European Athletics will stage the first multi-discipline championships in the sport since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic when the 36th edition of its Indoor Championships start at the Torun Arena in Poland tomorrow.
Among the world-class athletes who will be taking advantage of this landmark opportunity will be Norway’s 20-year-old European 1500 and 5,000 metres champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who will seek to earn the 1500-3,000m double that just eluded him at these Championships in Glasgow two years ago.
On that occasion, having won the 3,000m title, Ingebrigtsen was tracked and outsprinted to 1,500m gold by Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski, who will contest both events for a host country seeking to top the medal table at the Indoor Championships for a third successive time.
Poland’s other major hopes for gold include European 400m champion Justyna Święty-Ersetic, who further has podium possibilities in the 4x400m relay, while there are also realistic medal hopes for the men’s 4x400m.
But a positive COVID-19 test has ruled out the defending women’s 60m champion Ewa Swoboda, fastest of the entrants with a 7.10sec clocking this season, who had hoped to give the Championships a golden home finale on Sunday (March 7) evening.
Święty-Ersetic, third in this year’s European list with 51.80, will be under pressure over 400m from the two up-and-coming Dutch runners currently ahead of her - Femke Bol and Lieke Klaver.
Bol, 21, and Klaver, 22, have risen to prominence since the Pole’s Berlin win, with the former topping the 2021 continental ranking with 50.64 and her long-time friend and rival second on 51.21.
The Netherlands will also offer formidable opposition to Poland’s 4x400m relay ambitions both in the women’s and the men’s event, with the latter featuring the Dutch athlete currently topping the European 400m list on 45.99, Liemarvin Bonevacia.
For all the promise of the track rivalries, the most exciting action of these Championships may emanate from the field events.
In the men’s pole vault the 21-year-old world record holder Mondo Duplantis - Untied States-based but representing Sweden, his mother’s birthplace - leads the 2021 list with a clearance of 2.10 metres, but his predecessor as world record holder, 34-year-old Renaud Lavillenie of France, has had his best season since 2014 so far, and vaulted 6.06m on February 27.
The women’s long jump also promises riches.
On February 20, Italy’s 19-year-old Larissa Iapichino produced an electrifying effort in Ancona, setting a world under-20 record and 2021 world-leading mark of 6.91m.
Iapichino - the daughter of former pole vaulter Gianni Iapichino, who won silver at the 1991 European Cup, and Fiona May, who represented Britain then Italy in the long jump, winning two Olympic silvers and two world titles - won the European under-20 title in 2019.
Can she add a senior title to that?
If so, she will have to overcome a huge array of European long-jumping talent.
Also on the start list are four hugely experienced performers who are only slightly adrift of her best mark.
Starting from the top - Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia, a 6.92m jumper who has reached 6.82m this year; Germany’s world and European champion Malaika Mihambo, whose best of 7.30m puts her 12th on the all-time list; Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova of Belarus, the 2011 world bronze medallist who jumped 6.93m to take silver at the last European Indoors in Glasgow two years ago and has reached 6.73m this season; and Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, European and world silver medallist, who has a best of 6.70m so far this year.
The field could have been even stronger had not Serbia’s Ivana Španović, who has jumped 7.24m, been prevented from seeking a fourth consecutive title by a hamstring injury.
Competition will be equally strong in the men’s high jump, where in the same Torun Arena on February 17 Maksim Nedasekau of Belarus, Andriy Protsenko of Ukraine and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi all bettered what was then the 2021 world-leading mark of 2.33m by a centimetre, finishing in that order.
Four days later Tamberi, who will defend his title in Torun, took the overall 2021 lead for himself with a clearance of 2.35m in Ancona.
All three are due to compete in Poland…
The women’s high jump will also be a compelling affair given the presence of the prodigious, 19-year-old world silver medallist Yaroslava Mahuchikh, whose 2.06m clearance in Banska Bystrika in February 2 established her at joint third on the all-time indoor list.