes sport gripping. And Fiesta Friday had that throughout.

When Andy Turner surged past a stumbling Petr Svoboda to snatch sprint hurdles gold, it briefly became Four-Letter Friday. "If you can lip-read I apologise," he said afterwards, but no-one familiar with his back-story would begrudge him a little loose lip.

Taken off funding two years ago, battling Achilles problems all season, he is a case-study in hard work and persistence.

"It's been a difficult couple of years, but I love the sport," he beamed. "I had a dream of winning the gold, but it was hard to believe. For all the million downs you have, one up like today makes it all worthwhile."

By that stage, there seemed to be a Union flag on permanent lap of honour. The races and stories were clambering all over each other.

That Christian Malcolm had started things off by taking silver in the 200m was in its way as surprising as Mark Lewis-Francis's medal of the same colour in the shorter sprint, and maybe even more heart-warming.

MLF wasn't the only British sprint wunderkind of the late 1990s. Two years before the younger man took world junior gold, Malcolm went one better and did the 100m/200m double at the same level in such silky smooth style that a golden future seemed assured.

Injuries, loss of form, the abilities of some (Bolt and Gay) and the dubious actions of others (Kostas Kenteris) meant that until Friday his best return as a senior in an individual race was a Commonwealth silver as 19-year-old.

Earlier this year, struggling with injury again and shorn of funding, a European medal of any colour seemed outlandish. That in the end it wasn't quite a gold was hard for him to take.

"I didn't see Christophe Lemaitre; I didn't even hear him come," he said, a head full of what ifs and never weres. "I missed the dip because I really thought I'd got it."

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Malcolm is pipped at the line in the 200m (UK only)

The medals kept coming. Michael Bingham and Martin Rooney made light of tough lane draws to take 400m silver and bronze, only a late Lemaitresque surge from Belgium's Kevin Borlee denying Britain its 10th gold medal in the single lap event.

It was in this stadium 18 years ago that Sally Gunnell stormed to the 400m hurdles Olympic title. The young woman who may yet mature to match her, Perri Shakes-Drayton, ran the race of a veteran to take the first senior medal of her own burgeoning career.

If the surprise bronze was impressive, the even-paced running and tactics spot on, the personal best by almost half a second more than matched them.

PBs in big finals are a happy habit British athletes seem to be acquiring. For Jenny Meadows, it's the same with medals. Her bronze in the 800m, after a summer almost wrecked by injury, completed a splendid hat-trick: bronze at the Worlds a year ago, silver at World Indoors in March and bronze again in Barcelona.

"Three championships, three medals. I'm absolutely delighted," she admitted. "This ranks up with the best - I've had to fight so hard to even be on the start line."

As impressive as the rest, even if she was not rewarded with a medal, was Hattie Dean in the steeplechase. Roared on by Paula Radcliffe in the BBC commentary box, she sliced more than eight seconds off her personal best, and was only denied a remarkable bronze by Lyubov Kharlamova's strength off the final barrier.

Those were the headlines. Season's bests for pole-vaulter Kate Dennison and long jumper Chris Tomlinson were almost lost in the melee.

All the while too, the biggest British hope of all was quietly fighting for the heptathlon high ground. Jess Ennis had expected a battle, but no-one had known that Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska would be in such frightening shape.

Ennis is forged of Sheffield steel. In trouble going into her final attempt in the shot put, she produced a life-saver of 14m-plus to salvage the event and then pulled out a season's best in the final discipline of the day, the 200m.

Going into the second day, the scene is set: a lead of 110 points, 44 down on her tally at the same stage in Berlin and with Dobrynska just 26 points down on her lifetime best.

"They're pushing me every way," she admitted. "It's going to be a fight until the end."

What had been missing from these championships was any sign of Spanish success. Nothing gets a party started like early medals for the host nation, but going into Friday Spain had precisely none.

When Marta Dominguez came close to overhauling Russia's Yuliya Zarudneva for steeplechase gold, just as she had at last year's Worlds, the Estadio Olympico came truly alive for the first time all week.

When Arturo Casado went one better and sprinted clear to snatch 1500m gold a few hours later, the fiesta was finally in full swing. With his compatriot Manuel Olmedo in bronze and Reyes Estevez fourth, it brought memories of Fermin Cacho's famous win in the same race in this stadium at the '92 Olympics flooding back.

Each championship needs at least one big set-piece night. Sydney had Magic Monday: Cathy Freeman taking 400m in front of 112,000 of her compatriots, Michael Johnson winning his second Olympic 400m title, Haile Gebrselassie taking the 10,000m from Paul Tergat by a smaller margin than Maurice Greene had won the 100m and Jonathan Edwards sailing out to triple jump gold.

At the Worlds last summer it was Thunderbolt Thursday, when, in a purple patch of 30 minutes, we had the greatest 200m race in history, a fantastic women's 400m hurdles final, a 110m hurdles final where the first three men were separated by a hundredth of a second and a sensational high jump competition that brought 75,000 people to silence and then ear-splitting roars.

If this wasn't quite in the same category, only a cold-hearted curmudgeon could carp. Viernes was very, very good indeed.


  • Comment number 1.

    A superb evening of athletics both for Britain and Europe in general. However, isn't it about time that a couple of changes were made to the following womens events? The discus, still throwing a 1 kg discus, the same weight as they throw from u13. Surely it's time to throw 1.5kg. The shot, also needs to be heavier than the 4 kg that they throw at present. The hurdles, need to be at least 6 inches higher.

  • Comment number 2.

    "That his compatriot Manuel Olmedo's bronze and Reyes Estevez's fourth didn't quite match the famous Fermin Cacho-led 1-2-3 in the same race in this stadium at the '92 Olympics, no-one in the place was going to complain."

    Possibly because that didn't happen in 1992 :-) Unless El Basir (Silver / Morocco) and Suleiman (Bronze / Qatar) were Spanish :-)

    I like your pieces though..well written..and you don't try to be "funny" or "cool" for the sake of it unlike Mark Ashenden. Sweet. ;-) I hope he calls medals 'necklaces' AGAIN..that's my favourite :-)

  • Comment number 3.

    The BBC - and you, Tom - might not have noticed, but the African Athletics Championships are also ongoing. As are the CAC championships. Oh - and the times set at the African Championships beat all the times set at the European Championships - even in the 100M.
    So - spare a though and an inch of your coverage for those south of Europe, will ya?

  • Comment number 4.

    Good blog Tom, good read as ever.

    It was a very good night for british athletics, shame I wasn't at home to see it! If these promising athletes can stay fit from now until London 2012 surely there is no reason why they can't challenge for medals then? Tom, do you how far away they are off the pace from challenging in London?

    RantingMrP - Why would they be covering the African championships? I doubt broadcasters in Africa are paying a lot of attention to these championships

  • Comment number 5.

    As regards the GB&NI mess of the 4x100 semi. Did anyone look closely at the last hand over from the eevated camera angle . From the one view that came on the screen it was clear to me that the eventual second place poland man stepped into the lane of GB&NI puting the GB&NI man off and so disrupting the ast handover. Surely the Poland team should ahve been disqualified and the GB&NI team reinstated. ?

  • Comment number 6.

    Bee - you try telling the hurdlers that they'll have to go over barriers six inches higher... Not worried about the comparison with times and records from history?

    mrmichaelh - I blame the giddy excitement. Feverish. Tweaked with thanks

    Binksy - fill your boots with the clips on this website. Re 2010, athletes who will succeed there have to be performing at the top level two years out - it's highly unlikely that anyone will come from nowhere to podium in 24 months. From that perspective, Perri Shakes-Drayton was a particularly pleasing tale. And Phillips is starting to look imperious, no?

    Everyone set for Dai Greene in the hurdles tonight (1910 BST), with Jess's 800m half an hour later and the Mo-Thommo show reconvening another half an hour on?

  • Comment number 7.

    RantingMrP, the BBC does need improved coverage of world sporting events, they pretty much ignore everything non-european, however although there have been some good performances at the African Championships there have also been some pretty mediocre ones - the majority of field events have been poor.

  • Comment number 8.

    An excellent piece Tom, well written and with just the right amount of Britishness to stir the nations pride without being xenophobic...

    I am glad that Hattie Dean got a mention, she typifies the spirit of the vast majority of the athletes who make up the national teams, the foot soldiers rather than the top-gun pilots. (I wonder is a piece on funding would interest you, surely the foot soldiers deserve the funding rather more than the top-gun pilots who earn good money from sponsorships and other sources).

    I was also pleased to see you put clear water between this very entertaining and important meeting and the Olympics in two years time. This event may give a hint who to watch out for in two years from the European community, but form is a fickle thing and with age, injuries and other unforeseeable events to be considered, it is well too leave the connection between the events alone..
    Well done once again on a very good piece of work...

  • Comment number 9.

    Cheers for the reply, he was very impressive, but he was very impressive leading up to bejing though and didn't quite make it. I hope and expect London to be his year.

    It would be great for some of the athletes who have out performed this week and got a podium can now nail it for two years and be in with a chance come 2012.

    Just read your piece on Dai Green, looking forward to that. But really wanting to see Ennis hold off Dobrynska tonight

  • Comment number 10.

    Sorry in my prev response I meant Phillips Idowu!

  • Comment number 11.

    Echoing Mambo's comments. Much was made over the fact that Andy Turner had gained his medal after losing his funding of £12,000 per annum. That is peanuts compared with some of the figures raked in by sponsorship deals. What sacrifices must those without funding make to even get to the championships -or to be even considered?
    Yes, Hatti Dean is one of the foot-soldiers and it was great to see her do so well. An encouraging thought is that Jenny Meadows was one of those foot-soldiers not so long ago.
    As a fellow Kairdiffian, Christian Malcolm's performance was bitter-sweet. Lovely to see him do so well, but how agonisingly close was that finish?

  • Comment number 12.

    In a way Perri Shakes Drayton was my highlight last night. A real breakthrough but she still has more potential if she improves her technique & at 21 she has plenty of time we could have another Sally Gunnell.

    Another 4/5 medals tonight i think, with a few golds. I am very confident that Jess will win after the LJ as her Javelin is really consistent now. Am gonna stick my neck out & say she will throw a PB. Dobrynska would need to be ahead by a bit after the Javelin to win because Jess is a better 800 runner. 1-2 in the 400h is a strong possibility with Greene & Williams. Rimmer has a great shot in the 800 & Farah could also win if the 10K hasn't taken too much out of him.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    @#4 & #7: The BBC page does read "Athletics", does it not? If it was "European Athletics", I wouldn't have bothered checking it. And yes - the African broadcasters were carrying the European results, especially Kenya's Daily Nation tv/newspapers, though coverage was delayed by 24 hours, and the BBC - which has a resident reporter in Nairobi - could have done so better and faster.
    For me, it was distressing that even on the "Africa" section of the BBC's website, under "Sports", there was literally no mention of the African Championships. Not to worry though: someone quietly pointed me to Eurosport, which is now my new home page, and which seems to cover even the tiniest sports event anywhere in the world. To every cloud, then, a silver lining!


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