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Preview | Rising Star Alekna seeks more success at the European Athletics U23 Championships

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  • Preview | Rising Star Alekna seeks more success at the European Athletics U23 Championships

Men’s Rising Star for 2022 Mykolas Alekna from Lithuania heads a high-quality line-up for the European Athletics U23 Championships in Espoo, Finland which begins 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. 

European champion Alekna leads a strong cast in the throws

Aged just 20, Alekna won the men’s discus title at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships last summer, underlining his enormous potential having won silver at the World Athletics Championships one month prior.  

This summer he has already become the youngest male discus thrower ever to throw over 70 metres and he will be looking for another superb performance to add to his glittering array of honours, which also includes World and European U20 gold. He may also have his eye on the two-year-old championship record of 67.48m held by Slovenia’s Kristjan Ceh, the silver medallist behind Alekna at the World Athletics Championships.  

In the men’s hammer throw, Ukraine’s Mykhaylo Kokhan is another athlete who has already proven prowess at senior level, having finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics when he was only 20. As defending champion, he will start as favourite, but Great Britain’s Kenneth Ikeji has burst into contention after winning the prestigious NCAA title in the US with 77.92m this summer. 

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And there could be more Ukrainian success in the men’s javelin. Reigning European U20 champion Artur Felfner will be seeking to continue his progression through the age-group ranks but standing in his way is the reigning champion and home favourite Topias Laine who will have the support of the javelin-crazy Finnish crowd.

And the Ukrainian run of success could also continue into the jumps. Oleh Doroshchuk and Roman Petruk lead the entry-list in the high jump with season’s bests of 2.26m and Vladyslav Shepeliev has the best mark in the triple jump at 16.67m. 

World U20 champions moving through the ranks 

The long jump promises a fascinating duo between talented French athletes Jules Pommery and Erwan Konate. Pommery won bronze at senior level in Munich last year and has a personal best of 8.17m. Konate won the World Athletics U20 Championship in Cali, Colombia last year and has a lifetime best of 8.12m.  

In the men’s pole vault, Pål Haugen Lillefosse will welcome the chance to escape the shadow of the phenomenon that is Sweden’s Armand Duplantis. The Norwegian is a rising prospect in his own right and having won European bronze last year, will be seeking gold at these championships. France’s reigning world and European U20 champion Anthony Ammirati, who has previously cleared 5.81m, will not make it easy for him.  

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In the sprints, Blessing Afrifah of Israel clocked a European U20 record of 19.96 in winning world U20 gold last summer and it will be fascinating to see if he can reignite sub-20 second form in the men’s 200m. The men’s 100m favourite is Raphael Bouju of the Netherlands who won gold at the 2018 European Athletics U18 Championships and has a best of 10.02 from this summer. 

The 400m features another athlete rolling off Norway’s conveyor belt of talent. Håvard Bentdal Ingvaldsen recently took ownership of Karsten Warholm’s national record with 44.86 at home in the Bislett Games in Oslo which he backed up with victory at the European Athletics Team Championships 1st Division in Silesia in a championship record of 44.88.

Ahead of these championships, Invgaldsen sharpened up with a 200m lifetime best of 20.68 at the Norwegian Championships but his task in Espoo won’t be wholly straightforward as he looks set to go head-to-head with the rapidly improving Hungarian Attila Molnar, who has also broken the 45 second-barrier this year. 

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Can Zhoya dazzle again in the 110m hurdles?

The men’s 110m hurdles includes 2021 European Rising Star Sasha Zhoya from France, the world and European U20 gold medallist in 2021. At his best he has clocked 13.17 but Zhoya, whose season has been nagged by injuries, is not quite in that shape yet and has only clocked 13.51. 

Italy’s Lorenzo Simonelli goes in with the season’s fastest time of 13.40 and with a creditable fourth at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul, he has the pedigree to cope at this level. 

And so does Poland’s Jakub Szymanski, the silver medallist at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul. Only 20, Szymanski improved to 7.53 for the 60m hurdles and is clearly capable of smashing his lifetime best of 13.50. 

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In the 400m hurdles, Türkiye’s world and European U20 champion İsmail Nezir heads the field with 48.84. 

In the middle and long distance events, Great Britain has its customary group of contenders. World U20 bronze medallist Ethan Hussey is in the men’s 800m event where France’s 2021 European U20 bronze Yanis Meziane, who has improved to 1:44.78 this year, could also be in the mix.  

Matthew Stonier had a breakthrough summer last year reaching both the European and Commonwealth 1500m finals. Those experiences could bear fruit in Espoo in a field which also includes the highly-rated Spaniard Pol Oriach, the European U20 champion in the 3000m steeplechase in 2021. 

Meanwhile, US-based Charlie Hicks will be looking for another successful foray across the Atlantic in the men’s 5000m. The British athlete won gold for the second time in the U23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Turin last December. 

The line-up also includes two of Europe’s most promising European U20 athletes Abdullahi Dahir Rabi from Norway and Denmark’s Joel Ibler Lillesø, both of whom are training partners. 

Istanbul medallist Skotheim the one to beat in the decathlon 

Norway’s Sander Skotheim is maturing into an athlete of rich potential and is the one to watch in the men’s decathlon. Last summer, the 21-year-old placed 15th at the World Athletics Championships and seventh at the European Athletics Championships.  

This year he has continued his upward trajectory, winning European Indoor silver in the heptathlon in Istanbul and placing third in the prestigious Hypo Meeting in Gotzis, adding nearly 300 points to his lifetime best with a national record score of 8590 points. 

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The decathlon line-up also features Skotheim’s predecessor as Norwegian record-holder Markus Rooth and Belgium’s Jente Hauttekeete, the reigning European U20 decathlon champion. 

The first medals of the championships will be presented on Wednesday evening in the 20km race walk. In the men’s race, Spain’s Paul McGrath will be looking to add to his medal collection that already includes European U20 gold and World U20 bronze, both from 2021.

Chris Broadbent for European Athletics

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