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Preview | Reigning champion Jacobs poised for golden homecoming in Roma 2024

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  • Preview | Reigning champion Jacobs poised for golden homecoming in Roma 2024

Home expectation will be amply piled upon the broad shoulders of Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs – but can the 29-year-old US-born Italian sprinter deliver at the Roma 2024 European Athletics Championships from 7-12 June?

Jacobs, who set a European record of 9.80 in winning the title for Italy at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, has not run below 10 seconds since winning gold at the 2022 European Athletics Championships in 9.95 and split with his longtime coach Paolo Camossi at the end of 2023, moving to train with Rana Reider’s group in Jacksonville, Florida.

But the reigning champion is rounding into form at just the right time, shaving his season’s best to 10.03 in his last race before Roma 2024 in cool conditions at the Bislett Games in Oslo. In warmer conditions and in front of a buoyant home crowd, does a sub-10 second performance beckon in Rome?

And Jacobs' prospects of emerging victorious in the 100m final on Saturday have been bolstered in recent days by the unfortunate withdrawals of Great Britain's Zharnel Hughes and Jeremiah Azu, the 100m silver and bronze medallists respectively in Munich. 

Their young teammate Romell Glave, who has run 10.05 this season and will be making his debut for Great Britain in a major event in Rome, and former European U23 champion Henrik Larsson, who has lowered the Swedish record to 10.08, will also be in medal contention along with France’s Meba-Mickael Zeze - a 9.99 performer at his very best.

Meanwhile Zeze’s younger brother Ryan stands second on the 2024 European list for 200m having set a personal best of 20.18 in Austin, Texas on 30 March. The fastest in the field is his French compatriot Pablo Mateo, who set a personal best of 20.03 at the same meet.

Türkiye’s 34-year-old Ramil Guliyev, the 2018 European champion, is by far the most decorated sprinter in the field but the veteran - who made the 200m final at the World Athletics Championships as far back as 2009 when Usain Bolt set the world record - has only run 20.77 this year and will need to improve markedly to make the podium again.

The Stadio Olimpico would glow if home sprinter Filippo Tortu, who brought home the baton for 4x100m gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games, could get anywhere near his personal best of 20.10, but his 2024 best is 20.72. Can be produce some of his relay magic in the individual event in Rome?

Warholm rounding in on his third 400m hurdles title

Barring an accident, Norway’s Karsten Warholm - Olympic and world champion, world record-holder with 45.94 - looks set to win his third consecutive continental title in the 400m hurdles

For this phenomenally dedicated 28-year-old from Ulsteinvik these championships come at a critical time in his season as his two strongest challengers for the Olympic title in Paris, Alison dos Santos of Brazil and Rai Benjamin of the United States have posted faster times so far this season.

Benjamin clocked 46.64 in Los Angeles on May 18; and last Tuesday (28) the Brazilian upstaged Warholm on his home track in Oslo, clocking 46.63 as the home athlete managed 46.70.

It’s all getting very tense – and the annexation of another European gold, ideally in fine style, would be a very important factor in maintaining this amiable Norwegian’s equilibrium.

He will hope these championships can give him the kind of lift he got from Berlin 2018 - which came after a series of brutal defeats by Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba - and from Munich 2022, where he got back into winning mode at the end of an injury-hit season, winning in a championship record of 47.12 to break Harald Schmid’s long-standing mark of 47.48 from 1982.

And should Warholm win gold, he will match the accomplishments of the former West German who won the title in 1987, 1982 and 1986.

Home runner Alessandro Sibilio, with a personal best of 47.93 and a season’s best of 48.25, looks the most likely candidate to challenge for the silver medal although Estonia’s 32-year-old Rasmus Magi, European silver medallist in 2014 and with a best of 47.82 is also an enduring rival who has clocked 48.58 this season.

Both Sibilio and Magi were part of that legendary Olympic final in Tokyo where Warholm blasted to gold in 45.94. 

Rising talents Doom and Dobson to clash in the 400m

The late withdrawal of Great Britain’s two-time champion Matthew Hudson-Smith – who lowered the European record to 44.07 in Oslo on Thursday - has left a gap in the 400m but the struggle to fill the void is likely to involve Belgium’s Alexander Doom and Great Britain’s Charles Dobson. This could be one of the most compelling contests of the championships.

Both men are on an upward journey this year. Doom, 27, has found his mojo this year, winning the world indoor title in Glasgow ahead of Warholm in a national indoor record of 45.25 and ran another lifetime best of 44.44 for victory in Ostrava last month - just 0.01 shy of the Belgian record set by Jonathan Borlee in 2012. He is surely set for a big improvement on the elimination in the semi finals from Munich 2022.

That took him one place ahead of Dobson in the 2024 European list after the 24-year-old Brit’s breakthrough clocking of 44.46 in Savona on May 15. Having won European 4x400m gold two years ago the young man from Colchester already has a taste of high achievement on the European stage but the talented Brit is rounding in on individual glory in Rome.

Others in the hunt will include Ukraine’s Oleksandr Pohorilko, who has run a national best of 44.94 this year, the highly talented Jonathan Sacoor from Belgium - the 2018 world U20 champion - and home sprinter Davide Re, who has a best of 44.77 although he is yet to open his season.

And while he is yet to display his best form at this relatively early juncture of the summer, Norway’s Havard Bentdal Ingvaldsen will be a title contender if he can rekindle the form which saw him slash his Norwegian record to 44.39 at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest where he made the final.

Spain’s reigning European 110m hurdles champion Asier Martinez, who won gold ahead of Pascal Martinot-Lagarde by a mere 0.001, has a season’s best of 13.29 that keeps him well in the mix, but his teammate Enrique Llopis, who is back at full fitness after his nightmare fall in the 60m hurdles at the Istanbul 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships, is a fraction ahead of him on 13.26.

Poland’s Damien Czykier, who has clocked 13.27 this season, is always a strong competitive force, although Belgium’s Michael Obasuyi is fastest in the field this season with a national record of 13.20.

However, the prospective favourite could be world indoor silver medallist Lorenzo Simonelli who has lowered the Italian record to 13.21 this year.

“Rome has been my big goal since the start of the year. Naturally everyone is talking about Gianmarco [Tamberi] and our race walkers but this will be my chance to let people know who I am. All my friends and family are buying tickets for Rome. It started at about 10, then went up to 20 and now it’s even more! I’m going to have a lot of support there!” said Simonelli in the build-up to the championships.

Meanwhile Britain’s 32-year-old Andrew Pozzi, European indoor champion in 2017 and world indoor champion the following year, is back in excellent form having clocked 13.23 last month - his fastest time since 2020.

Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics

 




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