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100 days until Espoo! 10 athletes to watch at the 2023 European Athletics U23 Championships

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  • 100 days until Espoo! 10 athletes to watch at the 2023 European Athletics U23 Championships

With 100 days to go until the European Athletics U23 Championships take place in Espoo, Finland, we take a look at 10 athletes who could light up the Leppävaara Stadium from 13-16 July.

Keely Hodgkinson (Great Britain & NI)

Keely Hodgkinson might have Olympic and world 800m silver medals to her name - not to mention three European senior titles - but the European Athletics U23 Championships very much feature in her plans this summer.

But Hodgkinson will be dropping down in distance to contest the 400m in Espoo in a bid to sharpen up for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest and a tilt at her first global senior title.

Hodgkinson, who holds the British 800m record at 1:55.88, has a lifetime best of 52.41 in the 400m and she has also expressed her interest in being involved on British 4x400m relay teams in the future.

The Brit could potentially cross paths with Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke, the reigning European U20 100m and 200m champion who has since made a sterling and seamless transition up to the 400m. The 20-year-old ran outright Irish 400m records of 50.45 and 50.33 during a typically frantic and busy indoor season on the US collegiate circuit.

Yaroslava Mahuchikh (Ukraine)

Yaroslava Mahuchikh has accrued a full complement of European titles across all age-groups dating back to the 2018 European Athletics U18 Championships when she broke through with gold in Gyor at the age of 16.

Still only 21, Mahuchikh is eligible to defend her European U23 high jump title this summer. The Ukrainian won gold two years ago in Tallinn with a championship record of 2.00m.

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Pia Skrzyszowska (Poland)

After the heartbreak of missing the European Athletics Indoor Championships due to an untimely hamstring injury, Pia Skrzyszowska will have another chance of adding to her continental title collection in Espoo this summer.

Skrzyszowska won gold in the 100m hurdles two years ago, defeating soon-to-be world indoor champion Cyrena Samba-Mayela from France in an exciting final. The Pole also tasted senior success in 2022, storming to gold in Munich at the age of 21.

While her prowess in the hurdles has been more than evident since her junior days, Skrzyszowska also led the 2022 European U23 list in the 100m flat with a lifetime best of 11.12. 

Elina Tzengko (Greece)

The reigning European senior champion and Rising Star will seek yet more continental silverware in the javelin at the European U23 Championships in Espoo. 

Speaking after accepting her award at the Golden Tracks in Tallinn, the Greek thrower said: “I already have a European U20 title and a senior title so I want the U23 title. I have two really important competitions next year: the European U23 Championships and the World Championships.”

Could Tzengko also challenge the championship record of 65.60m which belongs to Christin Hussong, her predecessor as European senior champion?

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Mykolas Alekna (Lithuania)

Like Tzengko, fellow Rising Star Mykolas Alekna could complete the same trio of European titles in the discus this summer. After winning U20 gold in Tallinn, Alekna defeated the recently crowned world champion Kristjan Ceh from Slovenia for gold in Munich last year to become the youngest ever gold medallist in the event in European Athletics Championships history.

And the Lithuanian, whose lifetime best stands at 69.81m, could have his sights on the championship record of 67.48m which was set by Ceh two years ago in Tallinn. 

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Sasha Zhoya (France)

France’s Sasha Zhoya was one of the standout junior athletes in 2021, winning gold medals at the European and World Athletics U20 Championships and decimating the world U20 record in the 110m hurdles with 12.72.

The transition to the senior ranks and the higher hurdles has not been without its difficulties but Zhoya still made the final at the European Athletics Championships in Munich last summer amid an injury-disrupted season.

Further injury problems sidelined Zhoya during the indoor season but if he can stay healthy, the Frenchman will be an exciting and electric prospect in the 110m hurdles in Espoo. For posterity, the championship record of 13.23 belongs to his coach Ladji Doucoure.  

Silja Kosonen (Finland)

Hosts Finland will have some tangible gold medal prospects in Espoo this July, including reigning world and European U20 hammer champion Silja Kosonen.

Kosonen also broke the world U20 hammer record with 73.43m in her stellar junior career before making an impact in senior competition last summer, finishing inside the top eight at both the World Athletics Championships and European Athletics Championships while she was still a teenager.

Saga Vanninen (Finland)

Still only 19, Saga Vanninen has followed Kosonen through the ranks. The exciting Finnish combined eventer won the same double in the heptathlon in 2021 before rounding off her junior career by defending her title at the 2022 World U20 Championships.

Vanninen, who finished seventh in an already legendary pentathlon competition at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul, is particularly strong in the throwing events and can already boast lifetime bests of 16.12m in the shot put and 49.22m in the javelin.

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Sander Skotheim (Norway)

In less than two years, Norwegian multi-eventer Sander Skotheim has graduated from European U20 decathlon silver medallist to European indoor heptathlon silver medallist, beaten only by France's world record-holder Kevin Mayer in Istanbul last month.

Can Skotheim graduate to U23 gold in the decathlon in Espoo later this summer? And there could be the prospect of a Norwegian one-two in the decathlon with Markus Rooth - who has a slightly higher lifetime best at 8307 points to Skotheim’s 8298 points - still in the U23 ranks. 

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Blessing Afrifah (Israel)

Blessing Afrifah broke through last summer at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Cali where he ended Letsile Tebogo’s sprint double aspirations, pipping the Botswanan in a thrilling 200m final with a European U20 record of 19.96.

Only a fortnight after becoming the first European to break the 20 second-barrier as a junior, Afrifah reached the European 200m final in Munich where he was the youngest finalist by four years.

Still only 19 and in his first season in the U23 ranks, Afrifah looks well placed to win a rare sprint title for Israel in Espoo later this summer.

Steven Mills for European Athletics

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