Berlin, Germany; August 06-12—Have to admit, sometimes its tough for U.S. fans to get as excited about the European Championships as do fans of countries that have some skin in the game. After all, some of our favorite athletes just aren’t there. “But Mondo…” you say. Yes, Mondo Duplantis is still American in the eyes of many Stateside fans. But he’s only one athlete. After him, the average fan perhaps needs to look a little deeper to appreciate the Euros. Luckily, as in many top-flight track meets, the closer you look, the more compelling some of the battles become.
Here are 5 contests that we think are worth a close watch at a meet where the weather is projecting as anywhere from warm to scorchingly hot (would you believe a projected high of 99F/37C?):
1. Men’s Pole Vault: Mondo vs. Lavillenie
Mondo Duplantis, 18, against his friend and mentor, Renaud Lavillenie, 31. The Junior WR holder against the Senior WR holder The two have already met 8 times this season, with the Frenchman holding a 5-3 advantage. If Mondo has another big jump in him this year, he could maybe produce a great “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay when he starts at LSU in mid-month. However, plenty of potential spoilers are in the field, including ’11 world champ Paweł Wojciechowski, 6-meter man Piotr Lisek, ’13 world champ Raphael Holzdeppe and Russian Timur Morgunov, who recently cleared 19-5 (5.92).
2. Women’s Long Jump: The Battle For World #1
With American star Brittney Reese—7 times the World Rankings leader—taking an off-year this season, the long jump pendulum has swung solidly toward Europe. The top 3 on the world list will all be competing: list leader Lorraine Ugen (23-1¾/7.05), Germany’s Malaika Mihambo, who jumped a PR 22-11¼ (6.99) in May, and World Indoor champ Ivana Španović. Also solidly in the mix is London DL winner Shara Proctor. How this competition plays out will likely have a huge effect on this year’s Rankings. Says Ugen, who trains in Texas with Shawn Jackson, “It’s definitely a boost when I know I’ve had a consistent season. I need to go into the champs level-headed, knowing there are some really talented girls there and there are going to be a lot of people competing. I have to know it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
3. Men’s 1500 & 5000: The Ingebrigtsen Show
The three Ingebrigtsen brothers are attracting quite a following in the U.S. Maybe it’s the unfathomable notion that the slowest guy in the family has a 1500 PR of 3:31.46. Or that Jakob, the young one, has been crushing times that make him look like the second coming of Jim Ryun (only with more of a 1500/5K bent). Either way, the trio (Henrik, 27; Filip, 25; Jakob, 17) should play a major role in Berlin. Entered in both the 1500 and the 5000 (rumors say against the wishes of their father/coach), they will run the 1500 final a day before their 5000 test. Jakob had mixed results with that double at World Juniors, winning silver in a tactical 1500 (3:41.89) and then 2 days later grabbed long-race bronze with a PR 13:20.78.
4. Heptathlon: Certainly Thiam
The heptathlon surely belongs to Belgium’s Nafi Thiam… unless someone else has another idea and the ability to back it up and upset the reigning OG/WC gold medalist. That would seem a tall order, as Thiam is the current world leader at 6806. Her nearest European rivals on the year list are Carolin Schäfer (6549) of Germany, Anouk Vetter (6426) of the Netherlands, and Ivona Dadic (6413) of Austria. Still, watch out for Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson, 25, who won the Commonwealth gold at a modest 6255. Said KJT recently, “Thiam’s an amazing athlete. She has done everything that I want to achieve in my career and the hype around her is deserved, for sure. But I don’t believe that anyone is unbeatable. I will get to Berlin thinking that the treble is still on.” She added, “People forget that I am only 25. I know people were saying I was going to break all these records four years ago but while I had good events I knew I was still very erratic. And if those events didn’t go well, then my heptathlon went to pot. But now I feel like I’m in a better place and I’m a better heptathlete.”
Note that Thiam, still just 23, is also one of only four women ever to crack the event’s 7000-point barrier. And if multi-event barriers are your cup of tea we should point out that based on his marks in individual events this year world decathlon champ Kevin Mayer of France could be well poised to become only the third man ever to crack the 10-eventer’s 9000-point plateau.
5. Men’s Discus: Gudžius vs. Ståhl
Last year Andrius Gudžius of Lithuania and Daniel Ståhl of Sweden dominated the World Championships platter, their battle coming down to a 3cm difference that put them more than a meter up on American Mason Finley’s bronze. Their rematch is on, but Ståhl will have to derail the Gudžius victory train that began last year in London. Since then the Lithuanian has come out ahead in 7 straight encounters. Though while Gudžius leads with 7 meets past 68.00 (223-1) this season compared to Ståhl’s 3, the Swede has thrown seasonal bests in his last two meets, wrapping up his prep with a 226-9 (69.11), which isn’t so far from Gudžius’s June PR of 228-3 (69.59). Says Gudžius: “There are five or six people who will fight for the medal. It will not be so easy.”
And That’s Not All…
What else to watch for? There’ll be plenty, from world leader Sergey Shubenkov in the 110H to Laura Muir in the 1500… Sifan Hassan is passing the 1500 and will try to confirm her standing as a 5000 star… For the locals, the highlight may well be the awesome German men’s javelin trio… Mariya Lasitskene should put on another high jump demonstration… And how about Karsten Warholm (“you only live once, so I’m going for it”) attempting a tough 400/400H double?… Start lists & results are available here.
Berlin ’18—an affair we’ll be covering with daily online reports—could end up being a great meet after all, even if they neglected to invite the Americans.