MÜNICH (20-Aug) -- Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain and Luiza Gega of Albania were victorious here at Olympic Stadium tonight in the 800m and 3000m steeplechase, respectively, each winning their first senior European Athletics outdoor titles. Running in chilly conditions, they clocked 1:59.04 and 9:11.31, respectively, and Gega smashed the 12 year-old championships record by six seconds. Both athletes lived up to their status as pre-race favorites.
PHOTO: Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain wins the 2022 European Athletics Championships women's 800m in 1:59.04 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Hodgkinson's race came first just as a rainbow appeared over the backstretch grandstand as the skies began to clear after several hours of heavy rain. The 20 year-old Olympic silver medalist stayed slightly back in the opening 200 meters, allowing her British Athletics teammate, Jemma Reekie, to set the pace with Germany's Christina Hering. At 400 meters the pace was fast (58.60) and now France's Renelle Lamote had joined Reekie and Hering near the front. Hodgkinson remained slightly back, and waited.
"I think today I wanted it to be a little bit different," said Hodgkinson, who often runs from the front. "It would be quite obvious if I went to the front like I have been kind of doing all year. I wanted to sit back and see what other people were going to do."
Down the backstretch, Hodgkinson asserted herself and took the lead at 600 meters. Hering, whose front-running drew massive cheers from the German crowd, started to fade and would finish seventh. Reekie was hot on Hodgkinson's tail and both Lamote and Poland's Anna Wielgosz were both still in contention for medals. Switzerland's Lore Hoffman was only in seventh position and seemed out of the medal hunt.
Coming around the final bend, Hodgkinson had the inside lane and started kicking. Reekie faded and would finish fifth, but Lamote, Wielgosz, and Hoffman still had more snap in their legs and were all in contention for the silver and bronze medals. Hoffman was full of running, but started her sprint a little too late.
"This part of the race I had the feeling that I'm starting to accelerate too late, because I really, really finished strong," Hoffman told Race Results Weekly. "At the end I had the feeling I have something left in my legs."
Indeed, while Hodgkinson was winning in 1:59.04, Hoffman was trying to catch Lamote and Wielgosz who were just ahead of her. Lamote --who won the French title this year but did not make the final at the World Athletics Championships last month-- passed Wielgosz in the final 20 meters to get the silver medal in 1:59.49 (Lamote has now won three silver medals at European Athletics Championships). Wielgosz held off the hard-charging Hoffman by just 5/100ths of a second to get the bronze, 1:59.87 to 1:59.92.
"Maybe I should have been more brave to pass one or two girls before the curve, and I could be more in the front and maybe fight for a medal," Hoffman lamented.
For Hodgkinson, her gold medal was particularly sweet after taking silver to American star Athing Mu at both the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 World Athletics Championships, and silver again earlier this month to Kenya's Mary Moraa at the Commonwealth Games. She had come to Münich to win.
"I refused to walk away today without gold," Hodgkinson declared. "So, I'm happy."
Gega, who won the silver medal at the 2016 edition of these championships, took a more direct approach to winning. From the starter's gun, she moved into the lead and never relinquished it. She made her intentions clear with a fast opening kilometer of 3:00.33 and --surprisingly-- Switzerland's Chiara Scherrer, Germany's Lea Meyer, Britain's Lizzie Bird and Aimee Pratt, and Turkey's Tugba Guvenc ran close behind.
PHOTO: Luiza Geba of Albania wins the 2022 European Athletics Championships women's steeplechase in a championships record 9:11.31 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"From the beginning I tried to run hard," said Gega, 33. "I know how to run alone because I train alone. I just tried to stay focused."
The fast pace got to Scherrer who would fall back and only finish 13th. Guvenc and Pratt also drifted off the pace and would finish fifth and seventh, respectively. That gave Meyer and Bird plenty of space to fight for silver, and the pair engaged in an exciting seesaw battle. With three laps to go, Bird was firmly in second place and Meyer seemed too far back to catch her. But leaping the penultimate water jump, Meyer passed Bird to take second place. Bird responded, and passed Meyer with about 400 meters to go, but Meyer quickly came back on her to re-take second. By that point Bird was clearly tiring, and Meyer pulled away to win the silver medal in a personal best 9:15.35. Before tonight, she had never broken 9:25.
"I told myself, 'you want a medal, so stick to her and fight,'" Meyer said. "Other German athletes had told me before the race that at the moment when you kick it, the crowd is on fire. And it was like this; they carried me."
The tiring Bird won bronze in 9:23.18 and Poland's Alicja Konieczek --who steadily moved up in the second half of the race-- finished fourth in 9:25.15, a personal best.
The 25th European Athletics Championships conclude tomorrow. The remaining distance finals are the men's 800m and 10,000m.