In Praise of the Shot Put

By Ray Minchew – @rayminchew

It has been a really exciting year for athletics, with new young talent coming to the fore in multiple events – Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, the entire USC 400m team, Mondo Duplantis and Timur Morgunov, Shelby Houlihan, more than I can remember honestly. The sport is absolutely packed with incredibly talented young people. And a lot of excitement has been focused on the men’s pole vault.

I mean, we’ve spent a LOT of time talking about pole vault, have we not? It seemed like the event to see, with Renauld and Sam’s bromance, Mondo calmly breaking his own U20 record every 47 minutes, what a year for the event, right? Really exciting competitions, the Euro Championships seeing things never done before, it’s almost like a YEAR OF THE POLE VAULT.

And then after Zurich, I was looking at the men’s shot put, because I’ve developed a habit of seeing what the big guys are doing, and saw that Tomas Walsh had thrown a diamond league record that wasn’t even his best throw of the year, to beat Darrell Hill throwing a massive 22.40 SB that wasn’t even his PB, with Ryan Crouser throwing 22.18 for third…and I thought wait a minute. Haven’t they been doing this all year? They’ve been trading 22m throws the whole season. Is that normal?

Let’s find out together.

Men's shot put over 22mI ran the numbers, and in short, no. This is not normal. In fact, we are experiencing the greatest era of shot put dominance in history. Last year we had 17 throws over 22m by 5 guys, this year 16 by 4 guys. Over the last three years we’ve seen a total of 43 throws over 22m by 6 men. The only thing coming even close to this is 1986-1988, when there were 38 throws by 7 men, and that is a lot of syringes being tossed around, my friends (apologies to the great Werner Günthör).

This has gone a bit under the radar as Walsh went berserk this year, but we also have possibly the most consistently great shot putter in history right now in Ryan Crouser – he’s gone over 22m 21 times in these last three years. The only people close to him are Christian Cantwell (who led the only other era of big shots, from 2002-2011, with the Cantwell/Hoffa/Reese/Nelson group), a doped up Ulf Timmerman, and Walsh, with 16, 15, and 13 performances respectively.

22 meters is a rare benchmark, but we are now seeing that it won’t even win you competitions. And there are multiple guys knocking at the door – Darlan Romani (21.94 PB) wants in the club, David Storl, Ryan Whiting and Joe Kovacs want back in…I’m sorry, but how has this gone so under the radar?

Let’s crunch some more numbers and do a comparison, okay?

I used 5.95m as a measurement to compare men’s pole vault – not because it’s a particular benchmark, but because 6m is too small of a dataset, and 5.95 has been done 129 times, similar to the 151 for 22m. Ready for a report out on our big pole vault year? We had five vaults over 5.95, by four different athletes. That’s it. Last year there were 2, both by Sam. This isn’t even in sniffing distance of the best vaulting era, with Bubka being joined by 10 other guys jumping just as high for a 9 year span. We forget he wasn’t just blowing everyone out. It was competitive. We don’t remember most of those other 10 guys, but can you name 10 today that you think capable of going 5.95?

How about a table to express the difference?

  Pole Vault (5.95m) Shot Put (22m)
Avg annual performances 3.91 3.43
2018 performances 5 16
 
Avg annual performers 1.91 2
2018 performers 4 4

This is pretty stark. Men’s pole vault is absolutely exciting to watch right now – very exciting – but the number of big jumps is just slightly above average. The shot put? It’s filled with 25 year olds absolutely destroying the ring at historic levels, and the competitive balance is as high as any event in the sport. I don’t want to disparage the pole vault because I’m genuinely pumped about the young talent and what they might do, but the throws get such little attention (hi there, hammer throwers!) despite doing some things that have simply never been seen.

And from a human element they’re just as much fun to watch as the vaulters. Want a bromance? Watch these guys brohug after throws. They scream, they’re excited, they’re over the top, and they are the best show in the field right now. I, for one, plan to be a big shot put fan in 2019, because I think we could see six or seven men get over 22m, and I think 23m is in play by multiple throwers. The hardest working agent in athletics agrees with me. Show the shot put some love.

Article: Kat Challenges Nafi (ECh Heptathlon Review)

By Alex Walker @AlexAHW 

It was day three of the 2018 European Championships in Berlin and after the exploits of Arthur Abele the night before, fans of multi-eventing could turn their attention to the women’s side of affairs, with the start of the heptathlon.

The overwhelming favourite to take the title was Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium; the 2016 Olympic champion held the world leading score across the seven events going into the championships, while no other European had cracked the top 3 of heptathlon scores in 2018.

That’s not to say that the event was going to lack suspense, many questions still loomed over the competition: Would Nafi be able to challenge for Jessica Ennis-Hill’s championship record, or even the European record of Carolina Kluft? Would she overcome the teething problems she had experienced with her new javelin run up? And perhaps most importantly, would she be able to fend off Katarina Johnson Thompson and her newfound confidence?

The heptathlon began, as ever, with the 100m hurdles. The fastest time in this event would go to Louisa Grauvogel, the 22 year old German, who crossed the line in 12.97 much to the delight of the Olympiastadion crowd. Cachová of the Czech Republic and 2017 World silver medalist Carolin Schäfer provided the next fastest times over the barriers.

As for the two arguable main contenders, Johnson Thompson clocked a time of 13.34, 0.05 seconds short of her personal best in this event while Thiam’s time of 13.69 was 0.14 seconds slower than the time she had posted in Götzis earlier this year.

There is only so much that can be read into the first event of a multi-event competition, but Katarina Johnson Thompson showed that she was ready to fight for the title when Thiam was still blowing away a few cobwebs. If these two were to continue this way, then multi event fans would be in for a real treat.

Onto the high jump and what is usually the highest scoring event in the heptathlon. Following Nafi’s clearance of 2.01m in May, the crowd were expecting something big from her, and were pondering whether her British rival could respond.

A notable victim to the earlier heights was Carolin Schäfer, who only managed to clear 1.79m, 7cm and 88 points shy of her performance in London the year before. This left her adrift of her main two competitors and took her out of the race for the gold medal for the rest of the competition.

Thiam and Johnson Thompson however, both managed to keep a clean sheet up to and including 1.91m.

On her first attempt at 1.94m, Thiam had an uncharacteristic failure. This was brushed off by many a viewer as little more than a blip in her pursuit of higher heights. Her Liverpudlian rival also had her first failure of the competition at this height, although appeared to have the necessary elevation to clear the bar, with just a few minor adjustments needed.

Despite the crowd’s expectation of impending clearances for both athletes, the Belgian dislodged the bar yet again. Strangely though, instead of the standard sigh of disappointment, the crowd let out an exclamation of intrigue. There was a genuine sense in the stadium that this was Johnson Thompson’s chance to gain an edge over the woman who has been so dominant since the 2016 Olympic heptathlon.

Excitement grew. And with that support for the Brit. She took her run up and… just as before. It was evident that she had the capability to clear the height but she did not quite have the capacity to execute.

On their respective final attempts at the height, both athletes failed to demonstrate a level of belief prior to their jumps, which made their eventual failures all the less surprising.

This outcome pushed Johnson Thompson into first in the overall standings on 2193 points while Thiam sat in second with many of her stronger events still to come.

From a British perspective, it was somewhat frustrating to watch KJT not being able to capitalise when Nafi showed signs of weakness. For a neutral it was perhaps disappointing that neither athlete went higher, with both having achieved far more impressive results in a high jump. Nonetheless, with both the Belgian and Brit scoring the same on the second event, the seeds of an exciting head to head were planted.

The shot put portion of the heptathlon began proceedings on Thursday’s evening session. Being the event which has unravelled so many competitions for Johnson Thompson, the upper hand in the overall heptathlon still belonged to the Belgian due to her much stronger throwing ability.

However, the Briton was not weighed down by historical expectations and instead managed a put of 13.09m, her best ever in a heptathlon. The 733 points produced from this throw kept her firmly in the chase for the medals, with a growing sense of confidence to boot.

Thiam though, never being one to bow to pressure, achieved a new personal best in the shot put, with a throw of 15.35m, which more than made up for the previous two events which were disappointing by the Belgian’s high standards.

This marked the first point in the competition where Thiam had led the overall standings, and her mentality for multi-eventing shone through by not dwelling on what could have been in the previous events. Similarly, Johnson Thompson kept composed and showed signs that her move to Montpellier is working for her. By reducing the usual deficit in points in this event, the Liverpudlian ensured that she would not be entirely written off for the gold medal.

With Nafi at the head of standings, and Kat with the fastest 200m PB of the field, the margin between the two increasingly became the focal point of the competition. Nonetheless, the duo would not face off in the concluding event of the first day of the heptathlon, owing to the Belgian’s comparative weakness in the sprints. She would instead race in the third heat of the 200m, in which she would finish in fifth place with a time of 24.81, two tenths of a second down on her season’s best.

A door was opened for Kat. Going sub-23, as she had done numerous times before, would give her a workable lead over night. The gun sounded in the final heat. Kat gained a superior start over the rest of the field. The only athlete that was able to match her speed during the race was Louisa Grauvogel, the young German, but she wasn’t quite capable of matching the stamina of the Commonwealth champion. Kat stopped the clock in a highly commendable 22.88, while Grauvogel followed in a time of 23.10.

At the end of day one, Katarina Johnson Thompson was left with a workable lead over Thiam, having gained 4017 points to the Belgian’s 3930, third place was occupied by Carolin Schäfer with 3848. The overall winner was looking harder to predict, with each of the frontrunners being only a sub-par result away from handing the crown to the other.

KJT interviewed by The BackstraightBoys After Day  2

The fans returned to the Olympiastadion the following morning, and for the most part, gathered around the long jump pit in order to decipher the ever more intriguing heptathlon competition.

The long jump is the last event in a heptathlon in which Kat and Nafi are evenly matched, and so it is the last chance to see them compete on like for like terms before they each try to stop giving away too many points to their rival in the final two events.

Katarina opened proceedings with a jump of 6.44m, a distance similar to what she produced in the long jump at both the World Indoors and the Commonwealth Games. Well below her potential in the event, but it was a relief that she had a mark on the board, especially after her training partner, Kevin Mayer suffered three fouls in the decathlon long jump just days earlier. Nafi, being the next jumper in the start order managed to go one better than her opponent, quite literally, by jumping 6.45m in the first round.

Both athletes went on to foul in the second round, but managed to go further on their third attempts, with KJT leaping 6.68m, 2cm shy of her season’s best, while Nafi posted a jump of 6.60. The rest of the field were somewhat adrift of the two leaders in the long jump, with the third longest jump belonging to Hanne Maudens of Belgium at a distance of 6.42m.

This left Johnson Thompson 113 points ahead of the favourite after 5 events, and with the uncertainty over the Olympic champion’s form in the javelin, a gold medal did not seem out of reach for the British athlete.

As the women warmed up for the javelin it became clear that this was going to be where the title would be decided; if Thiam could produce a throw close to her personal best, she would be the overwhelming favourite for gold. If she were to throw as she had done in Götzis a few months earlier, she would hand the advantage over to her main competitor.

The Belgian was second to throw in the group. She took to the runway, released the javelin and… 46.36m. The crowd began to murmur. Nafi seemed to be facing the same difficulties she experienced in May. She may have had two attempts left, but her chances of a significant improvement did not look promising.

Another strong javelin thrower, Anouk Vetter, followed Thiam, and just like the Belgian threw well below her potential. Geraldine Ruckstuhl, on the other hand, launched the spear 55.66m down the field, indicating that the relatively poor throws from some of the athletes could not be attributed to the conditions.

Hopes were beginning to rise among the British fans as Johnson Thompson prepared for her opening throw. She obviously wasn’t going to throw further than her main rival, but she was still capable of producing something that was special by her own standards.

And perform she did.  With a throw of 42.16m, she surpassed her personal best dating back to 2015, while also keeping a applying a significant amount of pressure on Thiam.

If the javelin portion of the competition had ended at this point, Kat would have led Nafi in the overall standings by 32 points and the gold medal would have belonged to the Briton in all but writing, but Nafi has a mentality that is so well suited to multi-eventing; she doesn’t dwell on her disappointments and instead focuses on remedying the situation at hand, which is exactly what she did in Berlin.

On her second throw, the Belgian recorded a distance of 53.55m, comfortably a season’s best albeit someway short of the mindboggling marks she set in 2017. Her new mark would give her a cushion of approximately 7 seconds going into the 800m, a gap that could feasibly be overcome by Johnson Thompson over two laps, but one that still kept Nafi’s chances of gold alive.

As for the other competitors in the second round, Vetter improved to a distance of 50.08m while Ruckstuhl earned herself a new national U23 record in the javelin with an effort of 56.31m. Carolin Schäfer of Germany declined to take her two final throws of the competition after throwing a new personal best of 53.73m in the opening round.

Johnson Thompson’s second throw didn’t surpass her first round effort, but British fans were still feeling confident. The scores seemed to suggest a real tussle for the title in the final event, with both of the main contenders having to strain every sinew so as not to allow their opponent to finish with a higher total score. At least it looked that way until the Belgian’s final throw.

57.91m. That is what it took to clear away the doubts over Nafi’s form in the javelin. With just one, final throw, she had all but clinched the gold medal away from her rivals and made herself the heir apparent to the continental heptathlon throne.

The trend of improving with each attempt was also followed by Vetter, who increased her mark out to 51.25m, however Johnson Thompson was unable to improve on her new personal best, although she did succeed in sending the javelin beyond 41 metres on all three attempts for the first time in her career, showing considerable progress made in the throws since moving to Montpellier.

Johnson Thompson’s chances looked slim. Not only did she have to find a 14 second gap over Thiam, but she would have to do so alone, with other fast competitors over 800 metres absent from this race (Kriszán of Hungary was placed in the penultimate heat while Salman-Rath was absent from Berlin altogether, due to a knee operation undertaken in late 2017). Yet despite all of this, the Commonwealth champion looked unfazed when she stood at the start of the final event and this translated to her race. She confidently took the lead after the first bend and worked hard to build up a lead over the rest of the field.

Nafi, meanwhile, showed her confidence differently and took to the track at her comparatively slower pace, knowing that she only had to keep the Briton in her sights in order to secure the title.

At points of the race it looked as though Kat would do it, she opened a sizeable gap over the other competitors, yet despite clocking a highly respectable 2:09.84 over two laps, it wasn’t enough as the points leader was less than 10 seconds behind Kat, registering a time of 2:19.35, giving her an overall total of 6816, 6 points more than her Olympic winning score, but 7 points short of the championship record. Carolin Schäfer rounded out her series of events with a solid 800m that left her with the bronze medal and 50 points ahead of Ivona Dadic who scored a new national record over the seven events to finish fourth.

KJT interviewed by The Backstraight Boys After Day 2

It didn’t turn out to be the record breaking heptathlon that we might have hoped for, but it was one that hung in the balance until the final round of the penultimate event with the leader in the standings changing after almost every event.

Nafi took the title as expected, but she didn’t look as convincing as she has done in previous competitions, and certainly didn’t look unbeatable. Of course there was no real need for her to push herself in the 800m, but had a few events gone slightly differently, she would have found her dominance under considerable threat.

As for Katarina, she has much to be proud of: A new personal best, a third major medal of the season and another series of events without a disaster. She may have felt disappointed with her results in some events, but she followed up these disappointments with strong performances. Her progress in the throwing events should also fuel her confidence going forward while still allowing herself room to improve.

So what of the future? Thiam still seems to be the most likely candidate to take the European record in the heptathlon, but due to Johnson Thompson’s increasing consistency she will not be alone in the chase to surpass 7032 points. As for major medals, both have positioned themselves nicely with just two years before the Tokyo Olympics, but they will need to fight for position in the global top three, with Erica Bougard and Yorgelis Rodriguez being capable of posting scores in the same league as those produced in Berlin.

The heptathlon in Berlin showed a lot of promise for multi-event fans in the years to come. Whether we end up with astronomical scores or fierce fights for the medals, we certainly have something to look forward to.

Episode 29: Mondo Madness (ECH Review)

Listen on iTUNES

Episode 29 brings you a review of POSSIBLY the best European Championships in History, featuring input from a GAGGLE of #athleticos (that is the collective noun, right?)

From family affairs, to sprint queens, to the importance of counting laps! Berlin had it all, and we dissect each and (almost) every event.

This episode also includes live recordings from the stadium – so pull up a chair for a family natter-

 

The Enigma of Kevin and the Unit of Arthur

To the discerning Decathletes of Europe fan, the Berlin European Championships were all about whether Kevin Mayer would pull out a big score, after teasing us with individual PBs throughout the season so far. A 13.71 hurdles and a 16.51 shot in Paris, and a jaunty 52.38 discus in Germany. He didn’t do Gotzis and engaged in no more than a cheeky wee “triathlon” in Ratingen. It all pointed to some Prime Kevin in Berlin.

The Enigma of Kevin

Was he going to have a pop at 9000? Roman’s European record? Ashton’s World Record? Prime Kevin certainly showed up for the 100m with a 10.64 PB. He wasn’t messing about! Onto the long jump. The first round, a foul for Kevin. Second round, a second foul. Suddenly, we were back at the London World Champs where Kevin took 3 attempts to clear his opening vault of 5.10. Or at the World Indoors in Birmingham where he cleared 5m, passed at 5.10 and then failed to clear 5.20.

Then the unthinkable happened. In the third and final round, a third foul. European Championships Kevin had done a Commonwealth Games Damian.

Kevin, after that third foul
Photo: James Rhodes

Whenever anyone asks me if I think Kevin will break Ashton’s world record, I always answer along the same lines. Yes, he has the talent to do so. Contrary to the composure and consistency of Ashton Eaton and Roman Sebrle, Kevin is all drama and flair. And – in my humble opinion – we’ll only see the big decathlon mark once he channels that drama and flair all in the same direction, either through design or by luck. That’s not a criticism – just an observation of the very different ways in which athletes reach greatness. And I am totally here for it, even if my blood pressure says differently.

We have questions, Kevin

In his post-race interview, Kevin was, as we might have anticipated, in tears. He said that he wanted to take risks, wanted to express himself 100% and he had done that. But also that he paid the price – and that he has no regrets.

“I expressed myself and it was very strong. I can’t say that I wanted to do 7.30 just to continue the decathlon. I have big ambition and I need to take risks.”

Ok Kevin, we feel your pain, and weep with you. But we also have questions.

  • If winning the gold medal wasn’t the aim, why was Kevin here?
  • If getting a big score was the aim, why was Kevin undermining that by risking a no-mark?
  • If Kevin wanted to throw caution to the wind in the long jump and beat his 4-year-old 7.65 PB, why not do that in Gotzis or Ratingen, as suggested to me by Trackcastic pal Ceri? Or at a Diamond League? Why risk a title and a big score?

What does it MEAN Kevin? What is this enigmatic expression of which you speak?

  • Were Ruben Gado and Romain Martin’s three fouls in the Long Jump also part of this French team expression?
  • Is Gael Querin’s interesting long jump technique also his way of expressing himself?
  • Was Salim Sdiri’s skewering by Tero Pitkamaki’s javelin in 2007 in Rome actually a modern art installation?
  • Where does Bosse’s cat fit into this? And Renaud’s zip?

Dear reader, do not mistake my wry presentation for disinterest or criticism. My ticket is booked for Talence and – armed with a selection of the finest French existentialism – I am there for Kevin expressing himself in September.

The resilience of Niki, Tim, Mathias, Ruben and Romain

Once Kevin was gone, however, the nature of the competition changed with eyes naturally turning to the Germans. The Germans had started the 2018 season with World silver and bronze medallists Rico Freimuth and Kai Kazmirek at the forefront as usual, but Rico decided to take a break from the event after Gotzis. That made for a German team of Kai, Arthur Abele and Mathias Brugger, until Kai got injured on 1 August and 20-year-old Niklas Kaul was drafted in at the last minute.

And thus the display of guts and resilience began. After that 11th hour call up, Niklas Kaul finished 4th, setting a PB in the discus and pulling out multiple season’s bests. Mathias Brugger also no-marked in the jinxed long jump, but he subsequently set a massive 60cm PB of 15.92 in the shot. He said after the long jump “It is an honour for me to be here, and this is why I will finish this decathlon”.

Indeed, Kevin’s thrice-fouling compatriots Ruben and Romain also went on to set PBs in the 400 and Pole Vault respectively, and several SBs. How on earth do you find the resilience to go onto deliver PBs and SBs after such a crushing experience as no-marking on your second event? What mental strength are these guys drawing from? Ruben and Romain genuinely had a really good event overall aside from the long jump, and that warms the cockles of my heart.

But let’s talk about Tim Duckworth. His first senior championship vest for GB, at the end of a humongously long season – he opened his NCAA season in April by breaking 8100 for the first time, won the NCAA champs with 8336 in June, and won the LJ with yet another 8m jump at the British trials in June. Second only to Kevin after the 100m, and leading after the long jump, Tim mostly stayed in first or second place all the way through to the javelin.

Tim and his gran
Photo: James Rhodes

While Tim’s decathlon profile has his weakest events clustered at the end of the competition, that maintenance at the top in your first senior international season is quite astonishing. His buffer from his best events (including a below par long jump) meant he only dropped to fifth. And after that season, imagine setting a spectacular new PB in your high jump, and setting a PB in the last, most draining of events the 1500. What guts and resilience and stamina and determination.

The Unit of Arthur

While the headlines tended to favour the fresh new face of Tim, the solid work was being done by Arthur Abele behind the scenes. Six season’s bests over 2 days and a giant javelin set him up beautifully for the 1500m, where he has the fastest PB in the field. “How can a unit like Abele have run a 4:15 1500m?” asked my good friend Jim. What a unit Arthur is. A unit who has had more injuries and illness in the last few years than seems fair. What heart he has shown by cementing his place on a massively competitive German team and dragging himself back to a European gold medal *pauses to wipe eyes*.

I dare you not to cry with Arthur
Photo: James Rhodes

In his post-event interview he reminded us that he had been suffering from Bell’s palsy in the spring, as well as Achilles problems, and as late as March he didn’t know whether he would be out for the season. This gold meant so much, to Arthur and to every decathlon fan.

Resurgent and rising stars: Ilya, Vitaly, Martin, Simone and Jan

Behind Arthur, another set of decathletes were having a strong competition. Ilya Shkurenyev hasn’t been the same since Rio, but we saw flashes of his brilliance again in the pole vault, where he entertained us in getting near his 5.40PB. Ilya and Vitaly Zhuk paced each other in the 1500 to silver and bronze. If Janek Oiglane was the breakthrough talent of 2017 (unfortunately and unhappily injured this year), then Vitaliy Zhuk is the one to watch from 2018. I first saw him in Gotzis earlier this year, but he set 4 individual PBs here in Berlin and is still only 21. I’m very interested in where he goes next – I haven’t been impressed by any Belarus decathlete since the iconic Andrea Krauchanka.

Behind Vitaly, three other guys stand out with a great competition: Martin Roe in 6th, who won Florence Multistars earlier in the year and set PBs in all his jumps; Simone Cairoli in 10th also set 4 individual PBs, is closing in on 8000 points and is the most exciting Italian decathlete I’ve seen in years; and Jan Dolezal – the number one Czech in the absence of the injured Adam Sebastian Helcelet – finished 6th with 4 individual PBs and an overall decathlon PB.

And so, decathletes of Europe, to Talence, where we shall express ourselves again.

By Gabby Pieraccini @smokymozzarella #decathletesofeurope

The sun sets on Day 1 of the decathlon in the Berlin Olympiastadion

Preview: Golden Brits at the European Championships?

A look ahead at the most likely British victories at the 24th European Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany.

By Reece Maycock

@ReeceAthletics

In 2012 the regularity of the European championships changed from every four years, to every two. In the three contests since then (including the 2012 Helsinki version) Great Britain and Northern Ireland have supplied wildly different teams, with dramatically varying levels of success. In Helsinki there were 4 golds,two years later in Zurich an astonishing 12 (5 more than the total number of medals won in the Finnish capital). In Amsterdam two years back 5 titles were won and 16 overall medals achieved. However before we get ahead of ourselves and declare this championship a British whitewash it’s worth noting that non-Olympic year Europeans have not always provided GBR with an abundance of gold (Barcelona 2010 – 6; Gothenburg 2006 – 1). So where should we pitch our hopes? Does sending our largest ever team mean the domination of Zurich will be repeated? Or will the retirements of Jess, Mo, Greg and Christine hold up a mirror to the cracks in British Athletics?

Let me take you through the 13 (yes, you read that correctly) golds I think are possible in the German capital:

Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes have both hit landmarks this year. Asher-Smith has broken her own British record and recorded two sub-11 clockings, in addition to edging out Olympic champion Elaine Thompson for commonwealth bronze in Australia. Hughes went under 10 seconds in Jamaica earlier this year with an equal European leading mark of 9.91. He has since run under 10 seconds twice, both at the London diamond league in his final races before this championship. Both will start as favourites in the 100m with Hughes looking to win his first individual senior title, following disqualification after initially having captured the commonwealth 200m title in April. Asher-Smith will also be contesting the 200m and will start as slight favourite over reigning double world champion Dafne Schippers. The Dutch superstar is yet to fire on all cylinders this year but it would be foolish and disrespectful to disregard her. Her 200m championship final times in each of the past four seasons are: 22.03 (2014 Euros); 21.63 (2015 Worlds); 21.88 (2016 Olympics) and 22:05 (2017 Worlds). All four of those times are faster than Asher-Smith has ever run. Beating Schippers to successfully defend her 200m title from 2016 would surely be the British record holder’s greatest achievement to date.

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With a 44.63 clocking, Matthew Hudson-Smith heads the European rankings over 400m. A silver medalist four years ago, Hudson-Smith will go up against Spain’s Oscar Husillos and 400m hurdles World champion Karsten Warholm of Norway, in a bid to win a first senior title. It is feasible that all three national records may be broken in Berlin (GBR 44.36 – Iwan Thomas); (SPA 44.69 – Bruno Hortelano); (NOR 44.87 – Karsten Warholm). Hudson-Smith is getting better with every race and has identified the 21-year-old British record as a target for this season. Husillos has carried his outstanding indoor form (where he briefly became world indoor champion before disqualification) outdoors, and Warholm has broken his 400m hurdles NR in almost every race since that flat 400m run. The European record of 44.33 set way back in 1987 by (East) Germany’s Thomas Schonlebe might be living on borrowed time.

Up until a few weeks ago you’d have said that Lynsey Sharp was having an atrocious season. Out in the heats of the commonwealth games, outside of the top two at the British trials, an in poor-taste rant against Laura Muir and a series of below par runs well outside two minutes. However, two runs inside that benchmark in quick succession and a decent placing at the London diamond league and she finds herself heading to Berlin ranked 2nd in Europe. European champion six years ago in Helsinki, Sharp is presented with an outstanding opportunity to win a second title. With Muir eventually choosing not to double-up, Hassan opting for the 5000m and Selina Buchel and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke looking out of sorts, European leader Renelle Lamote is the only real threat (on paper). Despite having excellent personal bests, neither Lamote nor Sharp are particularly convincing competitors, but I expect the Brit to emerge victorious in Berlin.

Laura Muir and Laura Weightman will surely complete a British 1-2 in the 1500m, most likely joined on the podium by Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui. Muir would have started as overwhelming favourite for both the 800m and 1500m but a slight niggle after the London diamond league means she will only run the event she is most known for. Weightman hasn’t contested many 1500m’s in 2018, choosing to focus on the 5000m for the first part of the season, which resulted in the third major medal of her career. However, the races she has run indicate that a PB is on the cards and her excellent final 100m at last year’s World championships will give her belief that if she is close enough to Muir in the home straight then anything is possible. Muir admitted that she went too hard too early in the mile at the London diamond league so I expect her to wait until 300/250m to go before kicking, but in truth she can win this race in any which way she wants.

There are two possible field gold’s with all of our long jump women capable of winning their first career title and Nick Miller talented enough to beat anyone in the world. Jazmin Sawyers will start as the most unlikely of the three long jumpers to win gold, yet she edged Shara Proctor out of the top two at the British trials and has commonwealth and European medals already. Proctor, who in turn beat Sawyers and Ugen at the London diamond league looks to have finally recaptured the form that took her so close to becoming World champion in 2015. A crisis of confidence followed that magnificent national record in the Bird’s Nest Stadium but her recent 6.91m and continued improvement with every meet indicates that something special could be on the cards. World leader and newest member of the 7 metre club Lorrain Ugen won both the British trials and the Stockholm diamond league, but has also had some poor competitions in between. The bookies have her a slight favourite over reigning European champion, indoors and out, Ivana Spanovic (6.99m this season), an athlete with a plethora of medals and titles. Ugen may have a better jump to her credit this year, but Spanovic is the defending champion. All are extraordinary athletes but to suggest it will be Ivana vs. the Brits would be insulting to the stellar field. I believe a British 1-2-3 is possible, but with equal probability I also believe a British 4-5-6 is feasible. Malaika Mihambo and Sosthene Moguernara (both German) are world class and will not be beaten with anything less than 6.90m+ jumps. The women’s long jump is arguably the event with the highest standard at these championships, possibly slightly ahead of the men’s 1500m. Whoever becomes the European champion will surely have to produce the jump of their life.

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Nick Miller won’t start as the bookies favourite for the men’s hammer, but he start as mine. His season’s best and British record are over a metre down on the European leading market of Wojciech Nowicki and almost a metre down on hammer superstar Pawel Fajdek’s best mark. However, he showed incredible focus and strength when becoming the first Brit ever to throw over 80m to win the commonwealth title in April and has spent most of the time since then in heavy training. If he has continued to build and tapered correctly there’s no reason to think that he could not improve on that 80.26m. It is likely it will take that to win but Nick seems to grow in confidence each season and he may well topple the traditional Polish powerhouses in the years to come. Sixth at the world’s last year, a medal will be the minimum expectation.

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The final Brit with a realistic chance individual gold is everyone’s favourite hurdler: Eilidh Doyle. It’s quite remarkable that despite being injured and therefore not running between her 3rd successive commonwealth games silver medal and the London diamond league that Doyle will head to Berlin as the marginal favourite. Especially given that European leader (over both 400m flat and 400m hurdles) Lea Sprunger, and double World champion Zusanna Hejnova will be competing. Hejnova has not quite taken off this season, equal 4th on the European list with 55.16. Sprunger has had two excellent indoor seasons back-to-back, but on both occasions ended up without a medal. The lactic sniper got the better of her in the final of last year’s European indoors and she was disqualified in the semi’s of this year’s World indoors. The speed demonstrated on the boards has resulted in a fantastic outdoor 400m 50.52 PB but her 54.79 over the hurdles suggests the technical transition has not been quite so smooth. Doyle, on the other hand, picked up her first individual global medal with bronze at the world indoors, followed by silver at the commonwealth games in 54.80, just a fraction behind Sprunger’s European lead. The 2014 European champion’s two races since returning from injury (56.18 and 55.71) won’t worry the Swiss or Czech athletes, but what might be a cause for concern is her assertion that she has completed the training necessary whilst injured and has just been unable to race. Expect all three of them to run under 55 seconds in the final, should they navigate the semis.

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All four of the British relay quartets will expect gold in Berlin. The men’s lineup will most probably feature 3/4 of the team that won World gold last year, with Hughes expected to come in for Danny Talbot, who is spending this season out injured. Likewise Desiree Henry will be missing from the women’s 4×100 team, silver medalists in London. Imani Lansiqout/Bianca Williams are likely to join Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Phillip and Daryll Neita. Neither team should be troubled too much by the speed of their competitors.

The 4x400m relays will be more difficult to win. Both men and women have taken their largest squads ever as a result of the novel decision by the organiser’s to have the relays in the middle of the athletics program, swinging the relay battles mightily in favour of the countries with the most depth, i.e. GBR.

The 4x400m heats take place the morning after the women’s 400m semi-finals and the men’s 400m hurdles final. That possibly rules out Anika Onoura, Amy Allcock and Laviai Nielsen, all of whom will expect to be competing in those semis and hoping to progress to the final. It will also probably rule out Jack Green, unless he does not make the hurdles last eight. The women’s 400m hurdles final and men’s 400m final also take place on the same day as the heats. Not only has that ended Lea Sprungers bid for a 400/400mh hurdle double, it also rules out at least Doyle and Hudson-Smith, possibly Meghan Beesley and Dwayne Cowan. The relay finals themselves occur just after the women’s 400m final, likely wiping out all three of the British women selected in the individual event (mentioned above). It really is bizarre. What this does mean however is that despite having the third best men’s squad (behind Belgium and Spain) GBR will probably win the men’s title. This is because the two other countries simply do not have the same depth. Their first four are probably better, man-for-man, than our team (with the exception of Hudson-Smith) but we have Cameron Chalmers, Sebastian Rodger, Owen Smith, Martyn Rooney, Delano Williams and Rabah Yousif all ready to run a leg each in any given combination. The Borlees are going to have to run the individual 400ms and both legs of the relay, and Hortelano (200m) and Husillos (400m) will have to do the same for Spain.

The British women’s team is good enough to win with or without this bizarre set-up, but their closest rivals, Poland and France, have been weakened by the timetabling. It does mean the final may be the unusual line-up of Doyle, Beesley, Zoey Clark and Mary Abici, with Emily Diamond, Kirsten McAslan and Finette Agyapong all possibly featuring in the heats.