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Smerdova lands first gold medal in Grosseto

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Competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, Yana Smerdova followed up her success at the European Race Walking Cup in Podebrady in May when she won the U20 10km walk with another victory over the same distance on the track at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Grosseto, Italy.

Smerdova began as the pre-event favourite by virtue of her victory in Podebrady but an upset appeared to be in the making as Germany’s Teresa Zurek opened up a gap - albeit far from an insurmountable one - with six laps remaining. However, Smerdova kept her cool in warm and humid conditions and closed the gap on Zurek before pulling away in the last three laps.

After a 4:45 split for the penultimate kilometre, Smerdova closed with a swift 4:30 final kilometre to claim the first gold medal of the four day event in 47:19.69 with Zurek safe in the silver medal position in 47:33.20.

“The race has been very tough because it was really hot. In the last minutes I put a lot of effort and I managed to win. I was not sure to win because in sport every race is different,” said Smerdova.

Zurek, whose pre-race ambition was to finish inside the top-10, opined the conditions were not a problem but she chose to sacrifice speed in favour of technique in the closing stages after receiving two warnings for lifting. “I didn’t want a third mark which could cost me my medal,” she said.

Meryem Bekmez was in contact with Smerdova and Zurek through until after the halfway point but the Turkish walker lost nearly a lap on the leaders in the last four kilometres. Bekmez almost missed out on the medals completely as Spain’s Marina Pena closed up a gap of 25 metres on the last lap but the Turk - roared on by her coaches on the sidelines - delved into her reserves to maintain her hold on the bronze medal, 48:33.88 to 48:34.21.

“I was really tired after the silver medal I won last week in Nairobi at the World U18 Championships and I could have done a better result and get a better medal otherwise. I got two penalties in the first two kilometers so during the race I was a bit stressed, focusing on the technique,” said Bekmez.

At 16, Bekmez will be able to try and upgrade her bronze medal at the next edition of the European Athletics U20 Championships in Boras, Sweden.

Ruckstuhl in command after heptathlon first day

After finishing her first day with a lifetime best of 24.74 in the 200m, Switzerland’s Geraldine Ruckstuhl leads the heptathlon standings with four events completed but her long-time junior rival Alina Shukh from Ukraine is only 80 points off the lead and poised to challenge for the title tomorrow.

Running against a 1.5 m/s headwind, Ruckstuhl just missed her lifetime best in the 100m hurdles with 13.98 before equalling her lifetime best of 1.81m in the high jump while Shukh opened proceedings with a lifetime best of 14.46 in the 100m hurdles - one of her weaker events - before improving her season’s best to 1.84m and then to 1.87m in the high jump.

Shukh, who won the inaugural European U18 heptathlon title in Tbilisi last season, assumed the lead after the second event before consolidating her position at the top of the leaderboard with 13.87m in the shot put - the best mark of the day - compared to Ruckstuhl’s 13.54m.

Shukh’s weakest event is the 200m but the 18-year-old is making progress in the sprint events. She broke the 26-second barrier for the first time, clocking 25.97 in the fourth heat but she still dropped behind Ruckstuhl (3646) and Britain’s Niamh Emerson (3576 points), who set PBs in the 100m hurdles and the 200m, after the fourth event.

Shukh’s first day total stands at 3566 points but the Ukrainian has an excellent second day, including a 56.54m lifetime best in the javelin. Shukh’s score after four events is also some way in excess of her day one tally of 3425 points set at the European Combined Events Team Championships in Tallinn where she came from behind to beat Ruckstuhl and set a lifetime best of 6208 points.

World U20 champion Sarah Lagger from Austria is fifth overnight with 3512 points but the 17-year-old is also expected to move up the leaderboard tomorrow.

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