Can Lamont Marcell Jacobs maintain his mastery of the major events at the Istanbul 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships from 2-5 March?
- Final entries for Istanbul 2023
Jacobs might be the Olympic and European 100m champion - not to mention the reigning world and European indoor 60m champion - but a shock defeat at the Italian Indoor Championships was not in the script as he prepares to defend his first of those four titles.
Jacobs was stunned for domestic honours by the little-known 22-year-old Samuele Ceccarelli, a law student who has never even broken the 10.4-barrier for the 100m.
But this mark looks due for stern revision this summer after Ceccarelli kept the imposing figure of Jacobs in his adjacent lane at bay for a breakthrough victory in the 60m in 6.54 with his more illustrious compatriot beaten into second albeit in a more than respectable 6.55.
After the race, an incredulous Ceccarelli said: “We knew that the physical form was good as demonstrated in the races before the Italian Championships. But the idea of competing with and beating a champion of this calibre is like no other.”
Jacobs was gracious in defeat and past history shows his pre-championship form often counts for little. He won Olympic 100m gold in Tokyo with a sensational European record of 9.80 and he raised his game again to win the world indoor title in Belgrade last March, setting another European record of 6.41 to beat all-comers including world record-holder Christian Coleman.
But the biggest roadblock to Jacobs could come in the form of Great Britain’s Reece Prescod. The Brit might not be an archetypal indoor specialist but he leads the European list with a lifetime best of 6.49 and is unbeaten in his eight 60m races in 2023.
And there is also a slim possibility of a Turkish medal in this discipline. The host nation will be represented by Kayhan Ozer, who has improved to 6.58 this year, and national record-holder at 6.55 Emre Zafer Barnes.
Warholm back on the flat in pursuit of 400m gold
In contrast to Jacobs, fellow Olympic champion Karsten Warholm’s route to a second prospective European indoor 400m title looks slightly more straightforward.
Warholm has only raced twice this season but he holds the two fastest times in Europe this year including the European lead at 45.31 which was set on his season’s debut at his home meeting - the Karsten Warholm Invitational which made a welcome return to the calendar after a three year absence due to coronavirus - in Ulsteinvik.
But reigning champion Oscar Husillos from Spain is by no means intimidated by the prospect of facing one of the greatest athletes of the millennium.
“The truth is that I am delighted that Karsten will be in Istanbul and I’ll be able to compete against him; and hopefully come out on top in the end. However, whatever happens, I will do my best and may the best man win. But I am determined to finish my [indoor] season in the best possible way,” said Husillos in an exclusive interview with European Athletics.
Husillos finished second to Warholm at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships when the Norwegian equalled Thomas Schonlebe's long-standing European indoor record of 45.05. And there are whispers Warholm is in shape to break the 45 second-barrier.
Other athletes who feature prominently towards the top of the entry-list are the Dutch pairing of Isayah Boers and Olympic finalist Liemarvin Bonevacia - first and second at their national indoor championships in 45.72 and 45.83 respectively - and surprise world indoor bronze medallist Carl Bengstrom from Sweden who has clocked 46.15 this year.
With speed and depth in their ranks, the Netherlands and Spain will be two of the principal contenders for the 4x400m title along with perennial relay threats Belgium whose team includes two of the three Borlee brothers - Dylan and Kevin.
But a Turkish team which features former European 400m hurdles champion Yasmani Copello, 35, and reigning world U20 400m hurdles champion Ismail Nezir, 20, will be undoubtedly inspired by the occasion and the prospect of winning a first ever Turkish medal in the event.
New guard and old guard headline deep 60m hurdles line-up
The 60m hurdles has produced some tantalising finishes in recent editions of the European Athletics Indoor Championships. In fact, the last five editions have all been decided by either 0.01 or 0.02.
Based on pre-championships form, Jason Joseph from Switzerland might have a slightly more commanding advantage over the rest of the field in Istanbul - but only just.
A former European U20 and U23 champion, Joseph leads the 2023 European list with a 7.44 Swiss record from his national indoor championships ahead of three other athletes who are part of the new and emerging generation of sprint hurdlers.
Just behind Joseph on the 2023 European list are Spain’s Enrique Llopis (7.48), 20-year-old Pole Jakub Szymanski (7.53) and Just Kwaou-Mathey (7.53), who pipped the elder statesman of French sprint hurdling Pascal Martinot-Lagarde for the national title.
But Martinot-Lagarde remains a supremely formidable competitor, especially in a championship environment. The Frenchman won silver - albeit a very distant one - behind Grant Holloway at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade and came within a thickness of a vest of retaining his European 110m hurdles title in Munich last summer.
Martinot-Lagarde boasts four medals from the European Athletics Indoor Championships, including a memorable gold in 2015 when he led a French clean sweep ahead of Dimitri Bascou and Wilhem Belocian.
Bascou completes the French triumvirate in Istanbul but Belocian, who improved to gold in the 60m hurdles in Torun 2021, is one of the notable absentees from the event along with Spain’s Asier Martinez who is a late withdrawal due to a back injury.
Steven Mills for European Athletics