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Preview | Finnish stars and European champions to highlight Espoo 2023

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  • Preview | Finnish stars and European champions to highlight Espoo 2023

Finnish athletes won three gold medals at the European Athletics U20 Championships two years ago and this golden triumvirate will grace the European Athletics U23 Championships on home soil in Espoo, Finland which begin on the evening of 12 July.

The entirety of the Espoo 2023 European Athletics U23 Championships will be streamed live through the European Athletics website with additional streams available on the All-Athletics platform. 

Golden trio spearhead Finland's medal hopes in Espoo

Silja Kosonen and Saga Vanninen won gold medals in the hammer and heptathlon respectively before repeating at the World Athletics U20 Championships just a few weeks later while a 17-year-old Ilona Mononen triumphed in the 3000m in Tallinn.

Kosonen has made sterling progress and the 21-year-old, who finished inside the top-eight at the World Athletics Championships and European Athletics Championships last summer, leads the European list not only at U23 level but also at senior level with 73.78m.

Her recent form is such that the championship record of 72.98m set by France’s Alexandra Tavernier in 2015 should be on Kosonen’s radar as well. 

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Vanninen came to wider prominence when she dominated the heptathlon in Tallinn before the Finn went on to triumph on the global stage by winning at both the 2021 and 2022 World Athletics U20 Championships. 

Still only 20, Vanninen has improved to 6391 points this year which puts two significant records into clear view: the championship record (6396 points) set by Latvia’s Aiga Grabuste in 2009 and the Finnish record (6404 points) which goes all the way back to the 1991 World Athletics Championships in terms of antiquity. 

Vanninen led from the very first event in Tallinn and the Finn will make a strong showing on the first day in Espoo. In her last competition ahead of the championships, Vanninen improved her 100m hurdles lifetime best to 13.34 and she is a formidable shot put exponent with a 15.08m lifetime best to her credit. 

However, the heptathlon will be far from a procession for Vanninen who faces a quartet of athletes who have also surpassed the 6000 points-barrier this year. Sofie Doktor from the Netherlands improved to 6321 points to finish just three places behind Vanninen in seventh in Gotzis while Estonia’s Pippa Lotta Enok will be looking to reproduce the form which took her to the US collegiate title last month. 

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Expectations might be slightly more reined in for Mononen, the youngest of the Finnish triumvirate at the age of 19, who has entered both the 1500m and 5000m in Espoo.

Based on recent form, there is every possibility of an Irish one-two in the 1500m for Sarah Healy and Sophie O’Sullivan - who have reduced their lifetime bests to 4:01.75 and 4:08.06 respectively this year - while the field for the 5000m includes European U20 cross country champion Maria Forero from Spain and Great Britain’s Megan Keith, the silver medallist in the U23  race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. 

Hodgkinson to make 400m championship debut in Espoo

Keely Hodgkinson is one of three reigning European champions due to compete at the European Athletics U23 Championships but the Brit will be making her first championship appearance in the 400m.

For Hodgkinson, the European Athletics U23 Championships will serve primarily as speedwork ahead of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest where she will be looking to win her first global 800m title having won silver medals at both the Olympic Games and World Athletics Championships.

With a lifetime best of 52.24 to her name, Hodgkinson will certainly contend for a medal but the British title hopes in the event is likely to be led by Yemi Mary John, the reigning world U20 400m champion who has improved to 51.20 this year. 

In a field replete with burgeoning and emerging talent, watch out for the multi-talented Norwegian Henriette Jeager (51.66) and former sprint hurdles specialist Zoe Sedney from the Netherlands who has already clocked 52.50 in her first year in the event. 

Greece’s Elina Tzengko will also be looking to follow up her European title from Munich with U23 gold in the javelin but the home crowd will be hoping Anni-Linnea Alanen - who is ranked second behind Tzengko on the entry-list with 62.45m to the Greek’s 63.65m - can pull off an upset in an event the Finnish crowd knows and loves the most. 

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And there could be double gold in the shot put (18.86m) and discus (59.96m) for Alida Van Daalen who leads the entry-list for both events and could single-handedly keep both titles in Dutch hands after Jessica Schilder and Jorinde Van Klinken triumphed in the shot put and discus respectively in 2021. 

Iapichino headlines a stellar cast in the horizontal jumps 

Larissa Iapichino might have won European indoor silver and two Diamond League meetings this season but the long jump field in Espoo is certainly one that will command the Italian’s respect.

The entry-list also features Germany’s Mikaelle Assani, who has improved to 6.91m this year, and Sweden’s Maja Askag who swept the long jump and triple jump titles at the 2021 European Athletics U20 Championships and has entered both events in Espoo.

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As has the outstanding Spaniard Maria Vicente who has dominated the heptathlon at age-group level. On the comeback from injury, Vicente has been focusing on individual events this season and she is ranked fourth in the long jump with 6.77m and first in the triple jump with 14.21m.

It was at the 2018 European Athletics U18 Championships in Gyor where Vicente came to prominence by winning the heptathlon title with a world U18 best before showing her vast all-round ability - and her immense competitive spirit - with a sixth round victory in the triple jump ahead of Bulgaria’s Aleksandra Nacheva who will also be present in both events in Espoo.

Another standout senior athlete looking to round off their age-group career with a gold medal is Switzerland’s Ditaji Kambundji whose path in the 100m hurdles has been made significantly clearer by the absence of reigning champion Pia Skrzyszowska from Poland. 

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But not completely so. Kambundji is the fastest on paper this season at 12.78 but only leads the entry-list by a narrow margin from Slovakian record-holder Viktoria Forster and 19-year-old Anna Toth from Hungary who have clocked 12.82 and 12.84 this year.

Also watch out for the multi-talented Norwegian Andreea Rooth who has entered both the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles in Espoo. Rooth won the latter title at the 2021 European Athletics U20 Championships.

The women’s 100m could be one of the closest events of the championships with the top four athletes on the entry-list only separated by 0.02. The closely matched quartet is led by Greece’s Polyniki Emmanouilidiou (11.21) and also includes Hungary’s Boglarka Takacs (11.23), both of whom have also entered the 200m.

And there could be a historic first for Cyprus as Elena Kulichenko is well placed to deliver her country’s first ever gold medal at the European Athletics U23 Championships in the high jump having cleared 1.92m this year. 

Steven Mills for European Athletic 


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