A largely young and hungry Hungarian team established a lead of 20.5 points on the opening evening (20) of 2nd Division competition at the Silesia 2023 European Athletics Team Championships, part of the third edition of the European Games in Krakow-Malopolska.
- Full results here.
Three wins from the first 12 events in the three-day competition helped them reach a total of 159 points, with Ukraine - desperate to return to the top tier after relegation two years ago - on 138.5 and Slovenia occupying the third promotion place on 122 points, eight points ahead of Romania, with Latvia and Croatia still very much in the hunt.
A team energised by the prospect of this summer’s home World Athletics Championships in Budapest hoped for the perfect start in the shot put through their twice European indoor champion Anita Marton.
The 34-year-old duly delivered, although she had to wait until the fourth round to take the lead with 17.66m. At that point she was into the groove, and further improved to 17.70m and finally 17.74m.
“My first three attempts were not so good, I was too slow, but after that it got a bit better,” said Marton.
On being told this was her 11th time in the top three in this event she responded: “Really? I'm so old! It's my 23rd season in athletics and I'm just happy to be here. I think Hungary has a big chance of winning the division.”
That judgement was swiftly backed up as more maximum points came her team’s way in the men’s 400m where 21-year-old Attila Molnar - who has improved his personal best this year from 46.67 to 44.98 this year, won in 45.30 - 0.01 ahead of Ukraine’s fast-finishing Oleksandr Pohorilko.
It was also a healthy indicator for next month’s European Athletics U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland from July 13-16.
“I was a little bit exhausted because I've competed in many races recently,” Molnar said. “This race wasn't perfect, but fine. "
On the team dynamics, he said: “It’s a completely different vibe to compete in team championships. I really like each of my colleagues and we are all together creating one team competing for points. Every one of them could be crucial in the final standings. It's definitely an extraordinary tournament.”
Another 22-year-old member of Hungary’s young and hungry team, Daniel Huller almost supplied Hungary’s third win of the evening, just missing out by 0.005 – 0.101 to 0.106 - in the men’s 800m.
Huller finished under severe pressure from Croatia’s Marino Bloudek, who got the verdict although both were credited with a time of 1:47.11 with the young Hungarian paying for getting himself twice boxed in.
“In the last 20 metres it was very, very close and at the finish I didn't know whether I won it,” Bloudek said. “Even now I don't feel so sure!”
Hungary’s third victory duly arrived thanks to Istvan Palkovits, who clocked 8:43.82 in the men’s 3000m steeplechase, finishing almost four seconds clear of his nearest challenger.
Europe’s brightest U20 and U23 prospects shine in Silesia
Also looking like a serious prospect for the European Athletics U23 Championships is Ukraine’s 22-year-old Vladyslav Shepeliev, who won the men’s triple jump with successive season’s bests of 16.41m, 16.53m and a European U23 lead of 16.67m with his sixth and final effort.
"This is a great stadium, a great track. The emotions I'm feeling are unbelievable. I was supported by Maryna Bekh's coach from the stands here. Of course I believe our team is going to win the second division," said Shepeliev.
The aforementioned Bekh-Romanchuk will be looking to supply maximum points for Ukraine in both the long jump and triple jump over the next two days in their bid for promotion.
But it will be the European Athletics U20 Championships in Jerusalem, from 7-10 August that will form a tempting target for Latvia’s 18-year-old Agate Caune, who dominated the women’s 5000m to finish handsomely clear in 15:15.21, raising her arms in triumph as she crossed the line.
Having broken clear early on with Slovenia’s Klara Lukan, who lowered the national record to 15:01.37 this season, the Latvian pushed on into a solo lead with a little more than four laps remaining and – despite the conditions, with the temperature approaching 30C and humidity at around 40 per cent – came close to her own personal best of 15:12.24, winning by more than 20 seconds from Lukan in 15:33.39.
Ghelber and Miklos ensure a strong start for Romania
The women’s hammer was won handsomely and as expected by Romania’s European champion Bianca Ghelber, whose best of 72.97m was more than five metres clear of the nearest challenging effort - 67.10 from Denmark’s Katrine Jacobsen.
A second Romanian victory was delivered by Andrea Miklos in a highly competitive women’s 400m in 50.67, which took a huge chunk off her personal best of 52.07.
Lithuania’s Modesta Morauskaite was second in 51.61, Hungary’s Janka Molnar third in a national U23 record of 51.74 and fourth place went to Slovenia’s current European indoor 800m silver medallist Anita Horvat, reverting to her former main distance, who clocked 51.80.
Miklos commented: “I was hoping to complete this race in under 52 seconds but I hadn't expected such a great time. I was injured for two years. This result means a lot to me as I can be here again on the big stage.”
Towards the end of the programme, Patrizia Van Der Weken added the name of Luxembourg, who are aiming to avoid relegation back into the 3rd Division, to the roll-of-honour with victory in the women’s 100m in 11.24 three days after lowering the national record to 11.02.
Olivia Fotopoulou of Cyprus was second in a personal best of 11.34 ahead of Boglarka Takacs, who set a Hungarian record of 11.23 earlier this year, who clocked 11.36.
Jan Volko, the Slovakian captain who has a complete set of medals from the European Athletics Indoor Championships, put his team on the list of those with a maximum point tally as he won the final event of the day, the men’s 100m, in 10.24.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics