Three in the first four days. Three in 85 minutes last night. The Great British gold rush just keeps gathering momentum at these European Championships. Jessica Ennis played a captain's innings on the penultimate night in the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, clinching the heptathlon title with a championship record score, after Dai Greene had won the 400m hurdles in commanding fashion. Then came the man whose Midas touch had started the British ball rolling on the opening night.
Last Tuesday night Mo Farah won the 10,000m at his leisure, toying with the opposition before putting them out of their misery by sprinting clear with 300 metres to go. Last night, with the 5,000m crown on the line, the burgeoning golden boy of British athletics brought his Midas touch to bear with the class of the truly great distance runner that he has become.
At the last European Championships in Gothenburg four years ago, Farah was beaten to the gold in the 5,000m by a tantalising 0.09sec – by the fast-finishing Spaniard Jesus Espana. Last night, the Somali-born Londoner could hardly have avenged that painful defeat in a more emphatic fashion.
Taking the lead with three laps to go, Farah ratcheted up the pace by degrees. It was the kind of thumbscrew treatment administered by the Inquisition in these parts once upon a time. It condemned poor Espana to a long, slow defeat, and silenced the Spanish crowd.
Farah was away and clear before he swept into the home straight. He crossed the line in 13min 31.18sec. Espana was almost two seconds behind. Farah had grabbed his title, and completed the 5,000m and 10,000m double – the first British runner ever to do so at one of the four major championships: Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth Games.
As he sank to his knees on the track, Farah was finally overtaken. Emotion succeeded where Espana had failed. The tears came flooding down. And with good reason.
In the 66-year history of the European Championships, before last night only four men had been strong enough to achieve the men's distance double on the track: the great Czech soldier Emil Zatopek in 1950, Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak of Poland in 1958, Juha Vaatainen of Finland in 1971, and Italy's Salvatore Antibo in 1990.
"In the home straight, I just dug and dug," Farah reflected, confessing that he had been unaware of the winning gap that he had created. "Four years ago, it was at that point where Espana came past me," he said. "I didn't want to look behind. I was telling myself to just dig and dig, and push and push. I'm just so happy that I've won."
Ennis, meanwhile, had to push and push to add the European heptathlon crown to her expanding portfolio of titles, after lining up for the seventh and final event, the 800m, with a lead of only 18 points. Having won World Championship gold by a whopping 258 points in Berlin last summer, and the world indoor pentathlon title in Doha in March by 86 points, it was unfamiliar territory for the Sheffield woman who has established herself as the planet's leading female all-rounder by some distance over the course of the last 18 months.
Sure, the gold was still hers to lose. Natalya Dobrynska would have to beat her by 1.25sec to snatch it from her, and on previous best times the Ukrainian was some three seconds slower over the two-lap distance. Still, the pride of the Steel City needed to show her mettle. Having failed to mount a sustained challenge to Ennis in either Berlin or Doha, in the preceding six events in Barcelona Dobrynska had suddenly rediscovered the kind of form that propelled her to Olympic gold in Beijing two years ago.
When the gun fired for the start of the 800m, Ennis shot into the lead and pushed the pace from the front. The gold looked to be in the bag. But then Dobrynska went for broke, sweeping past with 250 metres to go – only for Ennis to respond with interest. Regaining the lead with 180 remaining, the Briton sprinted to a clear victory in 2min 10.18sec.
Ultimately, Ennis pocketed the gold with 45 points to spare and with a lifetime best tally of 6,823 points, eclipsing Carolina Kluft's championship record but missing Denise Lewis's 10-year-old British record by a measly eight points. "I am so happy and so relieved," Ennis said. "It has been a really tough couple of days. I've been pushed all the way and it's a brilliant relief to have crossed that line and won the gold medal.
"On the start line for the 800m I was so nervous, knowing that if Dobrynska got ahead of me it would cost me the gold. With everyone doing so well and us winning so many medals, I kind of thought, 'I don't want to let anyone down'."
There are high hopes of a seventh British gold medal on the final day today, courtesy of the men's 4 x 400m relay quartet. There would also have been hopes of another from the men's 4 x 100m relay team had their challenge not come to grief with a cock-up in the baton-passing department between Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis in the semi-finals yesterday.
Still, there are also strong medal chances today for Lisa Dobriskey in the 1500m and the women's 4 x 400m relay team. Another three medals of any description would eclipse the record British haul, the 18 gleaned in Split twenty years ago.
There were five medals in total last night, including a silver medal lining for Michael Rimmer in the 800m. With 250 metres to go, the Southport athlete had eased into the lead and was starting to wind up the pace. As he was doing so, however, he was being closely shadowed by Marcin Lewandowski, the other major contender. As Rimmer rounded into the home straight, the Pole moved alongside him and the pair were locked in a neck-and-neck duel until the last 10 metres.
At that point the Briton finally buckled. Lewandowski edged past to claim the win in 1min 47.07sec. Rimmer finished second in 1:47.17, his face unable to disguise his disappointment. "I gave it my all," he said. "But fair play to Lewandowski. I dearly wanted to become the first British winner for 20 years."
A graduate in history, Rimmers could not quite close the gap back to Tom McKean's golden run in Split in 1990. Still, the 24-year-old joined one all-time British great in having to settle for 800m silver on the European Championship stage. Steve Ovett finished second to the Yugoslav Luciano Susanji in Rome in 1974 and to the big, barrel-chested Olaf Beyer of East Germany in Prague in 1978.
In Barcelona, the British team have so far won 16 medals: 6 golds, 6 silvers and 4 bronze. As well as yesterday's victories for Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon and Dai Greene in the 400m hurdles, Mo Farah won the 5,000m and the 10,000m, Andy Turner took the 110m hurdles title and Phillips Idowu won the triple jump. At the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg, GB bagged 11 medals – one gold, five silvers and five bronze. The 4x100m relay team took gold. In 2002 in Munich, Britain collected 12 medals – five golds, two silvers and five bronze. The winners were Paula Radcliffe in the 10,000m, Colin Jackson in the 110m hurdles, the 4x400m relay team, Steve Backley in the javelin and Ashia Hansen in the triple jump.
Final-day medal hopes
7.10pm: men's long jump
After 10 attempts, Tomlinson has yet to win a medal at a senior outdoor championship. Could it be 11th time lucky tonight for the towering Teessider who broke Lynn Davies's ancient British record eight years ago? He jumped a season's best of 8.20m on Friday, the third-longest jump in the qualifying round, behind the 8.27m achieved by both Eusebio Caceres of Spain and Christian Reif of Germany. The field also includes the injury-plagued Andrew Howe, the defending champion from Italy.
Past GB winner Lynn Davies, 1966
8.15pm: women's 1500m
At the World Championships in Berlin last summer, Dobriskey executed a tactical race of near perfection to take the silver medal behind Maryan Jamal of Bahrain, missing gold by a tantalising 0.01sec. Three weeks ago the woman from Ashford in Kent was sitting pretty at the top of the European rankings and No 1 contender for Barcelona. Then Anna Alminova returned from a drugs ban to clock a stunning 3min 57.86sec in Paris. The Russian will start favourite. Hannah England and Steph Twell also go for GB.
Past GB winners None.
Best GB performance Kelly Holmes, silver 1994
Women's 4x400m relay
The British squad travelled to Barcelona without Christine Ohuruogu, the injured Olympic 400m champion, but in the first round yesterday the GB quartet – consisting of Nicola Sanders, Vicky Barr, Marilyn Okoro and Lee McConnell – finished second in their heat, behind Russia, the red-hot favourites for gold. With Perri Shakes-Drayton, winner of the 400m hurdles bronze medal on Friday, likely to replace Okoro for the final, a medal becomes a realistic possibility.
Past GB win 1969
Men's 4 x 400m relay
A run of five British triumphs was brought to an end by the French in Gothenburg four years ago but the historical trend looks likely to be restored. With a quartet of Martyn Rooney, Michael Bingham, Conrad Williams and Rob Tobin, Britain will start as the team to beat. The Belgians might run them close, with Kevin Borlée – who win the exciting individual 400m final ahead of Bingham and Rooney on Friday night – and his twin brother, Jonathan, to draw upon. Nonetheless, the championships should finish as they started on the track on Tuesday: with gold for Great Britain.
Past GB wins 1950, 1958, 1974, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002
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