Hungary maintained their lead over Ukraine to win the 2nd Division of the Silesia 2023 European Athletics Team Championships on Thursday (22) but the main attention was commanded by a dramatic struggle for the third promotion place in which Lithuania displaced and then held off an unfortunate Slovenian team by a margin of 0.5 points.
-Full results here.
Going into the concluding 4x400m mixed relay Lithuania had a 3.5 points advantage but an inspired final leg by Slovenia’s European indoor 800m silver medallist Anita Horvat took her team from third to first place, raising hopes that the position had been regained.
The Slovenian quartet were handed a flag in anticipation of that happy event but the Lithuanian team, who had been brought home in fourth place by Modesta Morauskaite, were also dancing with every appearance of satisfaction.
The scoreboard eventually confirmed that Horvat’s final effort, bringing the team home in 3:14.72, had fallen marginally short.
“Yesterday everyone on our team thought advancing to the 1st Division was impossible,” Morauskaite said. “Today as we were warming up, everyone was counting the points, showing us getting closer. The pressure was coming in. We knew we had to leave our souls on the track.”
Horvat commented: “Actually, we're proud of each other because we were fighting from the beginning to the end and we did everything to collect points. We gave great effort and the team spirit was amazing.”
Slovenia were left to ponder on the cost of losing two earlier points-scoring opportunities.
First their men’s 200m runner Mateuz Sustarsic collapsed in pain out of lane nine, 60 metres from the line before being speedily attended to and taken from the track in a wheelchair.
Then, on another day of windless heat at track level, men’s 5000m back-marker Dino Bosnjak of Croatia halted by the doubled-up and staggering figure of Slovenia’s Vid Botolin 50 metres from the line and sportingly supported him to the finish - but of course the Slovenian was disqualified.
Confirmation of the men’s javelin victory by Edis Matusevicius with a season’s best of 84.22m moved Lithuania ahead of Slovenia into the third promotion place by a margin of 1.5 points with just two more events to be taken into account.
Shortly afterwards, an additional two-point advantage over the Slovenian team through a women’s high jump won as expected by Ukraine’s European champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh was confirmed.
While they did earn one win through Marusa Mismas-Zrimsek in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, Slovenia will doubtlessly reflect that fate was against them on a day when they had arrived with 35.5 points separating them from Lithuania, thanks partly to Kristjan Ceh’s championship record performance in the men’s discus.
Ukraine, relegated from the top tier two years ago, had begun the day trailing a Hungarian side energised by the imminent hosting of the World Athletics Championships by 37.5 points and finished 21 points adrift - but the main job was done.
The margin would have been smaller had both their stars shone brightly. But while Mahuchikh duly won with a best of 1.97m before three attempts at a would-be world lead of 2.02m, yesterday’s triple jump winner Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk failed to score anything in the long jump.
Mahuchikh achieved victory with a third-attempt clearance that eventually did for the challenge of Romania’s Daniela Stanciu, second on 1.94m, after Serbia’s 17-year-old European bronze medallist Angelina Topic had failed to progress from 1.91m.
But the efforts of Bekh-Romanchuk to add a second maximum points bonus to the Ukrainian cause came to grief.
The European triple jump champion shrugged after her third consecutive foul before leaning on the hoarding and reflecting upon her dramatic change in fortune.
Meanwhile Serbia’s Milica Gardasevic, who recently recorded a personal best of 6.90m in defeating the bemedalled 33-year-old European champion Ivana Vuleta in the Serbian Indoor Championships, had compounded her leading position with a brilliant 6.82m which proved more than enough.
Romania’s Alina Rotaru-Kottmann was second with a highly consistent series of efforts culminating in a sixth-round of 6.63m.
It was a curious day of competition. Despite winning the overall prize, Hungary failed to secure a single win, finishing with five victories, three fewer than Ukraine, but with a points advantage of 456.5 to 435.5.
For Lithuania, who totalled 372.5, today’s men’s javelin victory was the only one achieved in the whole competition, while Slovenia, who will remain in the 2nd Division, earned four.
Much of the day saw a succession of victories for teams nowhere near the top three places.
The first four events to finish featured winners from four different nations - none of them in the top seven when competition resumed.
That pattern was broken when Mismas-Zrimsek, who set a Slovenian 3000m steeplechase record of 9:10.07 earlier this year, won the same event emphatically in 9:23.41.
Earlier Olivia Fotopoulou of Cyprus had won the 200m in a personal best of 22.71 from Hungary’s 18-year-old Alexa Sulyan, who clocked 23.25 ahead of Ukraine’s Tatiana Kaisen in a personal best of 23.28.
But second place went to the winner of the first heat, 100m winner Patrizia Van Der Weken, whose 23.19 brought her a second Luxembourg record following her 11.02 100m clocking last Saturday.
Meanwhile Fotopoulou’s twin sister Filippa - competing under her married name of Kvitten - was preparing to add more points to the national cause in the long jump. Kviten earned significant points for Cyprus as she finished sixth on 6.34m.
Slovakia’s Jan Volko played a captain’s part in the men’s 200m as he followed up his 100m success with a second victory, coming home in 20.53.
The men’s high jump saw Bulgaria’s Tihomir Ivanov earn his fourth Team Championships victory on countback from Serbia’s Slavko Stevic and Oleh Doroshchuk, in that order, after all had cleared 2.24m.
Cheering Ivanov on from the stands was none other than his fellow countrywoman Stefka Kostadinova, whose women’s high jump world record of 2.09m has stood since 1987.
Victory in the women’s javelin went to Latvia’s Lina Muze with 62.38m, from Estonia’s Gedly Tugi with a personal best of 60.19m and Croatia’s Rio 2016 champion Sara Kolak, who registered a season’s best of 59.62m.
Elsewhere, Croatia’s European men’s shot put champion Filip Mihaljevic staked his claim to maximum points in a world class competition with a third-round effort of 21.33m.
Serbia’s Elzan Bibic, winner of the previous day’s men’s 1500m, completed a double by coming home first in the 5000m in 13:53.95 and Romania’s Claudia Bobocea won the women’s 1500m in 4:08.68.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics