European Championships: Six athletes to watch in Munich
This has already been one of the most congested track and field seasons in recent history – and now it’s about to get even busier.
On the back of an impressive World Championships and a superbly attended Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the athletics circus is rolling into Munich for the European Championships, which officially start today.
Although this multi-sport extravaganza – essentially several different European Championships, also including cycling, rowing and artistic gymnastics, stitched together – was introduced four years ago, this is the first time all the action will be in one place.
The athletics begins at the Olympiastadion in the southern suburbs of Germany’s third largest city on Monday. Here are five athletes to watch.
Middle-distance runner Jake Wightman is on fire. The 28-year-old became the first Briton to win the men’s 1,500m at the World Championships since Steve Cram in 1983 before taking bronze for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.
Wightman is aiming for a double of titles to cement his place alongside the likes of Cram, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the pantheon of British 1,500m runners.
He is likely to face stiff competition: the top five in Eugene, including Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, were European so this event is expected to be one of the most fiercely contested.
He was almost unknown at the turn of the year but Jeremiah Azu is the name on many lips at the moment in British sprinting.
First he won a shock 100m title at the British Championships in June and then he was surprisingly overlooked for the World Championships. Now he heads into the Europeans as one of Britain’s male medal hopes.
Having set a personal best of 10.15 seconds for Wales at the Commonwealth Games on his way to fourth place in Birmingham, Azu will see himself as an outside bet for a medal.
With the two fastest European times this year having been set by Reece Prescod and Zharnel Hughes, there is a chance of a British 100m one-two-three. What a story that would be.
Eilish McColgan goes into these European Championships as Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion after the Scot saw off a strong Kenyan duo with a sensational run in front of a raucous Birmingham crowd.
That gold saw the Dundee-born athlete, who has also been selected for the 5,000m, follow in her mother’s footsteps and she is now looking to do something that Liz McColgan did not and win a European title.
McColgan’s unorthodox running style can sometimes make the 31-year-old look fatigued but opponents beware: the Scot has arguably the best kick finish since Mo Farah.
Netherlands track chiefs last week named Femke Bol in both the 400m and 400m hurdles. Having won bronze in the latter at the Tokyo Olympics last year, she holds the European record of just over 50 seconds – the third fastest time in history.
Without the intimidating American contingent, Bol is expected to sweep the hurdles and at least challenge on the flat. And at just 22 years of age, there’s a youthfulness about her that should see the runner enjoy a long career.
Just a month ago she broke the Diamond League record for the 10-jump, single-lap event and should be well rested heading into the European Championships.
If by some miraculous turn of unfortunate events she doesn’t medal, expect her to push on in the remaining League events this season.
Also set to go in the 400m hurdles is Ireland’s Thomas Barr. The Waterford man was his country’s only medalist at the last edition of these championships when he secured a bronze medal behind Karsten Warholm and Yasmani Copello.
Barr goes again in Munich and, while an outsider, harbours hopes of upgrading his medal this time around. He has not hit the heights of four years ago since, but the 30-year-old has the ability to be competitive in the event and will no doubt take on a senior role within the Irish squad.
We may have just seen Katarina Johnson-Thompson take gold in Birmingham but the Briton will not be competing in Munich.
Heptathletes try to average two full events per calendar year so as not to add to their gruelling training regime and Johnson-Thompson chose the World Championships and Commonwealth Games instead.
That leaves world champion Nafissatou Thiam a golden opportunity to take top spot and defend the title she won in Berlin four years ago.
The Belgian has been dominant over the seven-discipline event since the 2016 Olympic Games and she’ll be overwhelming favourite again next week.
These European Championships feel as though they have been shoved at the end of a busy schedule, while the track and field in Munch has much to live up to after Birmingham proved a sell-out, but there is every reason to hope they will be both competitive and exciting.