For the third time in four nights, the formidable Femke Bol was a class apart in the home straight of a final at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships.
If a 49.44 national record in the 400m on Wednesday and a 52.67 championship record in the 400m hurdles on Friday was a hard double act to follow – not to mention a physically demanding one – the 22-year-old with a Midas touch in her legs just about managed it as she anchored the Netherlands to an ultimately emphatic 4x400m relay victory.
Fanny Blankers-Koen won three individual golds at the 1950 European Athletics Championships in Brussels – 100m, 200m and 80m hurdles, plus a 4x100m relay silver – but, with her four-day hat-trick in the Olympiastadion, the unassuming Bol has established herself as a national treasure to set alongside the memory of the fellow-countrywoman who was named Female Athlete of the 20th Century.
Bol took possession of the baton some seven metres down on the lead held by Belgium’s last leg runner Camille Laus, with Great Britain’s Nicole Yeargin also ahead of her. The world 400m hurdles silver medallist judged her effort to perfection, moving up slightly down the back straight, moving alongside her two rivals halfway around the final curve and then applying the after-burners down the home straight.
Bol crossed the line in 3:20.87, a European lead and a national record, with a winning margin of 0.81. Natalia Kaczmarek, the runner-up behind her in the flat 400m, finished strongly to claim silver for Poland in 3:21.68, with Great Britain taking bronze in 3:22.12 and the fourth in 3:22.12, a national record and a time that would have won gold by more than four seconds in Berlin four years ago.
Typically, Bol was quick to pass on credit to her teammates, Eveline Saalberg, Lieke Klaver and Lisanne De Witte. Klaver, running her sixth race of the week (one more than Bol), ran a storming second leg on her 24th birthday, hauling the Dutch into contention and into the lead.
“I really love to run with these girls,” said Bol. “They’re such fantastic athletes and amazing team-mates. It was such an amazing race. These championships feel special to me.”
Gega makes history for Albania with gold in the 3000m steeplechase
Munich 2022 could hardly feel any more special to Luiza Gega, the only athlete competing at the championships. In the final race of the night, the women’s 3000m steeplechase final, the 33-year-old doubled Albania’s all-time medal tally, providing a first ever gold for the tiny Adriatic country.
Runner-up in the 3000m steeplechase in Amsterdam 2016, Gega summoned a tour de force of a performance, blasting into the lead from the gun and determinedly staying there, even when British record-holder Lizzie Bird managed to claw her way into her slipstream.
With 600 metres remaining, she pulled decisively clear, crossing the line in 9:11.31 to smash the championship record set by Russia’s Yuliya Zaripova in Barcelona in 2010. Roared on by the home crowd, Lea Meyer passed Bird to finish second (9:15.35) with the Briton in third place (9:23.18).
“I wanted this medal so much,” said Gega, who has been knocking lumps off her Albanian record all summer and holds all of her country’s national records from 800m to the marathon. “From the beginning, I tried to run hard. I know how to run alone because I train alone,
“When I entered the last lap, I just said to myself, ‘Go, Luiza, go. You can make the dream come true.’ This is the first medal for my country. I am so happy. I worked so hard for it.”
There was also an historic gold medal performance in the women’s 800m final, Keely Hodgkinson’s superbly judged triumph taking Great Britain and Northern Ireland past the Soviet Union with the highest tally of gold medals - 122 - since the European Championships started in 1934.
After taking silver behind Athing Mu at the World Athletics Championships and behind Kenya’s Mary Moraa at the Commonwealth Games, the 20-year-old swept to a decisive victory, powering clear off the final bend to win by 0.45 in 1:59.04.
France’s Renelle Lamote finished runner-up in the event for the third successive time, clocking 1:59,49, with the fast-finishing Pole Anna Wielgosz third in 1:59.87, 0.05 ahead of Switzerland’s Lore Hoffman.
“I’m very happy to come here and finally get on top of the podium," said Hodgkinson. “It’s been a hard year mentally but I’ve made it to the end with gold and two silvers.”
Great Britain’s first gold in the event came in Athens in 1969 from Lillian Board, who sadly failed to make it to the Munich Olympics three years later. She died of cancer in a clinic in the Bavarian capital in December 1970, aged 22.
Touchingly, the path leading from the U-Bahn Stadium to the vast Olympic complex, where Hodgkinson followed in her footsteps, is called Lillian Board Weg: Lillian Board Way.
Gold medal number 123 for Britain at the European Championships arrived in the final that followed on in the Olympiastadion. It was delivered by a British men’s 4 x 400m quartet who, like Hodgkinson, got their tactics spot on.
To some, entrusting individual 400m champion Matthew Hudson-Smith with opening leg duty might have seemed a risk but the world bronze medallist provided Charlie Dobson and Lewis Davey with a cushion they were able to pass on Alex Haydock-Wilson for the final leg.
Third in the individual final, Haydock-Wilson was fleetingly challenged by France’s Thomas Jordier halfway down the home straight but finished with an advantage of 0.14 as Great Britain secured gold in 2:59,35.
Dylan Borlee passed Jordier to earn silver for reigning champions Belgium in 2:59.49, with France third in 2:59.64.
Full results here.