Thursday, December 27, 2018

Riff on a Friday Night Track Meet in Berlin

A Good Night for the Home Team
and a 
Prodigy from Norway

European Championships
Olympiastadion, Berlin
August 11, 2018

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

December 27 - Many thanks to my friends and colleagues at AIPSEurope, 
the European sportswriters association for all sports, for sending this out on Twitter on Boxing Day - what a present! This night was one of the highlights of the entire 2018 track and field season. 

Have you noticed a lot of Germans walking around with their arms in the air? 

They're smiling and laughing and crying and jumping up and down. They’re clasping their hands to their faces in stunned disbelief. They're lying on the track waiting for a mascot to help them up. They're holding black, red, and yellow flags across their backs and they’re jogging, ever so slowly, around the track.

You wouldn't want this moment to end, would you?

They're grasping onto fellow competitors and teammates and looking for support, even when they're 6'7"/285 pounds. They're human, after all, even when we think their athletic wonders exceed anything we might have expected from such human superhuman heroes.

So it was for Germany on Friday night at the European Championships. So it was, at least in part, for a trio of accomplished brothers, each of whom has now won a European crown. It took the third one 17 years to win his title, though in his case, we count the 17 years since birth.

The Friday night crowd is much larger than prior weekday nights. A realistic estimate from the press tribune is that the stadium is filled to 70-80% of capacity. We can hear the full-throated difference.

As we head into this night, we have a number of intriguing questions that will be answered as the evening unfolds.

Will Norway’s Ingebrigsten brothers sweep the podium in the men’s 1500m?

Will Karsten Warholm pull off the historic 400m hurdles/400m double? Will his attempt at history be waylaid by a bevy of Belgian Borlees?

Will Christin Hussong win the javelin in front of the rabid home crowd?

Will the star studded men’s 110m high hurdles live up to its advance billing?

Most of all, which Germans will surprise and in which events? Who will do something so unexpected that it will release the energy of the sporting gods of this historic stadium?

With two days left in these championships, the defining performance has been given. 25 - no, 50 years from now - when people speak of these championships, they will always say: that’s when the 17 year old won the 1500m. Displaying a confidence and a maturity of athletes twice his age, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigsten unleashed a powerful sustained finishing drive to win in 3:38.10.

It was a mesmerizing performance. 

Going to the lead with half the race left seemed like an exuberant youthful indiscretion. It was until it wasn’t when he crossed the white line into history.

Alas, his brothers did not share in the glory as Henrik finished 4th and Filip 12th. One can only wonder what it’s like to be an Ingebrigsten parent.

Meanwhile, surprise 2017 400m hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm ran a lap too far. Now 22, he won the hurdles title on Thursday in a stellar 47.64 – a European U23 record – and then doubled back in the 400m. But his 3rd round of 400m racing proved too much and his dream of a double lasted 240 meters. After a too-fast start he began to fade and he was jogging – if that – by the time he crossed the finish line.

Speaking of brothers, twins Kevin and Jonathan Borlee finished 2nd and 3rd, with Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith the victor in 44.78.

A stellar lineup in the men’s 110m hurdles left one wondering how on earth they could separate themselves from one another. Russian Sergey Shubenkov is two-time European and 2015 World Champion; in fact, he owns a complete set of gold, silver, and bronze World medals. Spain’s Orlando Ortega won 2016 Olympic silver, and coming into tonight’s final, France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde had a treasure trove of bronze and silver medals.

He’ll now need to make room in his display case for gold.

It was no surprise that it was so close - but this close? Martinot-Lagarde and Shubenkov both ran 13.17, but M-L had the faster version of that time by two one-thousandths of a second.


It takes .30 to blink.

Meanwhile, the Germans. 

Carolin Schafer won heptathlon bronze, while Kristin Gierisch took home triple jump silver with a personal best 14.45 (47-5) – never a better stage for a PB than a major championship at home. She did so into a negative wind of .5 meters per second. After being a finalist in the 15-16-17 World and Olympic championships, this was her time at last to stand on the podium.

Laura Muller won her Friday morning 200m qualifying heat and then advanced to Saturday’s final as a time qualifier. Even Gregor Traber’s 5th place in the men’s high hurdles was plenty of reason for an ovation.

But no one received it more – or deserved it more – than Christin Hussong, who nailed a championship record 67.90 (222-9) on her first javelin throw to win by an astonishing 6.05 meters (19-10¼).

Now, before we move on to tonight’s many more opportunities for bedlam in the stadium, I’d like you to try something.

Feeling down? A little depressed?

Stand up.

Put your arms in the air.

Keep them there.

Walk around.

Start jumping up and down.

Start cheering.


It works, doesn’t it?

Plans for the evening?

Please come over to my house – we have room for 75,000.

Henrik, Jakob, and Filip Ingebrigsten
Three European Champions in the Same Family

Carolin Hussong
Germany's Javelin Champion

with her arms in the air

photo credits: Getty Images via Berlin European Championships


  1. Hi Mark, appreciate your reporting & entertaining piece of live journalism. I was sitting 200m from the finish line on Friday night, hence I can only feel the drama of Jakob's coming of age triumph in the 1500m final from the crowd's reaction. The magnitude of Jakob's victory on Saturday night, to my opinion is on par with Armand Duplantis' breath-taking WU20R vaulting of 6.05m with all first time clearance except for one failed earlier height.
    These teenage sensations, fearless and full of exuberance, have made track and field a 'must see' in the post Bolt & Farah era, for all fans of athletics and sports in general.


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