ANDY POZZI (coach: Benke Blomkvist) struck European Indoor gold in superb fashion to win British Athletics’ first medal of the 2017 European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
Heading into the final as the gold medal favourite and with the fastest time this year under his belt, the 24-year-old lived up to the expectation to end day one of the championships on a high note for the British team.
After clocking the fastest time in qualifying, he endured something of a slower start than usual getting out of the blocks, but having found his stride by hurdles three and four he stretched out a slight lead on France’s defending champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde. A huge dip on the line saw the clock stopped at 7.51, with Pozzi confirmed as champion shortly afterwards.
Speaking on both the race and winning his first medal as a senior athlete, Pozzi said: “Before I even took my first stride I saw that everyone had got out ahead, so my heart stopped but my head kicked into overdrive. I really fought all the way – it wasn’t pretty and it was very messy, but from a poor start I thought I fought through quite well.”
“It’s everything – it’s just been so long. Obviously my first senior team was 2012, so it’s five years now and I haven’t really moved on from that because I just haven’t had the ability to put the work in; I’ve always come to championships with really minimal work and knowing that I needed to find something when I got there – this is the first time I’ve come into one having done all of the work.”
In the women’s 1500m, there was safe passage for both Laura Muir (Andy Young) and Sarah McDonald (Bud Baldaro). Muir was up first in heat one, with an entertaining battle between the Dundee Hawkhill athlete, home favourite Amela Terzic and Germany’s Konstanza Klosterhalfen soon emerging as the trio put distance between themselves and the rest of the field. With 200m to go, Muir navigated herself from third through to first, showing great closing speed to take the win in 4:10.28 and ensure she’ll be on the start line for tomorrow evening’s final.
Reflecting on the race after a day of competing twice, Muir said: “I wanted to conserve as much as I could ahead of the finals tomorrow and on Sunday – home athletes always seem to pull it out the bag, so I had to keep an eye out for the other girl [Amela Terzic], but I got the job done.
“You always want to win a race, so you just have to be sensible and just do what is necessary. The job is done for tomorrow, so I’ll just rest up now.”
Competing in the second of the three heats, McDonald showed guts and resolve to pinch the second automatic qualifying spot ahead of Daryia Barysevich of Belarus after being forced to move out to lane three due to the congested nature of the race.
“The finish was a panic!” she said.
“No one seemed to want to let me get near lane one, so I thought ‘story of my life, I’ll run in lane three’. But I knew I had great closing speed from my training sessions so I was really confident.
“Tactically it probably wasn’t my greatest run, but I just couldn’t get anywhere near the front and I just didn’t want to get boxed. I’m in the final and anything can happen.”
Laviai Nielsen (Frank Adams) took the occasion in her stride once again as she booked her place in tomorrow evening’s 400m final. After leading out from the increasingly familiar lane six, the Enfield & Haringey athlete only surrendered her lead with 30m to go, with a second place finish and clocking of 52.31 enough for her to make progress on her senior British Athletics debut.
Afterwards she said: “I really just wanted to take it out from the front – I know she [Floria Guei] has a really amazing finish from the Europeans three years ago, and I saw her coming and really wanted to fight her for it. I tensed up a bit too much in the last 20m and lost it, but I’m a European finalist, so I can’t complain.
“I’m faster now on the back of running some 60m and 200m races this year, so I know that’s where my strength is and I learnt that from trials too when I didn’t go out fast enough. I feel like I’m more confident with my 400m racing now, and tomorrow I just want to stick to my race plan and be in the fight for a medal.”
After navigating her heat superbly earlier today, Eilidh Doyle (Malcolm Arnold) narrowly missed out on joining Nielsen in the final. The Scot went out hard and led for the bulk of the race, only to be pipped by both Zuzana Hejnova and Malgorzata Holub with the finish line agonisingly close.
Speaking afterwards, a disappointed Doyle admitted she was frustrated with the result, but with the women’s 4x400 relay still to come there is still hope of a medal: “I was going out hard but I ended up dying on the home straight. The way I was running, I knew there were people behind me so I was trying to get to the line as quickly as possible. I knew Hejnova was there and I was trying to beat her so I’d get a good lane. But I’m absolutely gutted to get caught out by the Polish girl as well.”
Four jumps overall and a first time clearance at 1.90m saw Morgan Lake (Aston Moore) progress through to tomorrow’s high jump final alongside seven other athletes, with the 19-year-old coping well with having to spend much of the competition as an onlooker.
Talking on the experience of the round, Lake said: “It was nice to compete out there, and obviously I’m happy to have made the final. I was out there for a long time, so I had to keep my spikes on and try to keep warm as I didn’t know whether I’d have to jump again at 1.93m. I’ll see how I rest up tonight, but I’m feeling good ahead of the final now.”
Tom Lancashire (Steve Cram) navigated a tricky heat in style to secure a spot in the 1500m final tomorrow evening. After spending the first couple of laps sat in the middle of the field, Lancashire hit the front and remained there, with his closing speed too much for the chasing pack.
Speaking on ensuring qualification, he commented: “It was more comfortable than I was expecting, as on paper it looked like a really tough heat, but you try not to focus on those things. I had to work but my strength was there and that will help me with the back to back races.
“It’s going to be a totally different race tomorrow, but today gave me a lot of confidence and the one thing I have to my advantage is I am strong and running tomorrow won’t hurt me as much as some of the other guys. So I’ll try and capitalise on that tomorrow.”
Earlier in the evening both David King (James Hillier) and David Omoregie (Benke Blomkvist) narrowly missed out on joining Andrew Pozzi in the 60m hurdles final. For King, who was up against a field which contained Olympic medallist Orlando Ortega, a strong finish wasn’t enough as he was pegged back to sixth place, with his time of 7.70 not enough to see him through as a fastest qualifier.
Post-race he said: “I felt pretty good in the warm up, but there was something just lacking today – I’m not sure what it was. To be fair the run was ok; I didn’t get out as well as I would have liked to, but I’m not really sure as to where it went wrong, maybe I’ve raced a little too much.
“It’s about getting the experience in to handle these situations better too, this is only my second senior champs – and my first senior indoors champs too. It was a tough race and there were strong athletes in there, and I think when I reflect on it overall then I may be quite happy with it.”
For Omoregie, a third place finish and 7.71 clocking saw him come home narrowly behind Denmark’s fast-finishing Andreas Martinsen, with the fastest loser spots for the final claimed by the third place finishers from heats one and two.
Reflecting on where the race was won and lost, Omoregie said: “I had a decent start – I clipped the first hurdle, but I didn’t feel like it affected me too much. I think it was more towards the end – the Danish guy [Andreas Martinsen] came through strongly and took second - but it is what it is, I just have to prepare for the outdoor season now.
“Generally I felt quite good coming in to this, I’ve had a good two weeks prior to being over here, but it just didn’t happen for me today. I’ll have a week off now, and then we’ll get straight back into training ahead of the outdoors.”
Competing as a senior on a British Athletics team for the first time, Nick Goolab (Craig Winrow) narrowly missed out on progressing to Sunday’s 3000m final following a strong outing which saw him lead the race in periods, with his eventual sixth place finish and time of 8:02.49 seeing him lose out on a fastest qualifier spot.
Post-race he commented: “It’s pretty slow [his finishing time] – we started off pretty slow anyway; the pace wasn’t quick from the start, and when I went to the front and tried to pick it up I found I just didn’t have the legs to do it. With 800m to go those guys just changed gear, and I couldn’t match it. Generally I feel that my indoor season has been really good – I ran a PB indoors in Birmingham, but there are certainly areas I need to work on looking forward.”
Watch Andrew Pozzi before the champs, below: