The penultimate evening of the European Athletics Championships offered some one last chance to fight for their places at the Olympic Games next month. For others, it was a chance to shine. And as dusk fell in Amsterdam, Steph Twell completed a circular journey that has seemed to pass through hell and back – but now to a major championship medal as she landed bronze in the 5,000 metres.
With Kenyan-born Turk Yasemin Can cruising clear for her second gold this week, the battle for the remaining spoils overflowed with intrigue. Twell was at its head. Fellow Scots Laura Whittle and Eilish McColgan just behind. It came down, almost inevitably, to who could sprint hardest and longest on the final lap.
Although Twell was first to bolt at the bell, she was pipped in a dash for the line by Sweden’s Meraf Bahta. Having been through a litany of surgeries and false dawns since breaking her ankle in 2011, this was rehabilitation complete.
“It feels unreal,” Twell said. “I had to go for any colour of a medal and I ran right through the line. It was so nerve-racking going around. I kept thinking: ‘will it be silver, will it be bronze? Will I catch Can?’ I kept pushing and that’s the experience coming out. You can doubt yourself. I’ve been through those doubts. I can cope with that. It now shows my inner strength is coming out.”
Whittle, in fifth, has surely done enough to merit Olympic selection. McColgan, one spot behind, will learn from her angst. “I’m disappointed,” she said. “I thought there was a medal up for grabs here. But I just didn’t have it.”
It leaves GB&NI with nine medals headed into the last day with Julian Reid adding triple-jump bronze, courtesy of an opening effort of 16.76m. However, Jake Wightman’s ferocious drive for a 1,500 metres victory ran out of steam as the 21-year-old from Edinburgh was swallowed up on the home straight, sliding to seventh.
UK Athletics officials will gather on Tuesday to plug the final gaps in their Olympic line-up. Dreams to be fulfilled, hearts to be broken. The lone Briton in today’s hammer final, Chris Bennett, will feature in one of the most animated debates, over whether an athlete – or perhaps three – from his event can be chosen even if the qualifying criteria have not been absolutely fulfilled.
The 26-year-old Glaswegian, who won the trials two weeks ago, can lower his odds by throwing the standard of 77 metres here. If not, he – like fellow Scot Mark Dry and their English foe Nick Miller – will hope pleas for flexibility have been heard.
“I think I’m in a strong position after winning the trials,” he said. “I had to do that, and then I had to make the final here. It isn’t much different from an Olympic final – there are maybe two guys missing. But it’s about performing when it counts on the day.”
Eilidh Doyle will be in Rio but she will bid to double her chances at the Games with another formidable run in this evening’s 4x400 relay final. The foundation for the quickest European time of 2016 in the heats, it justified her decision not to defend her European 400m hurdles title which will belong to one of her rivals come this evening. “It will be hard to watch the final,” she acknowledged. “But at least if I come away with a relay medal, that’ll make it easier.”