Europe’s finest go in search of global gold in Belgrade

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  • Europe’s finest go in search of global gold in Belgrade

In total, 15 European indoor champions from Torun 2021 last year will go in search of global honours at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia which take place from 18-20 March.

And from those fifteen champions, five of them went on to triumph at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and will therefore go in search of their third major titles in just over 12 months in the Stark Arena.

Two of the biggest favourites across the championships are Sweden’s Armand Duplantis and Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen whose careers have followed very similar and enviable trajectories. Both athletes triumphed as teenagers at the 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin before the pair struck their first senior global gold medals in Tokyo last summer.

Both athletes also broke world records in their last competitive outings ahead of the championships. After more than 50 tries, Duplantis finally conquered 6.19m in the pole vault in this very arena only nine days ago while Ingebrigtsen took the world indoor 1500m record down to 3:30.60 with a masterful run in Lievin last month.

Having cleared six metres or higher in his five competitions this season, Duplantis looks poised to relieve his predecessor as world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of his championship record which stands at 6.02m. And for posterity, the championship record in the 1500m stands to Haile Gebrselassie with 3:33.77 from 1999 which could be in Ingebrigtsen’s grasp in a non-tactical final.

Double Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs from Italy will face a thorough examination in the 60m from reigning champion Christian Coleman from the United States who was notably absent from the Tokyo Olympics last summer due to a suspension but returned to win the US indoor title last month in 6.45. 

Jacobs’ build-up to the championships suffered a blip when he was DQ’d for a false start in this arena last week - this was the first time has has ever false started - but the Italian is otherwise unbeaten this indoor season and has consistently approached his national record of 6.47 which he set at the European Indoor Championships last March. 

And his aim for 2022? "My aim is above all to try to win everything possible to maintain the standard I set in Tokyo," said Jacobs, who won Olympic 100m gold with a European record of 9.80.

Also looking to extend their gold medal streaks are horizontal jumpers Miltiadis Tentoglou from Greece and Portugal’s Pedro Pichardo. In what could be a repeat of the last two European indoor finals, Tentoglou’s closest rival is likely to be Sweden’s Thobias Montler who have a 1-1 head-to-head record in 2022.

Montler defeated Tentoglou at the Czech Indoor Gala last month - 8.21m to 8.15m - but the positions were reversed in the dress rehearsal for the championships in Belgrade last Monday with Tentoglou bounding out to 8.25m to defeat Montler by two centimetres.

Pichardo has only competed once so far this year, yielding a relatively modest result of 16.57m for an athlete who can jump over 18 metres at his very best. But if his outdoor form from last summer is more indicative of his current form, Pichardo could come away with yet more silverware in Belgrade.

Breakout stars Bol and Hodgkinson in focus in Belgrade

Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medallist Femke Bol was one of the breakthrough stars of the 2021 season but the early signs are that 2022 could be even better for the Dutchwoman.

Bol went unbeaten through the indoor season last year which culminated with two gold medals at the European Indoor Championships in Torun where she eclipsed her Dutch record in the 400m final with 50.63.

Bol has navigated her way through this indoor season without a loss to her name in the 400m and she has continued to chip away at her national record, improving to 50.30 at the Dutch Indoor Championships - a time that hasn’t been matched by a European since 2007.

But the 22-year-old will face a formidable test in Belgrade with two-time Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo from the Bahamas poised to make her first appearance at these championships in eight years. Could the two protagonists push each other to a sub-50 second clocking, something that hasn’t been achieved indoors since 2004?

By contrast, Keely Hodgkinson should enjoy a much more comfortable passage in the 800m. The European indoor champion and Olympic silver medallist is the fastest entrant based on season’s bests by more than one second after clocking a mightily impressive 1:57.20 on her season’s debut in Birmingham - the fastest time indoors since 2002 - where she also defeated most of her principal rivals for this title.

Yaroslava Mahuchikh followed up her European indoor title with bronze in the high jump at the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 20. For obvious reasons, Mahuchikh hasn’t competed in over a month but she is one of six Ukrainians who are able to travel to Belgrade following last month’s Russian invasion.

The Ukrainian team also includes fellow European indoor champion Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk who has entered both the long jump and triple jump. The former looks set to be a homecoming for Ivana Vuleta who memorably soared to 7.24m when Belgrade staged the 2017 European Indoor Championships while the latter brings together a full podium from Tokyo 2020: Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, Portugal’s Patricia Mamona and Ana Peleteiro from Spain.

The entry-list includes four other athletes with world leading marks to their credit: Poland’s Ewa Swoboda (6.99 in the 60m), Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo (19.90m in the shot put), Poland’s Adrianna Sulek (4756 points in the pentathlon) and Spain’s Mariano Garcia (1:45.12 in the 800m).

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