From the pit of despair to unbounded joy, Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk took one giant leap in the space of 24 hours with the triple jump tour de force that earned the first gold medal of the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, part of the wider multi-sport European Championships, for her war-torn country on Thursday (19).
The 27-year-old Ukrainian cut a disconsolate figure at the conclusion of Thursday evening’s session in the Olympic Stadium, having been denied bronze in the final round of the long jump by Great Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers.
She finished Friday night’s session wreathed in smiles, laughing as her sixth and final effort turned into a mistimed quadruple jump as she got her rhythm all wrong on the runway. It mattered not, with the title already securely in the bag – the first in a debut season as a triple jumper that earned world indoor silver in March.
In effect, the gold medal was won with Bekh-Romanchuk’s opening attempt which was measured at 14.81m, a significant improvement on her 2022 European lead of 14.59m. Not that she was content to rest on that laurel. In round four she jumped 14.80m, into a 2.3 m/s head wind, then uncorked a monster 15.02m with her next effort – her first venture beyond the magic 15 metre-mark.
Having been forced to train at Brescia in Italy because of the Russian invasion of her homeland, the emotion came pouring out in the aftermath of her emphatic victory. “I am really happy because I felt very supported by the German fans and by my family, my husband and others. I won gold medal because of them. It was the best outcome for me," said Bekh-Romanchuk who won one of three medals for Ukraine on day five in Munich.
Silver went to Kristiina Makela with a Finnish record, 14.64m, and Hanna Minenko earned a poignant bronze with 14.45m. The 32-year-old was born in Ukraine but competes for Israel, having married the Kazakh-born Israeli decathlete Anatoly Minenko.
“I am super happy to take a medal in these European Championships, especially in Munich, especially 50 years after the Olympic Games here,” said Minenko, alluding to what became known as the Munich Massacre, in which eleven members of Israel’s Olympic party, athletes and coaches, were killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.
“It is very symbolic for us to raise our flag here. I have had great support from Israel, from a lot of people. This medal is for the Israeli people. The crowd supported me a lot and I would like to say, ‘Thank you’,”
That generous German support came despite Minenko denying fourth-placed Neele Eckhardt a medal for the host nation by two centimetres. Portugal’s Olympic silver medallist and 2016 European championPatricia Mamona finished fifth with 14.41m.
Gold once again for Alekna at the European Championships
Kristjan Ceh might be a Clark Kent-lookalike with Superman powers in the discus but the bespectacled six-foot-nine Slovenian giant was brought crashing down to earth by a 19-year-old chunk of human kryptonite.
At 23, Ceh has made the transition from European U23 champion to world champion in 12 months but the teenaged Alekna has progressed from world and European U20 champion to world senior silver medallist and now European senior champion in the same time-frame. In doing so, Alekna became the first ever teenager to win a title in a throwing event in the history of the European Championships.
In taking the continental crown in Munich, eclipsing Ceh’s two-day old championship record (69.06m) with a mighty 69.78m in round five, Mykolas emulated his father’s success in Gothenburg in 2006, which came four years after silver in Munich.
Virgilijus Alekna captured two world and Olympic titles but his son, whom he coaches, has time to add global gold to his medal collection – and the formidable Ceh with which to contend.
Like Pawel Fajdek in the hammer and Malaika Mihambo in the long jump the night before, the giant Slovenian could not quite recapture the form that took him to gold at the World Championships a month ago.
He took the lead with a 67.62m lead in round two, improved to 67.81m with his next attempt and made what proved to be his best effort of the night immediately after Alekna’s decisive fifth round throw, 68.28m. It was only his second defeat in 17 competitions in 2022.
“Kristjan is a strong athlete,” said Alekna. “Maybe today wasn’t his day. I’m happy to win, with my family in the stands here. I am still young and I expect that my journey will be a long one. Next year is going to be even better than this one. The rivalry between us will be tough, as well as the one with the other athletes.”
Ceh was magnanimous in defeat. “Congratulations to Alekna,” he said. “He was the best today. He surprised me a little. It did not work for me. I am happy with a silver medal in my first European Championships but not with my performance. My next competition is in Zurich and I want to do better.”
In the battle for the bronze medal, in a field worthy of a World Championships, it was Great Britain’s Lawrence Okoye who prevailed.
Two weeks after claiming his first international medal at the age of 30, a silver at the Commonwealth Games, the south Londoner led after round one with a season’s best of 67.14m and stayed in the medal frame with that effort – edging Olympic silver medallist Simon Pettersson for third place by 2cm, with Olympic champion Daniel Stahl fifth (66.39m) and, behind the Swedes, defending champion Andrius Gudzius of Lithuania sixth (65.40m).
It was Great Britain’s first ever discus medal at the European Championships: a fine reward for the persistence of Okoye. He started his sporting career as a budding rugby union star, being dubbed “the schoolboy Jonah Lomu” after scoring two tries in the English Schools Cup final at Twickenham Stadium, before making the London Olympics as a discus thrower in 2012 and then spending six years as an American Football fringe squad player in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and others.
“This means the world to me,” said Okoye who dissolved into tears after the competition. “I struggled all year, didn't have a great season, but in the last few weeks I have come a long way – getting a silver at the Commonwealth Games and a bronze here in this world class field.
“The European Championships is like the Olympics for discus throwers. It’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest.”
Full results here.