It promises to be a super enough Saturday for the British track and field team in their first engagement since the home Olympics but for one of the country’s most prolific indoor performers the European Championships got off to a Friday flop of a start in Gothenburg yesterday.
Dwain Chambers did not exactly come into the three-day meeting with great expectations on his shoulders, having missed the trials in Sheffield last month with a back problem and failed to get beyond the heats of the 60m in the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham two weeks ago. Still, with his pedigree as a former world and European indoor 60m champion, and as holder of the continental record with 6.42 seconds, it was something of a jolt to see the former doping offender fall at the first round hurdle.
Needing to finish in the first four in his heat to secure a place in today’s semi-finals, Chambers was sluggish out of the blocks and laboured home fifth in 6.78sec. Only four men were slower in the three heats and 17 quicker. It was not even good enough for one of the four ‘fastest loser’ qualifying slots.
Chambers tore off his GB vest and threw down his shoes in disgust as he left the track, declining to share his thoughts as he exited the arena. After time for reflection, however, the 34-year-old said: “The performance was not what I expected. I can only express my disappointment because a lot of time and effort was put into me getting to these championships. I want to apologise to the people whose time I feel I have wasted.
“I came here with all the intention to do well and fight for a medal which is always what I have been renowned for doing but the injury obviously took more out of me than I had anticipated, so with that I’m really disappointed and feel bad for letting people down.”
Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and James Dasaolu both qualified from their 60m heats. clocking 6.65sec and 6.62sec respectively, but there was another British let down in the first round of the men’s. Ranked number one in Europe this year, Michael Rimmer could only finish number three in his heat and his finishing time, 1min 51.04sec, was not quick enough to get him through to the semi-finals as one of the fastest losers. Still, Sheffield’s Mukhtar Mohammed and Cardiff’s Joe Thomas both won their heats.
And Holly Bleasdale came up smelling of roses after a potential disaster before the qualifying round of the pole vault. “She accidentally squirted perfume into her eyes this morning,” team captain Jenny Meadows revealed. “I hope she can see the bar okay.”
Thankfully, it proved a breeze for Bleasdale, who is ranked number one in her event. A first time clearance at 4.56m guaranteed the young Lancastrian a place in today’s final.
As for Meadows - on the comeback trail following 18 months out injured - she was some way short of her best but ran well enough to make it through a tough 800m heat. Yelena Kotulskaya of Russia proved too strong for her, prevailing in 2min 02.35sec, but the 31-year-old Briton qualified in third, clocking 2:02.88 behind Nataliya Lupu of Ukraine. “I’ve got work to do but I still think I can finish in the medals,” Meadows said. “My heat was loaded with the fastest girls.”
Kotulskaya is only ranked fourth in European this season but none of the three women faster than her are competing here. They are all fellow Russians and the Russian Federation have only sent one entrant. They had two women on the podium in Paris two years ago but winner Yevgeniya Zinurova and third-placed Yuliya Rusanova – have since been retrospectively disqualified for doping offences, leaving Meadows, originally the silver medallist, as the defending champion.
There should be a clutch of British medals today, with Bleasdale, high jumper Robbie Grabarz and long jumper Shara Proctor all in finals. There should be more to come on the final day, too, Perri Shakes-Drayton having been a class apart in the first round of the 400m yesterday, winning her heat in 51.70sec. The hurdles specialist will start a clear favourite in the final tomorrow, barring a semi-final disaster today.
Ennis ‘so sad’ at stadium demise
Jessica Ennis will have to find a new training venue because the stadium where for 15 years she honed the skills that brought her Olympic heptathlon gold at London 2012 is being demolished.
Sheffield City Council have voted to knock down the Don Valley Stadium, which was also briefly home to Rotherham United, in a move they hope will save them £700,000.
“So sad to lose Don Valley Stadium where it all started for me,” Ennis tweeted. “Great memories.”
There is talk of the old Woodburn Road track, which closed 18 months ago, being reopened as an alternative venue.