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Preview | Hodgkinson headlines a strong British middle distance contingent in Roma 2024

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  • Preview | Hodgkinson headlines a strong British middle distance contingent in Roma 2024

British female middle and long distance runners have a deep and long-lasting heritage with the European Athletics Championships. 

Well-known names such as Lillian Board (800m, 1969), Yvonne Murray (3000m, 1990), Paula Radcliffe (10,000m, 2002), Lynsey Sharp (800m, 2012), Jo Pavey (10,000m, 2014) and - more recently - Laura Muir (1500m, 2018, 2022) have all won gold on the continent’s biggest stage.

But the generation of Roma 2024 might yet prove to be Great Britain’s best yet. 

Spearheaded by 800m star Keely Hodgkinson, already a European gold medallist from Munich 2022, they have a team well placed to challenge for medals on multiple fronts. Hodgkinson has made it a mission to win as many medals as possible and still aged just 22, she has made a flying start. 

"I would like to win in my career as many medals as possible," Hodgkinson told European Athletics earlier this year. "And I think if I was to miss it (Roma 2024), I’d be missing out on an opportunity. I’d love to look back on my career and say I did this many European Championships and I won this many medals. I don’t want anything to go to waste."

As well as European gold, she has Olympic silver, two world silvers and two European Athletics Indoor Championships gold medals in her growing collection. Having made a scintillating start to her season by beating world champion Mary Moraa at the Eugene Diamond League last month in 1:55.78, she arrives in the Italian capital in superb shape.

On season’s bests alone, she has more than three seconds in hand on the rest of the field. But with compatriots Erin Wallace and Alexandra Bell second and third fastest this year on the entry-list, Hodgkinson is not the only British medal hope over two laps.

European indoor silver medallist Anita Horvat of Slovenia is among a pack of closely-matched contenders who could challenge for medals along with Switzerland’s Lore Hoffmann who finished fourth in Munich 2022.

Who will succeed Muir in the 1500m?

Hodgkinson’s training partner Georgia Bell is one to watch in the women’s 1500m in the absence of her illustrious teammate Laura Muir, the gold medallist in 2018 and 2022.

A prodigiously talented runner in her childhood days before taking time away from the sport, she has burst onto the elite level athletics scene this year. 

She placed fourth at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March and recently lowered her personal best to 4:00.41 when finishing seventh at the Diamond League in Eugene last month, a massive 42 seconds better than her season’s best two years ago.

Placing just ahead of Bell in Eugene was another 30-year-old British runner, Katie Snowden in 4:00.24 and she heads the entries on season’s bests. Snowden was fourth in Munich, eighth in last year’s World Athletics Championships in Budapest and is twice a finalist at the European Indoor Championships and will be eager to win her first senior international medal.

But the strongest British contender is probably Jemma Reekie, winner of 800m silver at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow, she has extended her brilliant winter form into the summer with super victories over 800m (1:57.79) in Stockholm and 1500m (4:02.57) in Chorzow recently. 

The experienced Ciara Mageean, who just missed out on a medal in fourth at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, may start as favourite though. She has won silver and bronze over 1500m at previous European Athletics Championships and having recently won at the Ostrava Golden Spike in 4:01.98, arrives at Roma 2024 in great form.

Irish teammate Sarah Healy, another of Hodgkinson’s training partners, finished just 0.14 behind Mageean in Ostrava and is another athlete with tangible medal hopes after a sterling age-group career which saw her win a 1500/3000m double at the European Athletics U18 Championships. 

Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui is also a proven championship performer, with 1500m bronze medals at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships and the Istanbul 2023 European Indoor Championships. It promises to be a thrilling tussle. 

A rich cast assembled for the 5000m and 10,000m

The 5000m is also a race rich in promise. Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal - who has also entered the half marathon - will be taking part in her sixth European Athletics Championships, the highlights being 10,000m bronze (Amsterdam 2016) and 3000m steeplechase bronze (Berlin 2018). 

As winner of the senior women’s race at the last three SPAR European Cross Country Championships, the 33-year-old is still very much at the peak of her powers as she proved at the Bislett Games in Oslo, where she set a national record of 8:27.02 over 3000m to break the late Grete Waitz’s revered Norwegian record of 8:31.75.

An Olympic and world finalist over 5000m, she will be highly motivated to grab the first senior track gold of her career. 

Italy’s Nadia Battocletti was a prolific medallist on track and cross country at U20 and U23 level and with the crowd sure to lift her in Roma, she is likely to figure, especially in a slow race after winning the 5000m at the European Athletics Team Championships last year with a 60-second last lap. She has entered both the 5000m and 10,000m in Roma 2024.

Another name worth watching is European U20 3000/5000m champion Agate Caune. The Latvian is a rare talent who loves to run from the front and her bold tactics are sure to test the rest. 

The 10,000m entry-list is headed by another British athlete on the conveyor belt of talent. Megan Keith won European U23 titles in the 5000m and cross country last year and has maintained her progress this year, slashing her personal bests in the 5000m (14:43:24) and 10,000m (30:36:84).

Based on lifetime bests, the biggest threat is her British team-mate Eilish McColgan, who will be making her first track appearance for over a year. 

In her last track race in March 2023, McColgan eclipsed Paula Radcliffe’s British 10,000m of 30:01.09 - set at the 2002 European Athletics Championships - with 30:00.03 in California before her plans for the rest of the season were waylaid by a plethora of knee and hamstring injuries.

McColgan won 10,000m silver and 5000m bronze in Munich 2022 and is a proven championship performer. 

One late but notable withdrawal from the long distance events is 2022 European 5000m champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen who was due to contest the 5000m and 10,000m in Rome. However, European indoor 3000m champion Hanna Klein will be a medal threat for Germany over 5000m.

The three medallists from the 3000m steeplechase in Munich 2022 will renew their rivalry at Roma 2024.  Defending champion Luiza Gega from Albania - who won her country’s first ever European outdoor title in Munich 2022 with a gun-to-tape run - is joined on the start lists by silver and bronze medallists Lea Meyer of Germany and Great Britain’s Lizzie Bird.

But one athlete who was conspicuously absent from that final in Munich was German record-holder Gesa Felicitas Krause who will be motivated to regain the title she won in 2016 and 2018 - the latter to deafening noise in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium - on her return from maternity leave.

Chris Broadbent for European Athletics

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