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Reigning champion Mihambo faces one of her biggest challenges yet in Munich 2022

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Malaika Mihambo was one of the unexpected gold medallists in Berlin 2018 but the German has seldom faced a worthy challenger in a major event since her breakthrough win four years ago.

Mihambo was crowned world champion in Doha the following year before completing the set with a last-gasp sixth round winning jump at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

A second gold medal was to follow at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon which under normal circumstances would make her the natural favourite to defend her European title on home soil in Munich from 15-21 August.

But her participation is now in some danger as she has revealed she caught coronavirus after returning home from Oregon where she won gold with a season’s best of 7.12m.  

"I got infected with coronavirus after the World Championships. It was a mild course, but I felt tired and listless and didn't train for 10 days. Unfortunately, the quarantine and the symptoms made optimal preparation for the competition impossible.    

"I was in great shape and wanted to show at the European Athletics Championships  that I can jump even further this year than in Eugene.  

“Despite the forced break and the lack of training, I will try to get to the start and do my best, knowing full well that I probably won't be able to match Eugene's level of performance,” said Mihambo in a statement released by Leichtathletik.de

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Ten

Unfortunate as this state of affairs is for the world and Olympic champion, this opens even wider the window of opportunity for Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta who will be eager to regain the title she won in Amsterdam in 2016, after an Achilles injury knocked her out of the final in Berlin 2018 when she led qualifying.

So dominant and brilliant indoors, that injury in Berlin was one of a succession of misfortunes and mishaps for Vuleta in outdoor championships. Most recently Vuleta finished seventh in Oregon but the Serbian had a contentious foul which would have put her in medal contention.

But there will be other threats in the form of Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia, who has reached 6.95m this season, and Ukraine’s robustly competitive Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk. 

Like her Ukrainian compatriots such as high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh, Bekh-Romanchuk has found a way to train and achieve despite the traumatic circumstances currently afflicting her country, recording a best of 6.88m so far this year.  

The reigning European indoor champion - a title she won by beating Mihambo in Torun last March - will also seek a medal for her beleaguered country in the triple jump. She has recorded a best of 14.74m this season and won world indoor silver in Belgrade in one of her first significant competitions in her secondary event. 

Portugal’s Patricia Mamona will also be seeking the European triple jump title in Munich six years after winning gold for the first time in Amsterdam.

In winning Olympic silver behind the unearthly Yulimar Rojas at last year’s Olympics, Mamona set the best European mark of the year with 15.01m - her first and only jump in excess of this vaunted barrier. 

But the presence in the field of the competitive and resilient Bekh-Romanchuk of Ukraine will make that a big challenge.  

Bekh-Romanchuk, who has been training in Brescia in Italy having been forced to leave Ukraine due to the Russian invasion, is currently the top-ranked European in 2022 courtesy of the 14.54m she achieved at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.

World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 2022 - Day Three

Home hopes will be carried by Neele Eckhardt-Noack, whose 14.48m this year makes her the joint second highest on the 2022 European season’s list. That mark has also been recorded by Finland’s Kriistina Makela, one of two strong Finns on the entry-list along with Senni Salminen. 

Israel’s Hanna Minenko will also have strong medal ambitions having achieved a mark of 14.47m this year. Originally from Ukraine, she married the Kazakh-born Israeli decathlon champion Anatoly Minenko and subsequently changed her allegiance. 

Can Mahuchikh complete the set of European high jump titles? 

Given the conflict raging in her home country since February this year, the achievements of Ukraine’s high jump Yaroslava Mahuchikh - and indeed so many of her teammates - has been extraordinary.  

The 20-year-old had to flee her native city of Dnipropetrovsk under Russian bombardment in March 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 month in Oregon she won a second world outdoor silver medal to set alongside the Olympic bronze she won in Tokyo last summer. 

But this hugely talented athlete, who has cleared 2.04m outdoors and 2.06m indoors, is now seeking a first major outdoor title – and she wants that to happen in Munich. If she does so, she will have captured European U18, U20, U23 and senior indoor and outdoor titles in just over a four year window. 

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Five

That will be anything but a foregone conclusion in the Bavarian capital given the presence of talents such as Italy's Elena Vallortigara who has returned to her very best form this season by winning a surprise bronze medal behind Mahuchikh in Oregon.

Mahuchikh’s compatriot Iryna Gerashchenko has also cleared 2.00m this season while Yuliya Levchenko is a regular 2.00m-plus operator although surprisingly didn’t make it through qualifying in Oregon last month.

Others likely to challenge include Bulgaria’s two-time European silver medallist Mirela Demireva; Montenegro’s Marija Vukovic who cleared 1.97m last year; Serbia’s 17-year-old Angelina Topic, the European U18 champion, who has cleared 1.96m to claim a share of the European U18 best along with Estonia’s Karmen Bruus who recently won the world U20 title in Cali.  

Aikaterini Stefanidi of Greece will seek a third consecutive European pole vault title against a field that will sadly lack Olympic and European bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw.  

The 30-year-old Brit, who injured her hamstring when her pole broke during final warm-up at last month’s World Championships in Oregon, had to pull out of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham after warming-up for the competition, after which she ended her season. 

Stefanidi, 32, has recorded 4.70m this season, having finished fifth at the World Athletics  Championships in Oregon, one place behind Slovenia’s Tina Sutej who could quite possibly land her first major title at the age of 33.

The 33-year-old from Ljubljana, who exited in qualifying in Berlin 2018, has cleared 4.80m indoors and 4.72m outdoors this season.

The top five on the entry-list also includes Italy’s Roberta Bruni (4.71m) and France’s Margot Chevrier and Norway’s Lene Retzius, both of whom have cleared 4.70m.

The Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships will be streamed live in its entirety through the European Athletics website.

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