As Olympic and world long jump champion Germany’s Malaika Mihambo has little to prove.
But the imminent European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul from 2-5 March offers her the chance to reverse the result at last year’s home European Athletics Championships in Munich where she had to give best to Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta.
- Final entries for Istanbul 2023
A first-round effort of 7.06m from the Serbian athlete proved golden although Mihambo, whose preparations had been undermined after she had picked up a COVID-19 infection after returning from winning world gold in Oregon, responded strongly to take silver with 7.03m.
The two huge jumping talents converge again in Istanbul for one of the must-watch head-to-heads of the championships.
Vuleta, 32, had her ambitions of winning a record fourth consecutive European indoor title at Torun in 2021 frustrated by a leg injury picked up in her final preparatory training session.
Now, though, she is back in the frame in a championship that seems to motivate her like no other.
Her stupendous effort in winning her second European indoor title in the home venue of Belgrade - 7.24m - still stands as the best effort of a career which has also seen her win world indoor titles in 2018 and 2022 - again in Belgrade - as well as Olympic bronze in 2016.
Mihambo’s personal best of 7.30m came outdoors as she won her first world title in Doha 2019. She stands second in this year’s world lists with 6.83 – and is sandwiched by Serbians.
Vuleta has a best of 6.81m in 2023 but top of the pile right now is her 24-year-old compatriot Milica Gardasevic, the 2017 European U20 champion, who has set a personal best of 6.90m from the Serbian Indoor Championships where she upset Vuleta for domestic honours.
Other medal contenders include Great Britain’s in-form Jazmin Sawyers, who has reached 6.75m this season and Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia - a 6.95m jumper at her very best - who has managed 6.66m so far this year.
But one notable absentee from proceedings is the reigning champion Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk. The Ukrainian, who defeated Mihambo for the title courtesy of some sixth round heroics in Torun two years ago, is currently sidelined with a leg injury.
But Ukraine has excellent prospects in the high jump...
Ukraine’s high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh, 21, had to flee her native city of Dnipropetrovsk under Russian bombardment and made an arduous three-day journey to the Serbian capital of Belgrade to compete in the World Athletics Indoor Championships where she cleared 2.02m for gold.
Last summer in Oregon she won a second world outdoor silver medal to set alongside the Olympic bronze she won in Tokyo the previous summer, and she went on to win the European outdoor title in Munich to complete the set of major continental accolades.
Now this hugely talented athlete - who has cleared 2.05m outdoors and 2.06m indoors and tops this year’s world list with 2.02m - is seeking to retain the European indoor title she won at Torun in 2021.
And Mahuchikh is unlikely to be the only Ukrainian on the medal rostrum in Istanbul. The Ukrainian triumvirate also includes Yuliia Levchenko and Kateryna Tabashnyk - both of whom have cleared 1.96m this winter.
And such is the strength in depth in Ukrainian high jumping, there is no room on the team for reigning silver medallist and world and Olympic fourth-placer Iryna Gerashchenko who could only finish third at the Ukrainian Indoor Championships.
Meanwhile the two jumpers who shared the podium with Mahuchikh in Munich will be seeking further medals – Montenegro’s Marija Vukovic, who won silver on countback, and Serbia’s 17-year-old Angelina Topic, who added European bronze to European U18 gold last year and who has set a national indoor record of 1.94m this year.
Germany’s Christina Honsel has cleared 1.98m this year, and Britain’s former heptathlete Morgan Lake is third in the 2023 world rankings thanks to her British record of 1.99m in Hustopece earlier this month.
Another golden championships for Portugal?
After switching nationality from Cameroon to Portugal, Auriol Dongmo established herself on the continental stage by winning the European indoor shot put title in Torun two years ago.
The 32-year-old then added to her CV in impressive fashion by finishing fourth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with 19.75m before winning last year’s world indoor title in Belgrade with an outright personal best of 20.43m.
On 5 February, she threw 19.24m, the farthest registered by a European thrower up to that point of the season but three weeks in Madrid the reigning European champion Jessica Schilder threw a season’s best of 19.25m with Sweden’s Fanny Roos finishing fourth on 19.11m.
As the only three athletes to have broken the 19 metre-mark this season, these three look like the prospective medallists – but in what order?
Meanwhile, Olympic triple jump silver medallist Patricia Mamona appears to have a strong chance of retaining the title she won in Torun 2021.
She tops this year’s European list with 14.41m, with her most likely challengers being the Italian pair of Dariya Derkach and Ottavia Cestonaro who have season’s bests of 14.25m and 14.11m respectively.
A medal for home athlete and European U23 champion Tugba Danismaz, third in the list with 14.13m, would trigger emotional scenes given the grim circumstances of championships.
Finland’s Wilma Murto will seek to add the European indoor pole vault title to the outdoor version she secured in Munich last summer with a personal best and Finnish record of 4.85m – and her indoor best this season of 4.75m offers strong encouragement.
However, she is topped on the 2023 European list by the 34-year-old Slovenian veteran Tina Sutej who earned world indoor and European bronze last year – the latter despite competing with a hand lacerated during warm-up which required several stitches after the event.
Sutej set a national record of 4.82m in Ostrava on 2 February and after a brace of silver and bronze medals, she looks in the mood for a title-winning performance.
Sutej is not the only hugely experienced athlete in the field, however, given the presence of Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi, who cleared a season’s best of 4.62m in New York on February 11. Stefanidi won this title in Belgrade 2017, either side of her European outdoor titles in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Others to watch include Italy’s Roberta Bruni and Czech Republic’s Amalie Svabikova who have cleared national indoor records of 4.62m and 4.72m respectively this year as well as reigning European indoor champion Angelica Moser from Switzerland.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics