The Azzurri defeat host nation Poland to win division one title at the European Team Championships as a young British squad finish fifth
After finishing just 2.5 points behind Poland at the European Team Championships in 2021, Italy returned to the Śląski Stadium determined to claim their first-ever victory in this event.
Italy has hosted the European Cup – the predecessor of the European Team Champs – several times in Rome, Florence and Milan over the years. But this was their first outright win as they scored 426.5 points at the end of the three-day contest ahead of Poland’s 402.5, Germany’s 387.5, Spain’s 352 and Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s 341.
It is fitting that Italy has finally managed to win the event as well as the creation of the European Cup in 1965 was the brainchild of Bruno Zauli, a former president of the Italian athletics federation.
Italy athletics is in good health at the moment. At the Tokyo Olympics, for example, they finished second in the athletics medal table behind the United States with five gold medals.
It bodes well ahead of next year’s European Athletics Championships, which the Italians are hosting in Rome.
One of their Olympic champions, Gianmarco Tamberi, was in action in Poland, too, as he won the men’s high jump with 2.29m on the final day (June 25).
The last day also saw Italy claim maximum points in the men’s shot put as Zane Weir, the European indoor champion, threw 21.59m. Behind, runner-up Scott Lincoln threw 21.10m – his second best throw ever and a qualifying mark for the World Champs in Budapest.
Even if some of the leading Italians didn’t manage to win, they still scored good points. Larissa Iapichino, for instance, was runner-up in the women’s long jump with 6.66m as Hilary Kpatcha of France took the win with 6.75m.
Italian distance runner Yeman Crippa was also beaten on the final day in the 5000m but he held on for third place as Thierry Ndikumwenaya of Spain ran 13:25.48 to narrowly pip Sweden’s Andrea Almgren.
Even closer was the women’s 1500m as another Spaniard, Esther Guerrero, ran 4:11.77 to out-kick Martyna Galant by one hundredth of a second.
Going for their third consecutive victory in the Euro Team Champs, Poland put up a great fight and they won the final event, the mixed 4x400m, in style as Natalia Kaczmarek produced an inspired finish to delight the home fans. Yet wasn’t enough to deny Italy the overall honours.
Lincoln aside, another British thrower, Bekah Walton, also shone on the final day as she threw a big PB of 59.76m to finish third as Nikola Ogrodnikova of the Czech Republic won with 61.75m. It puts Walton No.4 on the UK all-time rankings with the current spec javelin.
Bianca Williams, the GB captain, also ran well for second in the 200m with 22.75 behind Dutch sprinter Lieke Klaver’s 22.46 (1.2).
Generally, though, British Athletics deliberately used the event for development purposes to give some younger athletes international experience. This is not a new policy either, as gone are the days when Britain’s biggest stars supported the event.
In 1989, for example, Britain won a men’s title with a team that included Linford Christie, Steve Backley, Kriss Akabusi, John Regis, Tom McKean and Colin Jackson with UKA’s current chief executive, Jack Buckner, runner-up in the 5000m behind, ironically, an Italian – Salvatore Antibo.
Given this, the GB team’s performances in Poland were inevitably overshadowed by Zharnel Hughes’ UK 100m record on Saturday.
With lots of empty spectator seats in Poland, too, it remains debatable as to whether European Athletics’ decision to fiddle with the format of the old-style European Cup, by replacing it with the European Team Championships in 2013 and, more recently, integrating it into the multi-sport European Games, has actually been a success.
Still, some big-name athletes did travel to Poland to support their nation’s hopes. These included Femke Bol, who, along with Havard Ingvaldsen and Ewa Swoboda, broke championship records on the first day of the competition on Friday (June 23).
Representing the Netherlands, Bol beat her own 400m championship record of 50.37, which was set in the old ‘First League’ in 2021, with 49.82.
Ingvaldsen clocked 44.88 in the men’s 400m, just two hundredths of a second short of the Norwegian record he set in Oslo earlier this month and 11 hundredths quicker than the championship record held by Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee.
READ MORE: Hungary triumph in division two match
Swoboda, meanwhile, clocked 11.09 in the women’s 100m for maximum points in front of her home crowd.
Italy set their stall out from this opening day with victories from Samuele Ceccarelli in the men’s 100m, Sara Fantini in the women’s hammer, Nadia Battocletti in the women’s 5000m and Tobia Bocchi in the men’s triple jump.
Battocletti ran her last lap in 59.9 to beat Hannah Nuttall, who registered one of the best British results of the weekend with the runner-up spot in 15:29.49. Other British highlights on the opening day saw Jeremiah Azu and Zak Seddon third in the men’s 100m and steeplechase respectively.
Azu equalled his season’s best of 10.16 but found himself just behind winner Ceccarelli’s 10.13 and runner-up Raphael Bouju (10.14), a former English Schools sprints winner who now runs for Netherlands.
Elsewhere, rising star Charlotte Payne was fourth in the women’s hammer with 71.14m behind winner Fantini’s 73.26m.
There were a further three championship records on the second day (June 24) with Alessandro Sibilio of Italy clocking 48.14 in the men’s 400m hurdles, Mo Katir of Spain running 3:36.95 in the men’s 1500m and Jason Joseph of Switzerland with 13.12 (0.4) in the 110m hurdles.
Katir’s win came in the much-anticipated race that saw Portugal’s Isaac Nader finish runner-up ahead of 18-year-old Dutch talent Niels Laros, as George Mills of Britain was fifth.
There were home victories as well for Olympic champion Wojciech Nowicki in the men’s hammer and European champion Pia Skrzyszowska in the 100m hurdles. In the latter Skrzyszowska ran 12.77 to beat European indoor champion Nadine Visser of the Netherlands (12.81) and France’s Laeticia Bapté (12.82).
Saturday also saw the most memorable moment of the championships when Jolien Boumkwo lined up for the women’s sprint hurdles after having finished seventh in the previous day’s shot put for Belgium. Anne Zagré was due to run the event but withdrew, so Boumko stepped in and finished in 32.81 but gained two valuable points for her efforts before clips of the race went viral on social media.
“My team is the most important thing for me,” she said. “I couldn’t let it happen to lose by one point. That’s why I’ve considered taking part in 100m hurdles. There was no risk for me if I took it calmly.”
An amazing moment at the European Team Championships 🔥
Belgium’s Anne Zagré was going to run the 100m hurdles but got injured 🇧🇪
So shot putter (with every point counting) Jolien Boumkwo stepped in at the last minute and this was the result 🤯pic.twitter.com/2V7l3P2lBh
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) June 24, 2023
Elsewhere Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece came close to his championships record of 8.38m with 8.34m (-1.3).
For the British team, Issey Boffey was just outside two minutes with 2:00.39 as she finished runner-up to Switzerland’s Audrey Werro (1:59.95), whereas in the pole vault Jade Ive beat her PB twice as she came fifth overall with a best of 4.50m as Wilma Murto took full points for Finland with 4.71m.
British hopes for an overall top placing took a blow, though, when both 4x100m teams were disqualified.
READ MORE: Ireland triumph in division three
1 Italy 426.5
2 Poland 402.5
3 Germany 387.5
4 Spain 352
5 GB & NI 341
6 Netherlands 339.5
7 France 337.5
8 Portugal 315
9 Czech Republic 303.5
10 Sweden 283
11 Finland 282.5
12 Switzerland 263
13 Greece 256.5
14 Belgium 250
15 Turkey 245
16 Norway 223
(Belgium, Turkey and Norway are relegated to division two).
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