Maslak, Smajlaj and Bukowiecki lead the history charge
05.03.2017, 11:17h


It was a night to remember at the Belgrade 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships as Pavel Maslak completed a glorious treble, Izmir Smajlaj won Albania their first ever medal in the history of the competition and Konrad Bukowiecki broke the European U23 record among a series of fantastic events.

Pavel Maslak booked his place in the history of the European Athletics tonight by becoming the first man to win the 400m indoor title on three occasions.

The brilliant Czech Republic star made it a hat-trick after his glory in Gothenburg in 2013 and Prague in 2015 with a gutsy display which was just enough to deny his rivals who were closing in with every stride.

Maslak, 26, triumphed in a European leading time of 45.77 from Poland's Rafal Omelko, in a personal best of 46.08, and the Netherlands' Liemarvin Bonevacia in a national record of 46.26.

It was as gripping a race as you could imagine, with Maslak ensuring he had the lead at the start of the second lap so he could dictate the outcome.

This he did, but all the time Omelko and Bonevacia were edging closer but on the home turn, the Czech had the advantage of a few metres which mattered to secure another memorable moment in career where he has won gold at the last two IAAF World Indoor Championships and is also the 2012 400m outdoor champion.

Maslak, 26, has such grit on these tight indoor tracks. He makes it impossible for his rivals to find a way past, always having that bit extra and now he really is a history-maker.

Sweden's Michel Torneus looked destined to be crowned European champion again with what seemed to be a successful defence of his long jump title after leading from round one with 8.08m.

But no one could have imagined the excitement which would take place in the final round as Albania's Izmir Smajlaj, 23, took his place on the runway, in the bronze medal position after a second round 8.02m.

His chances of gold looked over as he had a foul, a leap of just 6.58m, and then another foul before this final attempt. Surely, he was never in the form to win.

But what a last jump it proved to be as Smajlaj, who was ninth at last year's European Championships in Amsterdam, amazingly reached 8.08m, the same as Torneus, to break his own national record of 7.98m.

And even though he had those two fouls, Torneus had had three and on countback, Smajlaj was the champion as he won Albania's first ever medal in the history of the European Athletics Indoor Championships.

“I am feeling so good right now and I would like to dedicate this medal to my father,” said Smajlaj in a competition where Ukraine's Serhiy Nykyforov won bronze with 8.07m, just a centimetre away from the top two.

Poland's Konrad Bukowiecki, 19, made it three gold medals in successive seasons as he won the first senior title of his career, and he just could not believe it when his second round effort was a world lead of 21.97m, a sensational overall personal best and a European under-23 record.

And he was lost for words.

As he tried to speak afterwards, all Bukowiecki could say was: “I cannot describe what I am feeling right now. I am completely in shock. I am not able to say anything interesting today – call me tomorrow!”

Germany's defending champion David Storl had led from his opening round 21.30m, after Bukowiecki had suffered a foul, but the whole direction of the event then changed.

As the 7.26kg device left Bukowiecki's hand, he knew he had produced something special.

The world and European junior champion had entered the championships with an indoor best of 21.15m and an outdoor best of 21.17m, but now he was at a different level as the scoreboard above the shot put ring flashed out the distance.

He was standing in the middle of the 60m track as he waited for the score to arrive. He put his hands to his head, he started smiling, he jumped up and down and even at this stage, he probably knew that with four rounds to go, something amazing would have to deny him gold.

He would have been right, though Tomas Stanek, of the Czech Republic, came close as he broke his personal best with a fifth round 21.43m to win silver and Storl took bronze.

As Bukowiecki was delighting in his triumph, so too was his Polish teammate Marcin Lewandowski who once more found himself back on top of the podium.

In Prague two years ago, Lewandowski won the 800m crown but this time it was 1500m glory for one of Europe's most consistent middle-distance men.

A race that initially became impossible to call, with the field closely bunched for the majority of the first five laps, soon had Lewandowski moving through and at the bell he just had the edge.

He quickly increased his lead from Sweden's Kalle Berglund and there was no way back for the rest.

Lewandowski won in 3:44.82 from Berglund in 3:45.56 and Filip Sasinek, of the Czech Republic, in 3:45.89.

“The race was not easy,” said Lewandowski. “I was worried when I was in the middle of their pack but I knew that if a gap appeared, I could accelerate immediately.”

Berglund said: “I am only 20 and I am so excited with this silver medal. Before the race I was telling myself just to stay calm and it will go well. The race was the type I like. I just got into the pace and finished well.”

Richard Kilty showed he remains the King of the 60m by retaining his European title with a victory that never looked in doubt.

In a final where his teammate and British No. 1 Andrew Robertson was disqualified for a false start, Kilty, 27, came through in lane five with 25m left to triumph in a European-leading time of 6.54 from Slovakia's Jan Volko in 6.58, a national record, and Sweden's Austin Hamilton, in a personal best of 6.63.

“I am delighted,” said Kilty. “The first thing I am going to do is video call my fiancée and my baby boy. In the preparation room, when everyone was getting ready for the race, I just had a look at a photo of my boy and that calmed me down.”

After winning the world indoor crown to the surprise of many in 2014, Kilty really has become such a great force over this distance.

And as he showed here at the Kombank Arena, he has such power in the second half of the race, so even if he does not make the best of starts, he does not panic. The gold medal around his neck again was perfect proof of that.