The Great British medal flood has yet to start in the shadow of the Alps here in northern Italy. There was not even a trickle on the opening day of the European Indoor Championships in the Oval Lingotto, the converted ice skating arena for the 2006 Winter Olympics. That was always a possibility, with the finals for the best of the British hopefuls to come today and tomorrow.
Still, the blank proved to be a disappointment for Charles Van Commenee, recently installed as the head coach of UK Athletics, and for Sarah Claxton. The only European to make the 100m hurdles final at the Beijing Olympics last summer, Claxton emerged as a leading contender for a medal after running the fastest time in the semi-finals of the 60m hurdles. With 7.96sec, the 29-year-old Woodford Green athlete equalled her four year-old national record.
Had she reproduced the same time in the final, Claxton would have finished with the bronze medal. Instead, after failing to steal a march on her rivals, she took her foot off the pedal and faded to eighth and last in 8.27sec. Eline Berings, of Belgium, took gold in 7.92sec, with Lucie Skrobakova of the Czech Republic second in 7.95. Ireland's Derval O'Rourke was third in 7.97.
There was disappointment too for Claxton's training partner, Andy Turner. The European outdoor bronze medallist finished fourth in the men's 60m hurdles final, missing a medal by a tantalising 0.01sec. Still, the prospects are brighter for Britain today with Mo Farah a strong gold-medal favourite and Richard Buck and Donna Fraser fringe medal contenders.
For Farah, getting through the second heat of the 3,000m without any mishaps yesterday was a step in the right direction. The one-time Somali refugee tripped and fell in the heats in Birmingham two years ago and started running backwards when he picked himself up off the track. He managed to re-orientate himself sufficiently to make up the lost ground and qualify for the final but the effort left him short of gas in the final the next day – he finished a drained fifth.
Farah took no risks yesterday, staying well out of trouble at the back of the field in the opening stages before easing to the front and then allowing Olle Wallerang of Sweden and Jesus Espana of – well, of Spain – to pass him on the final lap, with a qualifying spot in the bag. "I wasn't thinking about what happened two years ago," he said, after crossing the line third in 8min 03.20sec. "I've been sent YouTube clips of me running backwards in Birmingham. It's quite funny now. It wasn't at the time."
Still, the chances are that Farah will have the last laugh today. The 25-year-old has stepped up a class this winter and will start as the favourite in a field that also includes his British team-mates Nick McCormick and Mark Draper.
Fraser progressed to the final of the women's 400m, finishing third in her semi-final in 53.59sec after clocking 53.06sec, an indoor personal best, in her morning heat. The 36-year-old will have to make a notable improvement, though, if she is to finish on the podium today in what seems likely to be her last individual race – she will still have the relay to come tomorrow – before retirement.
Buck, 23, will also need to improve to get in the medal frame in the men's 400m, but at least the young Yorkshireman made it through to the final. He snatched the third and final qualifying place from his semi-final, clocking 46.70sec, after Ireland's David Gillick – gunning for a third successive title – tripped and fell on the crown of the final bend.
There are likely to be better medal prospects for Britain in the women's 800m final tomorrow. Marilyn Okoro and Jenny Meadows were comfortable qualifiers for today's semi-final, the former was second in her heat yesterday in 2min 05.11sec, the latter won hers in 2:03.11.
The programme for day two also features Greg Rutherford in the qualifying round of the long jump. Oh yes, and the heats of the men's 60m, with Craig Pickering, Simeon Williamson and someone called Dwain Chambers.