Romania’s Dorin Andrei Rusu played the waiting game to perfection as he sprinted to victory in the 10,000m on the first evening session of the European Athletics U20 Championships in Grosseto, Italy.
After a tactical first half, the race came to life with nine laps to go when Türkiye’s Sezgin Atac broke up the leading pack with a surge which only Spain’s Miguel Gonzalez, Italy’s Sergiy Polikarpenko and Rusu managed to cover.
Gonzalez, who was one of the gold medal favourites by virtue of his European U20 leading mark of 30:02.73, was the first of the chasing triumvirate to drop off the pace but the formation at the front largely remained the same with Atac trying to drop the pursuers.
But Rusu and Polikarpenko were still very much in contact heading into the last kilometre and the Romanian, who was content to lope on Atac’s shoulder for most of the second half, hit the front for the first time just before the bell sounded.
Atac responded to Rusu’s initial change of pace but the 18-year-old kicked again with 200 metres remaining and opened up enough of a gap to the extent he was able to celebrate coming down the home straight for the 25th and last time.
Covering the last 200 metres in under 30 seconds - and the last five kilometres in under 15 minutes - Rusu stopped the clock at 31:08.86 while Polikarpenko closed down on Atac to claim Italy’s first medal of the championships in 31:10.85 with Atac third in 31:12.18.
“I didn't expect this. This race was also easier thanks to the support of the audience in the stadium,” said Polikarpenko, who was rewarded with a lifetime best despite the cumbersome pace in the opening stages. “Now I'll prepare a triathlon competition and after that we'll decide how to plan the rest of the season.”
Tortu poised to claim 100m gold
Filippo Tortu came through his heat and semifinal unscathed and the Italian heads into tomorrow evening’s 100m final as the outstanding favourite to conclude his junior career with his first gold medal.
Tortu was the fastest in this morning’s heats with 10.51 before improving to 10.39 in the semifinal but despite his superiority on the clock, he was not completely satisfied with today’s efforts.
“I still have troubles in the start; this evening I'll re-watch the two races and I'll try to figure out where is the problem. Anyway, I'm having good sensations in the second half of the race so I think I can do well tomorrow in the final. The target is a new PB - that would mean a new U20 national record,” said Tortu, who has already lowered that mark to 10.15 this season.
By contrast, the women’s 100m semifinals didn’t quite go to form. Germany’s Jennifer Montag, who leads the European U20 lists with 11.29, couldn’t recover from a bad start and missed out on a place in the final after finishing third in the first semifinal in 11.89.
Her teammate Keshia Kwadwo, who won the European U18 title in Tbilisi last summer, established herself as the favourite, qualifying fastest with 11.49 ahead of Ireland’s Gina Akpe-Moses in 11.56.
There was a particularly good standard in the men’s 400m heats which were led by Poland’s Tymoteusz Zimny who stopped the clock at a lifetime best of 46.65. Six of the seven fastest qualifiers all improved their lifetime bests while the women’s 400m heats were led by Ukraine’s Anastasiya Bryzhina in 52.66.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s quest for three gold medals over four days began with a comfortable victory in the 1500m heats in 3:45.22. Ingebrigtsen is the fastest on paper this season at this distance but unlike his rivals, the 16-year-old doesn’t have a rest day tomorrow. He will be back in action in the heats of the 3000m steeplechase in the evening session.