TORINO (06-Mar) -- None of the favorites in the middle and long distance events had to face disappointment as the 30th European Indoor Championships completed the first of three days of competition here at the foot of the Italian Alps in the spacious Oval Lingotto.
Russia's Anna Alminova completely controlled her heat in the women's 1500m, leading wire to wire to win in a not-too-taxing 4:11.44. It was the first of what Alminova hopes will be four races for her here because she is also running the 3000m, and could very well win both titles.
"It was not very hard," said a smiling Alminova as she carefully picked her words in English. She had opened up a big gap in the middle of the race, but then backed off. "I knew that it was enough for the final. In the middle of the race I saw it was enough, so I ran more slowly."
Spain's Natalia Rodríguez and the Netherlands's Marjie Te Raa finished just behind Alminova to grab the two other automatic qualifying positions. In the first heat, defending champion Lidia Chojecka of Poland advanced by finishing third behind Russia's Yevgeniya Zolotova (4:11.31) and Slovenia's Sonja Roman (4:12.09). None of the key medal contenders were eliminated.
Britain's Mo Farah looked sharp in the men's 3000m qualifying. Taking the lead at 1600m off of a slow early pace, Farah stayed ahead of the field for the next four laps, doing just enough work to create a comfortable separation from the field. Joined by Sweden's Olle Walleräng, Spain's Jesus and Francisco España, the foursome nearly jogged the final 150m to advance to tomorrow's final. Walleräng got the win in 8:02.09; Farah was third.
"It was good to get out there and make sure everything is all right," said Farah as he hurried past reporters in the mixed zone.
France's Bob Tahri finished first in the much faster first heat, thanks to confident front-running by Britain's Nick McCormick. McCormick took the lead at 1000m (2:38.9) and stayed on the front until 2400m when Spain's Sergio Sanchez took over. Tahri stayed close behind, springing to the lead in the final lap to win in 7:52.38. Sanchez got second (7:52.75) and Turkey's Selim Bayrak finished third (7:52.93).
McCormick was pleased with his fourth place performance and his tactics. "It's good," said McCormick. "No matter how I try to get away from it, I'm a front runner. So, I have to accept it."
There were no serious casualties in the first round of the 800m. In fact, because the event is being contested over three rounds only two women and six men failed to make it to tomorrow's semi-finals.
On the women's side, the times were modest --nobody broke 2:03-- and the best athletes showed excellent control of their respective heats. Jenny Meadows of Great Britain led the first heat wire-to-wire, winning unchallenged in 2:03.11. She would have preferred, however, that there only be two rounds.
"It would have been nice to have started at semi-finals stage," said Meadows sporting red-framed sunglasses. "But, I've been tapering all week and it's probably a nice way to get everyone out nice and easy and get a feel for the track."
Meadows's teammate, Marilyn Okoro, who finished fourth in these championships in 2007, controlled the second heat, leading all the way until Ukraine's Tetyana Petlyuk, another medal favorite, slipped past her in the final ten meters.
"Trying to blow away the cobwebs of last year," said Okoro. She added: "I'm in great shape and I made that as easy as possible."
The partisan Italian crowd roared when Elisa Cusma Piccione took the lead in the third heat. She did advance to the final, but was beaten into second place by defending champion Oksana Zbrozhek of Russia.
"I did not want to run to the limit," said Cusma Piccione who set an Italian indoor record of 1:59.25 at Stuttgart last month. "It was enough to get through the round. I ran smoothly without any problems. I think it was right to run in the front."
In the men's qualifying, Russia's Yuriy Borzakovskiy preferred to run from the back, and his time-tested strategy of surging in the final stages of the race once again paid dividends. Emerging from the pack on the second to last turn, he won the fourth and final heat in 1:48.10 to advance to tomorrow's semi-finals.
"The race was OK," said Borzakovskiy, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist. "I did exactly what my coach had told me: wait until the last 200m and then accelerate and move to first place."
Other key qualifiers in the men's 800m included Spain's Manuel Olmedo and Miguel Quesada, the silver medalist from 2007; Sweden's Mattias Claesson, who had the fastest qualifying time of 1:47.83; and Poland's Marcin Lewandowski, the 2007 European under-23 champion.
These championships continue tomorrow with the first round of the women's 3000m and men's 1500m, the 800m semi-finals, and the men's 3000m final.