Defending champion Keely Hodgkinson (coach: Trevor Painter; club: Leigh) and team captain Jazmin Sawyers (Aston Moore; City of Stoke) both delivered truly sensational gold medals on the final night of the European Indoor Championships as the British team finished with a superb six medals overall in Istanbul.
A matter of minutes between each other, Hodgkinson first obliterated the women’s 800m field by almost two seconds to defend her title in supreme fashion then Sawyers landed the biggest mark of her career in the women’s long jump final, a 7.00m world lead and British indoor record in round five, which would secure the team captain an equally popular gold of her own.
The British team had six other opportunities to get on the podium on the final night of the championships but just missed out on doing so as the men’s 4x400m relay team were fifth with the women’s 4x400m relay team and Guy Learmonth (Justin Rinaldi; Lasswade) both a valiant sixth.
David King (Tim O’Neil; City of Plymouth) brought the curtain down on the championships for the British team with seventh in the men’s 60m hurdles final while James West and Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen; Aldershot Farnham & District) placed eighth and ninth respectively in the men’s 300m final. The British team’s haul of three golds, one silver and two bronze ranking them third on the final medal table.
Defending champion Hodgkinson hit the front straight away in the women’s 800m with the first half of the race run in 58.21 seconds. Slovenia’s Anita Horvat and France’s Agnes Raharolahy attempted to go with her as she then upped the pace but simply couldn’t.
The race was won by 600m, and Hodgkinson finished extremely strong to clock 1:58.66 – the only athlete in the field of eight to go under two minutes and the winning margin a full 1.88 ahead of Horvat, who would win silver.
With back-to-back titles secured, Hodgkinson – who’s former coach Joe Galvin sadly passed away recently – said: “The easiest and smoothest way was just to run hard from the front. That is what I wanted to do. I wanted the others to work hard for it if they were going to be anywhere near me. I am really happy defending my title. I couldn’t ask for anymore really.
“Every race and every championship is a different experience, at the moment it is anyway, because this is still only my second European indoors. I just hope to keep building on this, keep performing, keep bringing back medals. That is where I want to be, that is what I want to do so I am living the dream.
“I have not had time to process it, but my coach passed away a few days ago and it was really unexpected. So, this one is definitely for him. He had a lot of belief in a little ten-year old me so that medal is for him and everyone at home. I hope to make him really proud, and I hope he is up there watching, and his wife Margaret, who I know will be so proud of me as well.”
Whereas Hodgkinson’s medal was a bit of an exhibition, given how truly dominant she is over the continent in the women’s 800m, Sawyers and the women’s long jump final had absolutely everything, and then some.
Sawyers was second after the first round with an effort of 6.70m before moving down to third after a 6.74m effort from Italy’s Larissa Iapichino and her first foul in the second round. The Italian would improve again to 6.77m in the third round as Sawyers fouled again yet would remain in third.
Sawyers, who has two European medals outdoors from her career but none indoors, improved to 6.76m in the fourth round however would move down to fourth as Germany’s Malaika Mihambo took the lead with a 6.83m jump.
Round five was where it would get sensational for Sawyers as she pulled off the perfect jump to hit 7.00m exactly – a world lead, British indoor record, personal best and perhaps the best British performance of the championships, which says something given the wins for Hodgkinson and Laura Muir (Andy Young; Dundee Hawkhill).
The elation on Sawyers’ face was palpable but, now in the lead, she had to wait and watch as Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta and Iapichino, who had also jumped their best effort in round five, attempted to dethrone her. Both landed impressive jumps again to challenge Sawyers but neither got better than her 7.00m which meant the Brit could enjoy a victory jump last up, still landing an impressive 6.84m.
Sawyers, who is the sixth athlete to set a British record this season and who’s gold ensured the team finished third on the medal table, said: “It feels like it really, really has been a long time coming. I’ve never won anything. I am still in shock. I feel like the seven-metre jump has been in me for so long. I have been waiting for this seven metres to come out forever. It has been so many years, that for a bit you think ‘is it going to come?’.
“I jumped, got out of the pit and was thinking ‘OK, it’s probably enough to take the lead’. I didn’t want to look at it [on the screen] and get too excited because it can look further than it is, it can look less than it is. I just didn’t want to look. I was looking at the scoreboard and thinking ‘is it a foul?’ because early doors I had a good jump, and it was a foul. I’m staring at the board, it goes green – it took forever, or at least it felt like forever.
“A lot of it [her confidence] has come from this indoor season, being consistent over 6.70m and feeling really, really good. A big turning point was European outdoors last year when I reminded myself that I can get on podiums and my training has been good.
“The amount of people that have messaged telling me – some solicited, some less so – to run through the board. I’ve listened. I ran through the board. I knew I had the speed but I was slowing down into the board before, and I figured a way to drive down the board, keep my knees up and seven metres!”
The British team’s first shot at a medal from the final session of these championships in Istanbul provided plenty of drama and it was the quartet of Ben Higgins (Stewart Marshall; Sheffield & Dearne), Joe Brier (Matt Elias; Swansea), Samuel Reardon (Nigel Stickings; Blackheath & Bromley) and Lewis Davey (Painter; Newham and Essex Beagles) in the men’s 4x400m final who were at the wrong side of it as they finished a valiant fifth in a time of 3:08.61.
Higgins ran the opening leg and, after being fifth at one stage after the first lap and being checked by Belgium’s Dylan Borlee, he surged around the back straight to finish brilliantly and hand to Brier in second.
Brier soon found himself in the group chasing the runaway Spanish leader Markel Fernandez and was forced to go around the outside but still handed over to Reardon in the mix for a medal. However, their charge was soon to suffer a cruel fate.
Reardon was unfortunately clipped by France’s Victor Coroller around the first bend of his leg and completely taken out of his stride. He battled valiantly to keep himself upright and in the race but it meant fifth was the best Davey could hope for as he took the baton for the anchor leg.
Davey, who like Hodgkinson is under the tutelage of Trevor Painter, didn’t let up and ran the fastest split, a 46.41, as the British team clocked 3:08.61 for fifth and he said: “I think during the race there was a big gap and I just tried to make it up as much as I could but I guess it’s on to the next one.”
Higgins said: “I think I just got caught up at the cut in. Unfortunately, I had to bear the brunt of a big bunch of people. I thought I was in a good position but just got held up a bit. I ended up kicking again in the last 100m but by then Joe was already having to start wide because I was in fifth place when they got lined up.”
The women’s 4x400m final followed straight after the men’s and the British quartet of Hannah Kelly (Les Hall; Bolton), Carys McAulay (Nick Dakin; Trafford), Nicole Kendall (Richard Holt; Thames Valley) and Mary Abichi (Lorna Boothe; Enfield & Haringey) placed sixth after a solid run of 3:32.65.
Kelly, making her senior British debut, was given the task of kicking the race off for the team and attacked it before handing to another debutant McAulay, with the field soon completely stretched out.
McAulay ran the quickest leg of the quartet, an impressive 51.98 to move the British team up to fifth while Kendall, also on her major senior debut, chased down Ireland’s Cliodhna Manning on her leg and finished extremely strong to hand to Abichi in fourth. Sixth was what the team had to settle for in the end as they ended with a time of 3:32.65.
Kelly said: “I tried to get out and I just tried to do my race plan, and let everyone else do theirs. But it’s hard, you get caught up. especially indoors, it’s hard to overtake, but I’ll go back and watch it and see what I can improve. I’m happy to get my first senior major champs vest and hopefully it is the first of many.”
McAulay said: “I’m very surprised at that [her split]. It felt quite comfy, and I just feel like I work best on the second lap. I tried to make sure I felt as comfortable as I can and do what I needed to do and I just enjoy it. It went so quick.”
Learmonth’s road to the final of the men’s 800m at his fifth European Indoor Championships twice relied on being a non-automatic qualifier but he knew being in the final meant all that happened before was irrelevant. He settled into third early but would soon suffer unfortunate luck.
Eliott Crestan appeared to go for a gap that wasn’t there on the inside of Learmonth, knocking him out of his stride – however he stayed upright much to his credit.
Learmonth would find himself sixth at the bell and try as he might, he couldn’t push up through the field as he clocked 1:48.46 for that position. He said: “I felt that race went a lot better. I need to see the incident back as someone tried to come on the inside and that really disrupted things.
“But I can’t really complain with where I was last year and what I went through. I’m pretty happy. I really wanted a medal, I wanted to win this but its championship racing isn’t it? It’s a big step in the right direction from where I have been but we’ll build towards to outdoors now.”
King, who can now call himself a world and European indoor finalist, battled to seventh in the men’s 60m hurdles, which concluded the entire championships, clocking 7.71. He said: “It was a little messy. I didn’t get out again, like I said I would. It was a challenge over the last couple of days.”
After the relays, it was over to Rowe and West to make their bids for a medal in the men’s 3000m final. It took just three laps before favourite, and already the 1500m winner from these championships, Jakob Ingebrigtsen to have enough, hit the front and lead the race, at which stage the British pair were together in seventh and eighth.
West moved himself up into fourth at the halfway stage and with seven laps to go was in those medal positions in third, doing brilliantly well to hold off any potential challengers and keep his bid for a top-three finish alive.
By this point the field was in single file with Rowe looking solid in seventh. With three laps to go West’s grip on third had slipped as he moved down to fourth with the trio of Ingebrigtsen, Spain’s Adel Mechaal and Serbia’s Elzan Bibic pulling away and eventually finishing in that order.
West would eventually place eighth in 7:48.22 while Rowe was ninth in 7:48.32. West said: “I wasn’t good enough unfortunately. I did really think there was a medal for me, but I was a bit too aggressive, too many moves. I think it’s maybe a good thing in a way that I am believing that I need to be on the back of Ingebrigtsen and Mechaal.
“But I couldn’t really get there without wasting too much energy. Maybe if I just sat there and waited a bit longer and been a bit more patient, but that’s why these races are so important – you learn from these things. I’ve had a really good indoor season and made my first European final, so we’ll take that onto outdoors and tweak some things, we’ve got some work to do but that’s OK.”
Rowe said: “It was solid but unfortunately solid isn’t good enough anymore. I ran a good race but it just hurt the last 30-40m and I lost a few spots, but I put myself in a good position. Jakob’s clever, he winds and winds and winds it and as soon as you think you’ve got a rhythm it is half a second, quicker, half a second quicker.”
Full results of the European Indoor Championships in Istanbul can be found on the European Athletics website here
Great Britain & Northern Ireland medal tally:
Gold: Keely Hodgkinson – 800m
Gold: Jazmin Sawyers – long jump
Gold: Laura Muir – 1500m
Silver: Neil Gourley – 1500m
Bronze: Melissa Courtney-Bryant – 3000m
Bronze: Daryll Neita – 60m