Fresh from her world record-breaking performance just over a week ago, Femke Bol is in devastating form as she looks to retain her 400m title at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
- Final entries for Istanbul 2023
The Dutch star, who celebrated her 23rd birthday last week, won three European outdoor golds in Munich last year and two indoor titles in Torun the previous year and – after smashing the 400m indoor world record with 49.26 at the Dutch championships in Apeldoorn – few would bet against her adding more gold medals to her rapidly growing collection.
Bol’s closest competition is likely to come from close to home. Her training partner Lieke Klaver also set a huge indoor lifetime best of 50.34 when she finished second to Bol in the record-breaking race.
Looking past the Dutch pair, Poland’s Anna Kielbasinska, who is a training parter of Bol and Klaver, has a season’s best of 51.33, which she clocked on her way to winning the Polish Indoor Championships. She will be hoping to repeat her performance from Munich last year, which saw her finish on the podium.
Czech Republic’s Lada Vondrova will also be in contention after clocking an indoor best of 51.57 in Ostrava earlier this month, while Sharlene Mawdsley also clocked a lifetime best earlier this month, with 51.91 in Metz.
And the very experienced Lisanne de Witte could challenge for the medals – and potentially complete a Dutch 1-2-3 – if she can get close to her personal best of 51.90.
Can the Dutch relay champions retain their title?
It’s no surprise then, that Netherlands – the reigning European indoor and outdoor 4x400m champions – will once again be tough to beat in the relay in Istanbul. Poland and Great Britain, who took the minor medals, albeit in different orders, on both of those occasions, will be hoping to go further and take gold this year. They will face competition from strong Italian, Polish, Irish and Czech quartets.
Kambundji faces fierce competition in the 60m
The shorter sprint promises to be a highly competitive affair. No athlete has yet gone sub-seven seconds for 60m this year although reigning world indoor 60m champion Mujinga Kambundji has gone close to her 6.96 personal best with the swift 7.03 she ran at the recent Swiss Indoor Championships.
But there are several other athletes who are more than capable of challenging Kambundji. The 2019 European indoor champion, Poland’s Ewa Swoboda, has a season's best of 7.09 and is the only other athlete with a personal best under seven seconds. She will be hoping to return to winning ways in Istanbul.
2019 world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith – who lowered her own 60m British record with 7.03 in Birmingham last weekend – is not competing. However, her in-form compatriot Daryll Neita went close to the British record herself with 7.05 in Berlin last week and will hope to improve on that in Istanbul.
Behind Neita in the British Indoor Championships was Asha Philip, who won gold in Belgrade in 2017, has a lifetime best of 7.06, and will also be in contention.
Portugal’s Arialis Martinez (7.18), Netherlands’ N’Ketia Seedo (7.18) and Spain’s Jael Bestue (7.19) are all in great form having set lifetime bests this season and will also be hoping to get onto the podium.
No shortage of stars in the hurdles
In the 60m hurdles, Pia Skrzyszowska set the European lead of 7.78 seconds earlier this month. However, the Pole was subsequently ruled out of the rest of the indoor season due to a hamstring injury she picked up at the Copernicus Cup in Torun.
In Skrzyszowska’s absence, there will be fierce competition for the title, with Finland’s Reetta Hurske setting a national record of 7.79 to win the World Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid last week, while Switzerland’s Ditaji Kambundji, the younger of the Kambundji sisters, is also in the shape of her life after clocking a lifetime best and national record of 7.81 to win the Swiss indoor title.
At just 22 years of age, France’s Cyrena Samba-Mayela is the reigning world indoor champion and, after finishing second to Hurske in Madrid in 7.84, is not far off the kind of form that took her to gold in Belgrade a year ago.
But after an injury-plagued 2022 season, the Netherlands’ Nadine Visser is returning to form with a season's best of 7.85 and will be looking to become the first three-time winner in the 60m hurdles since Poland's Grazyna Rabsztyn between 1974-76. Her lifetime best of 7.77 goes back to the Torun 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships when she won her second title.
Meanwhile, Cyprus' Natalia Christofi has run this season and would be her country's first finalist or medallist should she achieve either feat in Istanbul.
Nick Howard for European Athletics