Just when it seemed the gold medal was slipping out of Maria Vicente’s grasp, the Spaniard mustered up another phenomenal competitive effort in the 800m to win her third successive major age-group heptathlon title at the Boras 2019 European Athletics U20 Championships.
Vicente won the world and European U18 titles in 2017 and 2018 with unassailable winning margins but the 18-year-old had to eke out every last ounce in the 800m to ensure the gold medal ahead of pursuers Kate O’Connor from Ireland and Switzerland’s world U20 leader Annik Kalin.
Only 12 points separated the leading triumvirate before the 800m and there was only 46 points between the three at the end of a thrilling - and rain-soaked - 800m. Not only was it a fitting spectacle to an enthralling heptathlon, the competition also produced an excellent set of results for the medallists.
What an INCREDIBLE conclusion to the heptathlon in #Boras2019! @MVicentePodium runs the 800m of her life in the pouring rain to win the European U20 title in a Spanish record of 6115 points. pic.twitter.com/nJjUCxQRu1— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 19, 2019
With a score of 6115 points, Vicente became the first Spaniard to surpass 6000 points in a heptathlon while O’Connor improved her Irish record from 5881 points to 6093 points. Kalin also surpassed the 6000 point-barrier for the first time in her career with 6069 points in bronze.
The overall standings on day two changed drastically after an event-filled javelin which saw the three title aspirants exceed their lifetime bests to keep themselves in gold medal contention.
Holly Mills led proceedings after the long jump but the Brit, who only made her heptathlon debut at the end of May, found herself 200 points adrift of the medals by the conclusion of the javelin although she by no means performed below expectations with 32.75m - just 22 centimetres adrift of her lifetime best. She finished fourth overall with a lifetime best of 5802 points.
Vicente produced a lifetime best of seven metres at the European U18 Championships last year to put herself on course for the world U18 best and the 18-year-old summoned up her excellent competitive instincts by setting a lifetime best of 44.19m with her third attempt - her first ever throw in excess of the 40 metre-line with the senior implement.
So clutch from @MVicentePodium!— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 19, 2019
Vicente smashed her lifetime best in the third round of the heptathlon javelin with 44.19m. #Boras2019 pic.twitter.com/CNMacgg4HG
This throw put Vicente back in the lead with a score of 5240 points but her advantage was whittled down to a minuscule margin during the second pool after some excellent throwing courtesy of O’Connor and Kalin.
O’Connor was the first to threaten Vicente’s lead with an Irish U20 and U23 record of 52.92m - her first throw in excess of the 50-metre line - before Kalin moved into the lead for the first time across the two days after setting back-to-back lifetime bests of 48.15m and 48.84m to sneak three points ahead of Vicente in the standings.
Just 12 points separated the three medallists after six events which set the scene for a pulsating climax. Kalin and O’Connor had much faster lifetime bests but the form chart was thoroughly discarded as Vicente gritted out a near-seven second lifetime best to finish second in the 800m - improving from 2:22.99 to 2:16.29 - to overhaul O’Connor (2:16.98) in the home straight with Kalin third (2:19.81) in a classic contest.
“I'm extremely happy - as I mentioned earlier, it's been a really tough competition. I'm glad I finished strong, even broke my PB because I just came back from an injury in the last few weeks,” said Vicente. “Now I can really enjoy this moment.”
'With 200 metres to go, I said 'Maria, please follow!''@MVicentePodium after winning gold in the heptathlon in #Boras2019. pic.twitter.com/kYuW6G0Rma— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 19, 2019
O’Connor also surpassed her expectations in both the javelin and the heptathlon as a whole in her last major heptathlon in the U20 ranks.
“That was really unexpected,' said O'Connor on the javelin. 'Honestly, I have thrown 49 metres quite a few times and the odd time in training I have hit 50 metres but 52 metres - almost 53 metres - was completely unexpected. And to finish the day off so high was brilliant. My goal was to try and be 100 points behind those girls [Vicente and Kalin] because I knew they were strong on this day and to be within 15 points of them was really great.”
Kalin led the world U20 list ahead of the championships and she was by no means disappointed to come away from Boras with a bronze medal - the first major medal of her career.
“I am very, very happy winning a medal. I was among the favourites and this was a new situation for me. I am pleased that I could still focus and go from event to event. It is so exciting winning a medal plus a new PB and reach more than 6000 points. I am not sad that these girls were faster in the 800m,” she said.
Despite the changeable conditions across the two days with strong headwinds in the sprints and heavy rain and wind in the 800m, six of the top-10 in the heptathlon still set lifetime bests.