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Familiar names from a new generation triumph with gold in Jerusalem

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  • Familiar names from a new generation triumph with gold in Jerusalem

A recurring theme throughout the Jerusalem 2022 European Athletics U18 Championships was the sheer number of champions and medal winners who hailed from famous athletics families.

Having a famous sporting parent or sibling often comes with the millstone of unwanted comparisons and the burden of additional pressure and attention but these young athletes shouldered any extra expectations to create their own piece of history in the Givat Ram Stadium.

One of the biggest stories of the championships was Serbia’s Angelina Topic winning her first major title with gold in the high jump to follow in the footsteps of her father Dragutin, a six-time Olympian, who famously won the 1990 European title when he was only 19.

A teen prodigy in her own right, Topic was supported in Jerusalem not only by her father Dragutin but also her mother Biljana, the 2009 world bronze medallist in the triple jump. Angelina has already emerged from the shadows of her parents by matching the world U18 best of 1.96m but she still richly credited both of them for their advice and support. 

“I have amazing friends, amazing people around, my parents are obviously there to support me, and to show me the way to go through all of this because, firstly, they were the ones who went through this type of life and they are always there for me - to explain some things to me or to make things easier. Before coming here, my mum gave me a smile and told me just to be myself,” said Topic. 

The men’s high jump champion Mattia Furlani from Italy, who also won the long jump title with an incredible 8.04m in his first season in the event, also comes from a family where athletics runs in the blood.

His father Marcello has a lifetime best of 2.27m - and was a contemporary of Marco Tamberi in the 1980s - and his mother Kathy Seck was an international-level sprinter for Senegal. She also coaches both Mattia and his older sister Erika, herself a 1.94m high jumper and world U18 silver medallist.

“In the end, the result came through, thanks to my coach who is also my mum - she is the one who helps me every day. Psychologically, it was challenging, and I made some significant errors. But there is always room for improvement,” said Furlani.

Parviainen wins javelin gold…and not for the first time 

Topi Parviainen also added another chapter to his rich family history in the javelin with the 15-year-old winning gold with a dizzying European U18 best of 84.52m with the 700 gram implement to win the title by more than 10 metres.

Parviainen’s uncle Aki won the 1999 world title in the event and still holds the Finnish record with 93.09m and his father Mika was also an international-calibre thrower in his own right with a lifetime best of 80.82m which dates back to 1995. 

Aki followed his precocious nephew’s progress in Jerusalem closely. He was naturally impressed but also cautious about forecasting greatness at this very early stage of his nascent career.

“In general, with a young athlete, you shouldn't make massive predictions, and javelin throwing is such a sport that you never know when the last throw will be,” said Aki, whose career was cut short due to recurring knee injuries.

“But of course he is a huge talent; he has the potential to be the best in the world one day. I don't see any obstacles.”

Two of Germany’s gold medallists won titles in disciplines in which their fathers excelled.

In the 2000m steeplechase, Jolanda Kallabis surged away in the last 500 metres to win gold some 24 years after her father Damian was crowned senior champion in the 3000m steeplechase at the Budapest 1998 European Athletics Championships.

“Before the race, my dad told me to do it like he did at the European Championships in 1998. I couldn't really hear him during the race, but I already talked to him and he said he was really, really proud, and that I did it perfectly,” said Kallabis.

On the last day of the championships, Frederick Wiegel won the 10,000m race walk title. His father Ronald will be familiar to race walking aficionados for winning the inaugural 50km race walk title for East Germany in 1983.

Wiegel couldn't make the championships as he is currently overseeing the German race walking team's final preparations for the World Athletics Championships in Oregon but Frederick hopes he watched proceedings from afar.

"Yes, he motivates me, but I have my own opinion about the sport. He doesn't really control me. I think maybe he will be proud of me, and probably stayed up late to watch the race," he said.

Brudin follows in Melnik’s footsteps 

One of the most emotional winners was Mykhailo Brudin who won Ukraine’s only gold medal in the discus with a championship record.

Brudin’s great-grandmother was the late Faina Melnik, the 1972 Olympic champion and the first woman to break the 70 metre-barrier in the discus. And while they never met, Brudin credits Melnik for falling in love with the event.

Jerusalem 2022 European Athletics U18 Championships - Day 2

"One day my dad took out my grandmother's discus and offered me to throw it. At that time, I was still small and my dad's offer did not arouse much interest, but I still agreed and tried it. I tried it - and I really liked it. I'm fired up with this!” said Brudin, whose first sport was wrestling.

After winning the gold medal in Jerusalem, Brudin brandished a photo of his grandmother to the photographers before sinking to his knees and kissing the photo which he brought with him for inspiration.

“I am proud that I have such a grandmother, but I have never bragged about it. This is pride, memory. This is what pushes and motivates me to continue to work and reach such heights as Faina Melnik, but at the same time be myself,” he said.

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