By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BELGRADE (04-Mar) — Britain’s Laura Muir completed the first half of her mission at the 34th European Indoor Championships here at Kombank Arena, storming to victory in the 1500m in a championships and British record of 4:02.39. She became the first British woman to win this title since Mary Stewart in 1977.
Muir, who is studying to be a veterinarian, will also contest the 3000m final tomorrow. Should she win, she would become the first woman since Poland’s Lidia Chojecka in 2007 to win both of those disciplines at these championships.
Off of a dawdling start, Muir decided just 150 meters into the race to move for victory, putting in a powerful surge with six laps to go. Immediately, three quarters of the field was out of contention, with only Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen and Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui able to stay close in the ensuing laps. A natural front runner, Muir was in her comfort zone.
“I was actually quite relaxed,” she told reporters after the race while sipping a recovery shake. “I think I knew what I had to do. I knew I was stronger than a lot of the girls, so I took it out hard early on.”
With three laps to go, Ennaoui was a distant third, and that is where she would finish in 4:06.59. But the 20 year-old Klosterhalfen was still fighting, and came up on the outside of Muir exiting the backstretch.
“I didn’t expect someone to be on my shoulder with 300 to go,” Muir commented.
But Klosterhalfen’s attack was short lived. Rounding the final bend of the penultimate lap, Muir powered away from the lanky German and dominated the remainder of the race. Immediately after finishing, an official tried to stop her from taking a lap of honor. After briefly arguing with the official, Muir dodged the official, grabbed a British flag from a fan, and completed that lap.
“I had to fight for that, didn’t I,” Muir told reporters, looking incredulous. “The lady said I didn’t have enough time, but I just said it’s my first medal and I’m not going to lose my lap of honor.”
Muir’s coach, Andy Young, said that his athlete executed her race plan perfectly.
“If it was slow at 300, go to the front, take them by surprise, and then start ramping up the pace,” Young told Race Results Weekly. “She did it exactly as she was supposed to.”
To her credit, Klosterhalfen kept pushing in the final circuit and finished in a career best 4:04.45, taking Germany’s first medal in this discipline since Brigitte Kraus in 1988. Still girlish, with her thick long hair pulled back behind her ears, Klosterhalfen was clearly thrilled.
“It’s incredible,” Klosterhalfen told Race Results Weekly, blushing. She continued: “It was the perfect race for me. She [Muir] made the speed so high. I knew that she is very strong. It was a fantastic race.”
The men’s 1500m went to this meet’s reigning 800m champion, Marcin Lewandowski of Poland. Off of a modest early pace set by Sweden’s Kalle Berglund, Lewandowski waited for the penultimate lap move up to the leaders, then waited for the right moment to strike.
“I have huge experience from the 800,” Lewandowski told Race Results Weekly. “I know what I should do. I just be patient. I just waited for a good moment.” He added: “I just passed a few guys in a few seconds.”
On the backstretch of the last lap, Lewandowski swept past Berglund and was never challenged to the line. He stopped the clock at 3:44.82 making him the first Polish champion is this discipline since four-time winner Henryk Szordykowski in 1974.
“I knew it would be my moment,” he said.
For leading most the race, Berglund was rewarded with the silver, only the second medal for Sweden in this discipline in the history of these championships. He and his coach had planned for him to take control of the race early, he said.
“It’s always the best way to run, in the front,” said Berglund, who thought that his medal might represent a turning point for Swedish running.
Filip Sasinek took the bronze for the Czech Republic in 3:45.89.
In the 800m semi-finals for both men and women, there were no time qualifiers. Only the top three in each heat would advance to the final.
That qualification system was just fine with Poland’s Adam Kszczot who has already been the gold medalist at these championships twice, in 2011 and 2013. After running in last place during the first lap, Kszczot responded deftly to a hard surge by Dutchman Thijmen Kupers at the 400-meter mark. Kszczot stayed close to Kupers, Spain’s Alvaro De Arriba and Britain’s Kyle Langford. On the backstretch of the final lap, Kszczot stepped on the gas bringing De Arriba with him. The Spaniard took the heat by a fraction, 1:48.36 to 1:48.53, over the Pole. Kupers qualified for the final in third in 1:48.69.
“I was like a shadow for all of the group,” Kszczot told Race Results Weekly of his tactics today. He continued: “My expectation before the race was maybe Kupers would try to hit in the 400. So, I already had tactics for it.”
In the second race, Denmark’s Andres Bube rebounded from a shaky opening round where he had to advance on time. In today’s race, he was in last place at the halfway point, trying to avoid trouble. With 250 meters to go, he followed Spain’s Daniel Andujar, and got into good position for the final lap. Swinging wide on the last bend, he finished first in the center of the track in 1:49.42, just ahead of Andujar (1:49.44) and another Spaniard, Kevin Lopez (1:49.53).
“I was lucky to make it through,” Bube admitted to Race Results Weekly of his first round performance. “It all played into my hands. My strength is a fast finish off of a slow opening pace. So, it was perfect for me today.”
The 34th European Indoor Championships conclude here tomorrow afternoon on the third and final day. Champions will be crowned in the 800m and 3000m for both men and women. Poland leads the medal table now with seven total medals, including three golds.