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Vuleta: "It wasn’t even an option to come here and fail to win"

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  • Vuleta: "It wasn’t even an option to come here and fail to win"

After the rain relented in the Olympic Stadium, the half-soaked crowd was treated to a field event fest in the rearranged programme, with three finals taking place concurrently in the Thursday (18) night session at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, part of the multi-sport European Championships.

There was drama in all of them, but the decisive performance in the event in the field that the locals had been relishing the most - the women’s long jump - came with the very first attempt.

The home crowd had come to see the Heidelberg girl with the golden touch Malaika Mihambo defend the European crown she had claimed on in Berlin back in 2018 but before the 28-year-old German had the opportunity to step on to the damp runway, Ivana Vuleta got in what proved to be the telling blow.

Mihambo might have struck Olympic gold in Tokyo last year, and successfully defended her world title in Eugene a month ago but Vuleta has a Midas competitive instinct of her own.

Three times the world indoor champion and winner of the European title in Amsterdam in 2016, when Mihambo claimed a breakthrough bronze, the Serbian threw down the gauntlet with an opening leap of 7.06m, a season’s best outdoors and also the longest jump recorded at the European Athletics Championships since 1998.

Back in March, on her own home ground in Belgrade, an identical jump had kept the world indoor title in Vuleta’s possession.

Five months on, after the disappointment of a fifth-placed finish at the World Championships in Oregon where she had a contentious no jump which would have put her in medal contention, it proved sufficient to regain the European title.

Having been hit by coronavirus since her world outdoor success, Mihambo dug deep in an effort to hang on to the crown, mustering a 7.03m jump with her second effort. But that was the best she could manage, finishing with a 6.99m effort in the final round and the silver medal - her first defeat in a major outdoor championships since the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio where she was fourth. 

Vuleta followed up with 6.98m in the second round but then had three fouls before passing on a final attempt, with the gold already in the bag. Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk was in third with 6.76m until Jazmin Sawyers of Great Britain - the silver medallist in between Vuleta and Mihambo in Amsterdam 2016 - snatched bronze with 6.80m in the last round, reversing the outcome of four years ago when Bekh-Romanchuk displaced Sawyers from the podium with her last jump of the competition.

“This was one of the strongest and most beautiful competitions of my career,” said Vuleta. “I love jumping in the rain so it wasn’t a problem for me at all.

“This year I have won the world indoors and now the European outdoors. The only one missing was the medal from Eugene. I had a good jump there but it was a slight fault. These kinds of failures motivate me. It wasn’t even an option to come here and fail to win, even if it was Malaika’s home soil."

Mihambo was magnanimous in defeat. “Ivana did a great competition, jumping 7.06m,” she said. “It made it a hard competition. I had to fight. I am so relieved that I was able to come here and compete so well. The crowd was on fire. I loved it.”

Tamberi puts on another show in the high jump final

Love was in the air after the men’s high jump final, Gianmarco Tamberi telling the in-field interviewer after regaining the title with a second-time clearance at 2.30m: “I am getting married in three weeks, so I am dedicating this to my wife.”

The great Italian showman, the winner in Amsterdam in 2016, will have the chance to defend his title and attempt a hat-trick on home ground, the date for the 2024 European Athletics Championships in Rome having been confirmed as 7-12 June.

The joint Olympic champion was the only man to clear 2.30m but, true sportsman that he is, cheered Andriy Protsenko as the Ukrainian attempted 2.32m after passing on his final shot at the lower height.

Then he jumped on to the landing bed to bear-hug Protsenko as his rival acknowledged the crowd, and a bronze medal to match the one he won at the World Athletics Championships. 

To the delight of the home crowd, silver went to Munchener Tobias Potye on countback, courtesy of the German’s clean card up to and including 2.27m in a competition in which five men failed to negotiate the opening height, 2.18m.

“It was an amazing night,” said Tamberi, “I felt this vibe inside me because of the crowd and because of the atmosphere. I missed a chance at a medal at the World Championships, so this means a lot to me.”

Pawel Fajdek might have bagged a fifth successive world hammer title in Eugene but back in Europe it is his Polish team-mate and long-time rival Wojciech Nowicki who rules the continental roost.

The reigning European and Olympic champion, Nowicki held on to his crown with an emphatic victory, generating fierce spin in the circle before unleashing a fifth round effort that sailed past Bence Halasz’s 80.92m lead to 82.00m.

With the best performance in the world in 2022, Nowicki had avenged his defeat at the World Championships in Eugene last month, where he finished runner up to Fajdek.

Four weeks on from his latest global high, the world champion struggled to get into the groove in Munich, registering two fouls with his opening efforts and finishing out of the medals in fourth place with 79.15m.

Eivind Henriksen followed up his bronze from Eugene with another in Munich, the Norwegian throwing 79.45m.

“It is a new big medal for my collection and a new gold medal for the Polish team, so I am very happy,” said Nowicki. “I approached the competition like it was a training session, with no pressure. Maybe that was the key to me getting 82.00m, the world lead.”

Thiam cruises to third heptathlon title in 12 months

On the eve of her 28th birthday, Nafi Thiam completed a second successive set of Olympic, world and European heptathlon titles, finishing 98 points clear of Pole Adrianna Sulek with 6628 points.

The third best all-round female athlete of all-time, the Belgian had been on course for something special – Jessica Ennis-Hill’s championship record (6823) or even the second 7000-plus score of her career – until dropping something in region of 250 points with a 6.08m long jump and 48.89m javelin in the second day morning session.

She also lost the challenge of Anouk Vetter, the Dutch athlete who finished runner-up behind her at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year at and World Championships in Eugene failing victim to an Achilles tendon injury after the long jump.

It happens to be a measure of Thiam’s dominance, and the scope of her talent, that she could afford to fall so far off her best and still successfully defend her title with ease. Despite her morning dip, she still went into the concluding 800m, with a lead of 172 points over Annik Kalin.

The Swiss record-holder would have needed to beat her by 11.5 seconds and, as a slower two-lap performer, that was never likely to happen. Thiam trotted home tenth in 2:17.95, two places behind Kalin, who clocked 2:13.75, a personal best.

Athletics - Day 8 - European Championships Munich 2022

The Swiss champion finished with  a national record of 6515 points but with bronze rather than silver. The runner up prize went to Sulek, with 6532 points, thanks to a winning 800m run of 2:09.49 despite nursing a hamstring injury which almost forced her to retire from the competition.

Thiam’s Belgian teammate Noor Vidts, the world indoor pentathlon champion, was fourth with 6467.

“The first day was perfect but the second day was really difficult for me,” said Thiam. “I had pain all over my body but still managed to give my best. I am really happy, because I have won Olympic world and European titles in less than a year.”

Full results here.

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