Forza Azzurri!

When you’re half-Italian and half-Scottish, watching sport can be an emotional affair. On the one hand there is Italy, the Azzurri.

“Azzurri represents sporting pride, it has the power to fill stadiums, and to bring families and friends together – to cry in defeat and to cheer in glory.”

The Gentleman Ultra

And then there are the other azzurri, Scotland, whose sportspeople are renowned for their passion, sheer determination, and unwillingness to back down in the face of disaster. It was quite the weekend to have a foot in both camps.

ITALIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

It was an exciting few days for the Italians, as Gianmarco Tamberi returned to his best, setting a world lead in the high jump of 2.35. And in the long jump, Larissa Iapichino set a world U20 and national record of 6.91, beating Heike Drechsler’s WU20 record of 6.88 from 1983. How much more excitement could Italy take? Plenty, it seems.

Simone Cairoli came into the championships seeking his 7th national heptathlon title. One year earlier, Simone had improved the heptathlon best he had set at the 2017 European Indoor Championships in Belgrade by 98 points to 5939, edging closer and closer to William Frullani’s national record of 5972 from 2009.  Kevin’s reunion in Réunion didn’t come at the right time for Simone, and he withdrew after the discus, but all was looking good for the indoor season. And Simone got his title defence underway in style, his 7.73 long jump PB signalling that good things were to come.

While Simone had won the 2020 indoor title, 20-year old Dario Dester – who finished 5th behind Simon Ehammer in Boras at the European U20 champs in 2019 – took the national decathlon title. But this weekend he went head to head with Simone, setting 3 PBs out of 4 on his first day, and just 2cm from his long jump PB. At the end of the first day, the two were only 14 points apart, Simone leading 3407 to Dario 3393.

Onto Day 2, and the tide turned in the hurdles. Simone had the faster lifetime best, but Dario took 0.17 from his previous PB to run 8.13. From that point he gained momentum. Despite Simone setting a second PB, of 4.80 in the pole vault, Dario did likewise and had a successful vault at 5.00, although the bar bounced as dramatically as Tamberi celebrating a clearance.

With one event to go, 6100 seemed to be within reach for Dario and 6000 for Simone, both well clear of the national record. But 6001 was also in sight, the score of the 12th qualifying athlete for the European Indoors in Toruń, Rik Taam.  It seemed possible that the Torun field might have two Italians.

Finally, the 1000m, and Simone was the faster athlete. He ran 2:43.94, and as he crossed the line with 5986 points, he was briefly the national record holder. But half a second later, Dario crossed the line and claimed the record. He scored 6076, the first Italian to exceed 6000 points, the 5th best score in the world, and landed a place in the field of 12 for Torun. The Azzurri had squeezed out the Oranje.

24 hours later, the fields for Toruń were announced and Vitaly Zhuk‘s withdrawal from consideration meant that Rik Taam, but unfortunately not Cairoli, had made it into the final 12 for the Euros.

Photo: Grana/FIDAL

Dario said afterwards, “the goal was to go over 6000 points for Toruń. It was a hard battle with Simone. We pushed each other, it was great, and I thank him again for that. Now I’m ready for the Euro Indoors.”

With such a good competition at 6000 points, watch the two azzurri push each other to 8000 in the summer.

BRITISH EURO TRIALS

Andrew Murphy was the only athlete permitted to compete in the heptathlon at the British Euro trials, and the Scot prepared to embark on a 2-day journey alone. There was no live-streaming of the event, so Murphy had no competitors with whom to run, jump and throw, no spectators to provide support, and no live audience willing him on from afar.

Nevertheless, he persisted, logging 7.24 and 6.85 in the first two events. But then disaster struck, and he had three fouls – rumoured to be near 15m – in the shot. A lesser man would have decided that that was enough, but not Scotland’s decathlon hero.  He continued and jumped 1.83, and then completed all three events next day.

“I was always going to make sure and finish it off as I know at least 10 boys who would’ve loved to have been given the opportunity,” Andy posted on Instagram later.

Having a much better weekend was Holly Mills in the pentathlon. The 20-year old continued her significant improvement in the shot, going out to 14.03, and scored a massive PB of 4557. She became the 5th best British indoor pentathlete of all time and qualified for Torun.

JUSTICE FOR JENTE

Last weekend Jente Hauttekeete set a World U20 record and, if that was unexpected, he probably didn’t think that he’d come close to losing it again a week later.

In the U20 competition at the Norwegian championships, Sander Skotheim put together an astonishing set of results, 7 PBs in 7 events (including a 2.12 high jump), and it looked like Hauttekeete’s record might not last the week. But Jente was safe – for now – and Sander finished with 6015, only the second ever 6000+ U20 score in history.

With 2 athletes reshaping the world U20 all-time list, maybe we’ll finally get #JusticeForJente and attract the same social media love for our multieventers from the governing bodies as that enjoyed by the recent long jump and middle distance WU20 record holders.

Also in Norway, Henriette Jaeger continued her run of success and revised the Norwegian pentathlon record to 4471. In the senior heptathlon, Martin Roe retired after the first day with a minor back niggle leaving a clear path for Torav Opsal to win with 5521.

THERE’S MORE

This is the third weekend in a row where there have been big combined event competitions, with the window closing on Euro Indoors qualification. Highlights of the rest of the competitions over the weekend include Paweł Wiesiołek’s 6103 at the Polish champs, to place second in the world and earn his place at the Euros outright. Rafał Horbowicz and Jacek Chochorowski took silver and bronze and Patryk Baran successfully completed his first heptathlon since 2018 with 5277 points for fourth.

In France, Jérémy Lelièvre and Romain Martin had a super tussle for the French title, Jeremy taking gold with 5863 and Romain silver with 5805. Téo Bastien took the junior title in 5637. Le recordman du monde joined the first two events as part of his preparation for Torun. In the pentathlon, Célia Perron consolidated her performance in Clermont Ferrand in January by winning the championships in a PB of 4434, and Diane Marie-Hardy also landed a PB of 4380 in second. The 2019 bronze medallist from Glasgow Solène Ndama unfortunately suffered a cruciate ligament injury and her year was over before it began.

Edgar Campre won the Portuguese title in 5470, Ísak Óli Trausaston the Icelandic champs in 5355, and Juuso Hassi the Finnish gold in 5357. In Spain, Maria Vicente had mixed fortunes, setting a national pentathlon record of 4501, but then losing out in the individual long jump when officials accidentally raked over her jump. It was a big jump and Maria was definitely robbed.

Away from combined events, Pieter Braun won the Dutch long jump title in 7.43, as did Anouk Vetter in a PB of 6.42. Risto Lillemets won the Estonian pole vault title and Andri Oberholzer the bronze in the vault at the Swiss champs. Annik Kälin won the Swiss long jump title and Caroline Agnou silver in the shot. And Finley Gaio finally managed to secure the qualifying mark for the 60mh for the Euro indoors when winning the Swiss 60H title and joins his teammates in Toruń.

SHKURENYEV SMASHES IT IN SMOLENSK

And finally, to the best result of the weekend, the best result of the year and the best result in the world, by the one man who can’t compete in the major championships.

The 2019 European bronze medallist Ilya Shkurenyev will be unable to join fellow medallist Jorge Ureña as the latter defends his title. But the Russian put together at heptathlon of 6269 points at the national championships in Smolensk, including a new pole vault best of 5.40. It was Ilya’s best score since he won the Euro indoor title in Prague in 2015.

Shkurenyev’s result puts him at the top of the world lists. At the time of writing, 29 of the top 30 heptathlon marks in the world belong to decathletes from Europe, and all but a handful of the top 50.

Next stop? Twelve of the best in Toruń.

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