There were no hurdles for the multi-talented Femke Bol to negotiate in the home straight of the magnificent Munich Olympic Stadium but the flying Dutchwoman proceeded to prove herself a class apart from her 400m flat rivals in successfully completing the first leg of her double golden mission at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, part of the multi-sport European Championships.
The world 400m hurdles silver medallist behind Sydney McLaughlin at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene a month ago, Bol entered the final 100 metres with her teammate and training partner Lieke Klaver and Pole Natalia Kaczmarek within striking distance just behind her but she turned on the afterburners to finish precisely half-a-second clear in 49.44, an improvement of 0.31 on her Dutch record and 2022 European lead she clocked in Chorzow two weeks ago.
It was also the fastest winning time since Stuttgart 1986 when East Germany’s Marita Koch prevailed in 48.22 to win her third successive title. The same Marita Koch who has held the world record at 47.60 since the 1985 World Cup in Canberra.
After winning European indoor gold in 2021 and world indoor silver in March this year, Bol could hardly have claimed her first senior outdoor 400m title in more emphatic fashion before turning her attention to her specialist event and the second half of her unprecedented double. The semifinals of the 400m hurdles are on tomorrow morning’s schedule.
Sadly for the Dutch team, there was no double medal celebration. Fourth in the final at the World Athletics Championships, Klaver – Bol’s training partner at the National Training Centre in Papendal faded right out of the medal frame in the home straight, finishing sixth in 50.56.
Kaczmarek, who became the first Polish woman to break the 50 second-barrier since Koch’s great rival Irena Szewinska as runner up to Bol in Chorzow, managed the feat again, claiming silver in 49.94.
Bronze went to the Pole who has two feet in the Dutch camp, literally. A training partner of Bol and Klaver, under the direction of Laurent Meuwly and Bart Peters, Anna Kielbianska crossed the line third in 50.29 – ahead of Briton Victoria Ohuruogu, fourth in 50.51, and 19-year-old Rhasidat Adeleke, fifth in an Irish record of 50.53.
“I think this race was harder than the 400m hurdles,” said Bol. “It wasn’t until after the race that I realised it wasn’t such a close race. I won by half-a-second and with a big personal best. I felt confident and strong. I know I won’t sleep a lot tonight, so tomorrow’s 400m hurdles semi-finals is going to be tough.”
Hudson-Smith cruises to successful 400m title defence
By contrast, the men’s 400m final was a procession from the start. In the gold medal stakes, at any rate.
Having earned bronze at the World Athletics Championships and silver at the Commonwealth Games, Matthew Hudson-Smith completed a full set of major championship medals in a month with a coronation lap of the Olympic Stadium.
Entering the arena with the minimum of fuss, after his seven rivals had played to the gallery, the 27-year-old Brit got the job done with supreme efficiency.
Blasting clear from the start, he entered the home straight with an unassailable lead, crossing the line in 44.53 with a victory margin of precisely half-a-second. In doing so, he became the third man to win back to back titles in the event – fittingly, following in the footsteps of fellow Brito Roger Black (1986-90) and Martyn Rooney 2014-16.
The real race – or competition – was for the other medals, and it looked like it might be a British one-two to match Zurich in 2014, when Hudson-Smith claimed silver behind Rooney, and Helsinki in 1994 when Du’aine Ladejo beat Black to the title.
The 23-year-old engineering student was edging the battle for silver until European U23 champion Ricky Petrucciani charged past in the closing stage to finish runner-up in 45.03 – as in the women’s race, precisely five-tenths behind the winner.
Haydock-Wilson had to dig deep to hold off 2016 bronze medallist Liemarvin Bonevacia, both crossing the line in 45.17 but the Briton beating the Dutchman to the bronze by 0.008, 45.161 to 45.169.
“It’s great to be here and get the job done,” said Hudson-Smith. “All I wanted was to defend my title.”
Petrucciani was still coming to terms with his achievement when he left the arena. “To get a silver medal is incredible,” he said. “When I crossed the line in second place, I could not believe it. I thought, ‘Impossible!’”
Haydock-Wilson waxed wonderfully lyrical. He said: “I saw angels and demons in the final stretch in the semis. Today I have seen angels mostly, luckily. I didn't know if I had won a medal when I crossed the finish line. I had to see the results on the screen. It made me so happy.”
Martinez given verdict over Martinot-Lagarde in another 110m hurdles thriller
There was a similar wait after the 110m hurdles final but, in that instance, to see who had won the gold in a neck-and-neck battle between defending champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and the burgeoning young Spaniard Asier Martinez.
The 30-year-old Martinot-Lagarde was marginally in front at halfway but started to stutter slightly when clearing flights as the 22-year-old Martinez – the surprise bronze medallist at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene – drew level and applied the pressure.
To the naked eye, there was nothing between them as they crossed the line in 13.14 but the photo-finish gave the verdict to Martinez by 0.001: 13.137 to 13.138.
As the Spaniard took off in celebration of his country’s first gold in the event, Martinot-Lagarde was left to ponder the irony of having been on the winning end of a similar close call in Berlin in 2018, when he took the gold by 0.002 from Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov.
“Four years ago it was also a close finish at the line and I came first,” said Martinot-Lagarde.
“Today it was the other way round. I gave my best but now I need revenge. See you in Paris at the Olympic Games – and in Budapest at next year’s World Championships. I feel like I am old but I believe me: I am still alive. I will do my best.”
There was also French consolation in a bronze medal for Martinot-Lagarde’s team-mate Just Kwaou-Mather, the 22-year-old winning the battle for third in 13.33 – ahead of the Swiss pair Jason Joseph (13.35) and Finley Gaio (13.50). Reigning European U20 champion Sasha Zhoya, the third Frenchman in the final, had a tough baptism in his first major senior final, falling at the last hurdle and crossing the line in eighth.
“Having such a close race with Pascal means a lot to me,” said Martinez. “It makes the race special for me because he is a force to be reckoned with. I knew he would have to do a great race to beat me, and he nearly did.”
Full results here.