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European Indoors: 37-Year-Old Clitheroe Wins 3000m

She defeated the second-place Russian by just 3/100ths of a second.

She defeated the second-place Russian by just 3/100ths of a second.

Written by: David Monti

(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

PARIS — As Britain’s Helen Clitheroe rounded the final turn of the women’s 3000-meter final on Sunday, she had both a one-step lead on Russia’s Olesya Syreva and a smile on her face. The 37 year-old athlete knew she was just 50 meters from becoming the oldest-ever European Indoor Champion at 3000 meters by five years.

“I’m just so happy,” said Clitheroe, who just held off the Russian in the final sprint by 3/100ths of a second, 8:56.66 to 8:56.69. “It’s not really sunk in yet. It’s an absolute dream come true for me. You know how long I’ve been trying to get on a podium and win a gold medal. At 37 –everybody keeps mentioning it– it’s just unbelievable. I’m just so delighted.”

Clitheroe shared the early lead shoulder-to-shoulder with Spain’s Dolores Checa. The pair kept the pace slow through the first kilometer (3:07.51), with only a modest pick-up in the second (2:58.59). Clitheroe continued to lead the remaining laps until Lidia Chojecka, twice the winner at these championships at 3000-meters, jumped to the front at the bell. Clitheroe did not wait long to retake the lead, keeping in mind that she was the European leader coming into this meet and was totally prepared.

“I’ve always been there, in the background, trying,” she said. “I mean, I just had a really good patch of training. I’ve been to Kenya, twice, to higher altitude than I’ve ever been before. So, I think it’s just a combination of things that have been working for me. And, just believing in myself, believing I can do it.”

Chojecka held on for the bronze; Checa would finish fifth. Clitheroe credited dogged determination and the support of her husband, Neil, a schoolteacher, for her success. She admitted that she had nearly quit the sport more than once, but knew she wasn’t yet done.

“Over the last couple of years there have been times where I jut walked off the track depressed, with my head down thinking, what am I doing this for? It’s just because my husband has kept believing in me. He said, you’re a long time (from) finished. Don’t give up until you’re ready, and do it on your terms. So that’s what I’m doing. And, it’s just great to get a bit of payback for all the hard work I put in over the years.”

In the men’s 800-meter final, youth trumped experience when Poland’s Adam Kszczot beat his mentor, teammate, and reigning European champion, Marcin Lewandowski, with an explosive final 80 meters. Kszczot, 21, and the European Championships bronze medallist from Barcelona last summer, went wide on the final turn to outleg Lewandowski, 1:47.87 to 1:48.23. Spain’s Kevin Lopez got the bronze in 1:48.35.

“Two Polish runners on first and second place; we make a new athletic history, just like in Barcelona last year,” Kszczot told EAA interviewers. “It is a great result for us and both of us, we ran our individual race. We are friends with Marcin but on the track we are rivals. We have different coaches, different trainings, we both wanted to win. I am really looking forward to a big celebration with our Polish team.”

Both the Poles were fortunate that they were ahead of Spain’s Luis Alberto Marco, who was tripped and fell at 500 meters. Although Marco got up to finish fifth and last in 2:00.58, Germany’s medal hope Robin Schembera was forced to drop out.

In the women’s 800-meters, Britain’s Jenny Meadows didn’t get the gold medal she coveted, beaten inside of the final ten meters by Russia’s Yevgeniya Zinurova after leading the entire race. Meadows split the first 400 in an honest 58.27, and Zinurova tried to think positively after finishing dead last in last year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha.

“He (her coach) told me you are the best and you can win the gold medal,” Zinurova said through an official translator, her blonde hair streaked with bright red highlights. “And, in the last lap just remember that phrase. I started to speed up and I managed to do it.” Zinurova clocked 2:00.19 to Meadows’s 2:00.50, winning her first-ever international championships medal.

Yulia Rusanova of Russia got the bronze, 3/10ths of a second behind Meadows. “We rehearsed the winning final,” Zinurova added. “And, I think this is one of the reasons for the good race today.” The men’s 1500m closed the middle and long distance action at these championships.

Turkey’s Kemal Koyuncu led most of the way at only a moderate pace, setting up a five-athlete sprint for the medals. Spain’s Manuel Olmedo was in second place through the penultimate turn behind Koyuncu with Poland’s Bartosz Nowicki on his heels. She Spaniard went wide through the last turn to surge past the furiously sprinting Koyuncu. Olmedo stopped the clock at 3:41.03, with Koyuncu just 15/100ths behind (he set the Turkish national record).

Nowicki held off both Germany’s Carsten Schlangen and the Czech Republic’s Jakob Holusa to get the bronze.

“I dreamt about this medal!” Olmedo told EAA interviewers. “Finally! In 2010, I was only third (in the European Championships) and now I got the gold. The race went almost perfect and I followed the planned tactics. Of course, the last lap is always tough but I was in right position when the bell ring and I was feeling confident since that moment.”

The crowd at the Palace Omnisports Bercy who stayed late today were rewarded by a world indoor record by Teddy Tamgho in the triple jump. The Frenchman leaped 17.92 meters. Russia finished the meet at the top of the medal table with 15 (6 gold); France was second with 11 (5 gold) followed by Germany with 10 (3 gold). The 32nd European Indoor Championships will be held in Göteborg, Sweden, in 2013.