Jakob Ingebrigtsen, seeking to retain his 1,500 and 3,000m titles at the Istanbul 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships, made an ominously easy first move on the opening night of heats and qualifications ©Getty Images

Jakob Ingebrigtsen, seeking to retain his 1500 and 3,000 metres titles at the Istanbul 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships, made an ominously easy first move on the opening night of heats and qualifications here.

Norway’s 21-year-old Olympic 1500m champion, who has had only one race this year after missing more than a month's training with a virus, hung back before coasting into the third automatic 1500m qualifying place for tomorrow's final in a race won by France's Azeddine Habz in 3min 49.88sec.

Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:32.38 in Lievin on February 15, clocked 3:50.29 behind Habz and Britain's George Mills - son of former England footballer Danny Mills - who finished in 3:50.01.

"The race was an easy one. I wanted to save as much energy as I could," Ingebrigtsen said, adding with a laugh: "The pace was slow and I love to believe that I contributed to it!"

Asked to comment on the recent earthquakes in the region, he responded: "We all feel with Turkish people because of the recent events. 

"At the same time, we are all grateful to get an opportunity to have a Championships, considering all circumstances.

"It is important to be a part of this Championships and hopefully to inspire all people to come, watch and cheer for us. 

"Sport is a good thing in a difficult time. 

"Hopefully, we can contribute that the situation gets better. 

"For me the goal is clear: to defend both titles."

For a while it looked as if day one would provide a huge surprise as Ukraine's Yaroslava Mahuchikh, widely expected to retain her women's high jump title, failed in her first two attempts after delaying her entry until 1.87m.

After passing to 1.91m, however, she cleared first-time to become one of the eight who reached Sunday morning's final with that height.

"This was the most nervous qualification of my life," she said.

Montenegro’s 21-year-old Marija Vukovic, who took silver behind Mahuchikh on countback at last year’s European Championships, failed to progress after failing at 1.91m, with Italy’s world bronze medallist Elena Vallortigara having an even worse night with a best of 1.82m.

Mahuchikh’s compatriot Yuliia Levchenko, the 2017 world silver medallist who has European indoor silver and bronze in her medal collection, topped the list with three first-time clearances, and the third Ukrainian, Kateryna Tabashnyk, also progressed - prompting a relieved, and tearful clinch between the trio.

Asked about a possible Ukraine clean sweep on Sunday morning, Mahuchikh replied: "Our motivation is on a very high level and we all want to win and show our best."

There were no dramas for Keely Hodgkinson, another of the Championship favourites to defend her title.

The Olympic and world silver medallist, who lowered her national record to 1:57.18 in Birmingham last weekend, led throughout the second 800m heat and eased to victory in 2:01.67 with Germany’s Majtie Kolberg second in a personal best of 2:01.94.

"I am happy with the race," said Hodgkinson. 

"Sometimes the pace was a bit harder than running what I am used to, so I am actually quite tired. 

"It is really special to be able to defend my title here."

No dramas either for Portugal's Olympic, world and European triple jump champion Pedro Pichardo who improved his own national indoor record by two centimetres to 17.48m with his first effort. Over and in.

But Tibo de Smet, the fastest European over 800m this season, was one of two favoured athletes who failed to advance from the men’s heats tonight, along with Spain’s Saul Ordonez.

The 23-year-old Belgian, whose national record of 1:45.04 in Luxembourg last month has only been bettered by a clocking of 1:44.98 from Kenya’s Noah Kibet, had voiced doubts about his tactical experience before the Championships, but there was nothing wrong with his tactics on the night as he moved to the front midway through the race.

He was left in third place, however, as France's Robert Benjamin and Simone Barontini came past him over the final lap, and his time of 1:48.43 was not sufficient to earn a place in the semi-finals.

"It was a tough race, and unfortunately I just could not keep up with them," De Smet said.

Ordonez, third fastest European this year after winning the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting in Madrid in 1:45.88, could only finish fourth in the opening heat.

Home runner Yasemin Can, the European 5,000m champion, managed to qualify for tomorrow's women’s 3,000m final despite going from first to sixth in the final 200m and staggering perilously as runners moved passed her, with Hanna Klein of Germany winning in 8:59.28.

Klein's compatriot Konstanze Klosterhalfen, the European 5,000m champion, had won the first heat with ease in 8:53.50, followed home by Finland's Camilla Richardsson in a personal best of 8:53.60.

Italy's Zane Weir equalled his season's best of 21.46m to top qualifiers in the men's shot put, with Croatia's outdoor European champion second on 21.20, but there was nothing for Poland's 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk, who has won gold and silver in the last two editions of these Championships, as she failed to register a mark.

In the women's shot put, the three favourites progressed as per programme with Jessica Schilder of The Netherlands, the European champion, throwing 19.18m, Portugal’s defending champion Auriol Dongmo recording 18.51m and Fanny Roos of Sweden threw 18.35.

Thankfully, for all concerned, there was no glimpse of the four cats who have taken up residence in this arena and have been registering preparations for this event with some disdain.