The European Team Championships have a proud lineage within the athletics calendar but the squeeze on the schedule means this weekend’s edition in Russia barely lived up to its named billing as the sport’s Super League. Few A-Listers graced the annual event with their presence. Great Britain & Northern Ireland were especially culpable.
With the UK Championships just 11 days away and the worlds on the horizon, a lengthy jaunt to Cheboksary – and an event whose format urgently needs simplification – was deemed by many to be a jaunt too far and it was little surprise that the British team finished only fifth as the hosts topped the overall points standings.
Andrew Butchart, however, had no reservations about seizing the opportunity for only a second senior summons on the track.
The 23 year old from Perthshire has made a smoother transition from cross-country specialist to track over-achiever than many had expected this summer and his third place in the 3,000m enhanced his reputation still further.
Pushing from the front, he found himself shoved into the pack. Taking evasive action is part of the game. But he negotiated the obstacles in his path before bursting down the home straight with his time of 8:35.75 just shy of his personal best.
“I wanted top three,” he confirmed. “I took it slow but it’s just nice to be at the front because you don’t get spiked in the slow group.
“I got a few nudges in the first 50 metres of the last lap, a few guys were going slower than others and I had to make room on the inside and luckily I got room and got the Spanish runner on the line.”
Beijing is now on his mind, most likely at this distance, but he must now chase the qualifying standard in Birmingham next week where Mo Farah might be among his foes. “I was supposed to race him at Edinburgh,” he said. “I’d love to race him if he’s there but I’m sure I’ll race him sometime soon.”
After securing four victories on Saturday – including Eilidh Child in the 400m hurdles in the quickest time by a European in 2015 – the win count refused to increase.
Danny Talbot was impressive in the 200m but was stranded in second. Same for Bianca Williams, summoned as a late replacement after Dina Asher-Smith took ill overnight. Then, at the conclusion, the men’s 4x400m squad also took runners-up spot as France’s quartet claimed the championship record.
Others gained priceless experience without significant impact. Freshly returned from base in Seattle, Jax Thoirs could get nowhere close to his Scottish pole vault record in finishing ninth, relegated to a spectator as the imperious Renaud Lavillenie soared to victory.
“At 5.30m, I came down and landed on the pole and it shook me up a little bit and after I just couldn’t get it quite back together,” the Glaswegian, 21, said. “It could have been worse though.
“I was glad to be able to get over 5.30 at the third attempt to salvage it. It was good to finally compete.
“I got selected for Zurich last year but was injured right before it, so I’ve been waiting about a year to try and get the senior vest after earning my call-up. It was fun but I do think I could have done better.”
He will get other chances. So too Guy Learmonth, but the young Borderer remains in search of his prime. The European indoor finalist was well off the pace in an 800m won, surprisingly, by Italy’s Giordano Benedetti.
Ninth place does not suggest form that will earn selection for the worlds. “I felt fine for 400m, but just not good at the last 200m like I usually do,” Learmonth revealed. “But that’s not good enough.”
Meanwhile, hammer hopeful Rachel Hunter booked her place at this summer’s European Under-23 championships with victory at the trials in Bedford with a best of 61.84m.
Kirsten McAslan did likewise in the 400m, while Rhona Auckland is set to double up in the 5,000 and 10,000m in Estonia after breaking the UK championship record in the shorter distance with a win in 15:59.20.