After just 10 victories at last year’s World Athletics Championships, Europe’s athletes look on course to do considerably better in the medal table this time around in Budapest.
At the first ever back-to-back World Athletics Championships – precipitated the long-term effects of the 2020 pandemic on the international sporting calendar – the event returns to European soil for the first time since 2017 with the Hungarian capital’s newly-inaugurated National Athletics Centre playing host to more than 2000 athletes between 19-27 August.
No less than 13 European athletes lead the world lists ahead of the gun going on the first event on Saturday, with four gold medals being decided on the first day.
Some of the names at the top of the lists are ‘the usual suspects’ including Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m, Sweden’s Armand Duplantis in pole vault and Slovenia’s Kristjan Ceh in the discus, with the latter pair both the defending champions from Oregon 22 in their named specialities.
In addition, there are the returning stars such as 400m hurdles world record-holder and former European Athlete of the Year Karsten Warholm of Norway.
Several athletes have also broken through to make a big impact on the global scene in 2023 such as Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes in the 100m and Spain’s 35km race walk world record-holder Maria Perez.
Reigning European Athlete of the Year Ingebrigtsen won the 5000m last year in Oregon but was sensationally beaten by Jake Wightman in the 1500m.
Sadly, the Briton is unable to defend his title due to a foot injury and Ingebrigtsen is the prohibitive favourite after a summer in which he has twice reduced the European 1500m record.
He hasn’t run a 5000m this year but with the longer event coming in the second half of the championships and no overlap, barring accidents he could achieve what to date has been an unobtainable double.
Duplantis has only had one defeat in his 12 outings this year, although that did come at his last meeting in Monaco, and his consistency at going over six metres and more suggests that if anyone were to beat him it would probably count as the biggest upset of the championships.
What many fans want to see in Budapest is whether he can improve on his world record of 6.22m set indoors in Clermont-Ferrand after producing what was for many the highlight of the last world championships when he cleared what was then a world record – and remains a world outdoor best – of 6.21m.
As Duplantis has often said, you can’t plan for a world record. However, the Swede does have a habit of being able to bring his best to major championships ever since he broke through at the 2018 European Athletics Championships.
No somersaults for Sweden's star vaulter
“That’s my goal, and my focus. I want to be at my peak in Budapest,” said Duplantis.
However, he has ruled out a repeat of his now famous front flip celebration on the track in Oregon last year. “I’m one for one and I think I should keep it at that. It wasn’t planned but I did stick the landing. And I think I should end on that. I don’t think I should be doing any more as it’s doomed to go worse!”
The prolific Ceh has lost three of his 14 meetings this year, including twice in the last month, but is still most people’s gold medal bet despite both Sweden’s 2019 world champion Daniel Stahl and Lithuania’s Mykolas Alekna – fourth and second respectively in Oregon – throwing 71 metres or more this summer.
“Although I didn't perform at my best in a few previous meetings, my last competition in Estonia ten days before the World Championships qualifiers [where he threw 69.99m in Johvi on 10 August) showed that I am capable of throwing far,” said Ceh a few days ago, exuding his usual quiet confidence.
Nothing gave athletics fans greater pleasure this summer than watching Karsten Warholm fly around the track and over the barriers in his usual imperious form this after an injury-marred 2022, although he was fit enough to take the European title in Munich.
With three times under 47 seconds this summer, including a world-leading 46.51 in Monaco less than a month ago, Warholm is the favourite to add a third world title to those he won in 2017 and 2019.
Hughes, a world championships 200m finalist as far back as 2015, has been on the brink of individual global honours since then but has had to settle for a pair of 4x100m medals.
However, his world-leading 100m mark of 9.83m in New York and 19.73 clocking over 200m in London – just one-hundredth short of Pietro Mennea’s 44-year-old European record – have moved him much further up in many pundits' assessment of the potential medallists in Budapest.
Perez won the 2018 European 20km race walk title but seems to have truly found her niche in the longer 35km event, setting a world record 2:37:15 at the European Race Walking Team Championships in May.
In Oregon, only two European women struck gold: Germany’s Malaika Mihambo and Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam in the long jump and heptathlon respectively:
However, despite the absence of both Mihambo and Thiam due to injury, the presence of Perez, Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, the Netherlands’ Femke Bol, Ukraine Yaroslava Mahuchikh – the latter trio topping the 2023 world lists in the 800m, 400m hurdles and high jump respectively – should still ensure greater European female representation at the top of the Budapest podium.
It is impossible to run the rule over all potential European medallists in so few words but former world champions like Dina Asher-Smith (100/200m), Sifan Hassan (1500/5000/10,000m) and Sandra Perkovic (discus) could also be among the medals once more along with the likes of decathlon defending champion Kevin Mayer and perennial long medal contender Miltiadis Tentoglou.
One of the most intriguing and strongest events from a continental perspective could be the men’s hammer.
In Oregon, the top five places were filled by Europeans throwing over 80 metres with Poland’s Pawel Fajdek prevailing to take his fifth consecutive world title ahead of his compatriot Wojciech Nowicki.
However, since then the 2022 European champion Nowicki has finished in front of Fajdek in their last nine head-to-head encounters. Could Fajdek’s long reign as world champion be coming to an end?
The biggest team from among European Athletics’ Member Federations is being sent by France with 79 athletes while Germany and Italy are not far behind with squads of 78 athletes.
Phil Minshull for European Athletics