Great Britain’s team captain Jazmin Sawyers produced the ultimate in leadership examples at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul on Sunday (5) as she won her first international title with a startling fifth-round effort of 7.00m, the best mark recorded this year.
The multi-talented 28-year-old tipped a world class competition on its head as she landed in what had previously been unknown territory to her, bettering her outdoor best of 6.90m and indoor best of 6.75m.
Momentarily dazed by her effort, she stood looking at the mark in the sand until teammate Keely Hodgkinson, freshly minted as the women’s 800m champion, arrived at speed to offer a congratulatory hug.
Celebrations were due, but victory was far from assured in a fascinating and volatile contest.
Serbia’s 32-year-old Ivana Vuleta, seeking to become only the second athlete to win four golds in this event after Heike Drechsler, had taken a first round lead with 6.76m and extended it to 6.79m in the second round but in the fourth round Germany’s world champion Malaika Mihambo asserted herself with 6.83m.
One round later the German was not even in the medal positions as her three main rivals all hit riches.
Vuleta re-took the lead with 6.91m and Italy’s 20-year-old Larissa Iapichino – whose mother Fiona May won this title in 1998 – moved into silver medal position on countback as she equalled the national record.
Mihambo had nothing else left in her locker, but with her final effort Iapichino produced something which looked momentarily as if it might threaten Sawyers before it was confirmed as an outright national record of 6.97m.
A defiant final effort of 6.90m from Vuleta underlined her huge competitiveness but made no material difference to her bronze-medal position as the Brit was confirmed as winner.
“I am still a little bit in shock,” said Sawyers. “I have been trying it for years and I could not jump seven metres. And today it was not even in the back of my mind. When it happened, I was like: ‘I do not know what it is but please, be enough!’
It was a long-awaited triumph for an athlete of rare versatility.
She won silver for Britain in bobsleigh at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics, and as a talented singer-songwriter she went a very long way in The Voice UK programme.
After qualifying first-time with 6.71m the portents looked good for her; and they were not misleading. And after European outdoor silver and bronze and Commonwealth silver, Sawyers had herself a gold.
Mayer wins record-equalling third heptathlon title
France’s world champion Kevin Mayer, 101 points ahead of his 20-year-old rival Sander Skotheim coming into the heptathlon’s concluding 1000m race, limited the Norwegian’s winning margin sufficiently to earn a comfortable victory.
In a race that had parallels with the women’s pentathlon finale over 800m – where Poland’s Adrianna Sulek strove in vain to win by enough to overtake the lead of the defending and world champion Nafi Thiam – Skotheim pushed all the way and finished half a straight ahead, equalling his personal best of 2:37.82.
His 31-year-old opponent, however, had a safety margin of more than 14 seconds to play with, and was able to raise his arm in triumph well before the line, which he crossed fifth in 2:44.20.
That was sufficient to earn him a third European indoor title with a total of 6348 points, with Skotheim, whose bold challenge included setting a Championship best high jump of 2.19m that gave him the overnight lead, having to settle for silver with 6318, a national record.
“I still have this role model in the women's category - Nafi Thiam,” said Mayer. “She is improving all those records and still getting better. I am like - I want to do that too. I want to be like that. But she is so far away from me right now.”
Estonia’s Risto Lillemets finished second in the 1000m in 2:39.50 to displace Manuel Eitel from the bronze medal position, totalling 6079 to the German’s personal best score of 6047.
Surprise gold medal for Amels in high jump final
For a while in a dramatically fluctuating men’s high jump final it looked as if Ukraine’s 34-year-old Andrii Protsenko, who had to flee his native Kherson with his family last year following the Russian invasion, was about to win his first international gold.
But after taking the lead thanks to a first-time clearance of 2.29m the man who won world bronze last year and has silver from the world indoors and indoor and outdoor European Championships could do no more and had to give best to Douwe Amels of the Netherlands.
The 31-year-old Dutchman, who won the European U23 title in 2013, had an indoor personal best of 2.26m coming into this competition, but he surpassed himself here, as his excited celebrations made clear.
Having equalled his personal best with a second-time clearance he teetered on the brink at 2.29m before clearing at his third attempt to keep golden prospects alive.
Those prospects became reality when he cleared 2.31m at the second attempt, equalling the national record, with Belgium’s Thomas Carmoy claiming bronze on countback from Protsenko in what was for him a personal best.
“In 2013 I jumped a personal best in Istanbul, then a gold medal in the European Championships U23,” Amels said. “I hoped I could compete for medals in earlier competitions. It is very emotional, since I have been working towards a medal for a very long time.”
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics