Spain’s Mariano Garcia Runs Smart Race To Win Thrilling European 800m Title
On the final evening of the 25th European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium here, Spain’s Mariano Garcia and Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa captured the final two distance medals on offer. Garcia, who won the world indoor title at 800m last March, added the European outdoor title here tonight in a personal best 1:44.85. Crippa, who won the bronze medal in the 5000m five days ago, won the 10,000m in 27:46.13. He became the first Italian man to win the European 10,000m title in 32 years.
Although he came into the race as the current world indoor champion, Garcia wasn’t the favorite for gold. He had never broken 1:45 –either indoors or out– and he was faced with the daunting challenge of beating reigning world 1500m champion, Jake Wightman of Great Britain. Wightman, who stepped down in distance for these championships after running the 1500m at both the World Athletics Championships and Commonwealth Games, said before these championships began that he was particularly motivated to compete well here.
“Coming here to do the 800 is just something I’m actually excited to do,” Wightman said. He continued: “I want to show I can be as competitive over eight as fifteen.”
And indeed, he was. Running an intelligent race, Wightman let Garcia lead at 400 meters (52.07). The Scotsman sat in the main group with Ireland’s Mark English and his British teammate Ben Pattison and continued to stay slightly behind Garcia through 600 meters (1:18.59). Wightman was where he wanted to be.
“I was just ready to race and did not care too much about the splits,” Wightman told the European Athletics mixed zone team. “It was more about the position in the race to get medals.”
Coming around the final bend Garcia had the slightest of leads, but he was running on the rail and had the shortest line to the finish. English was also well-positioned behind Garcia, while Wightman was out in lane two and also had Belgium’s Eliott Crestan to pass who was between him and Garcia. The Spaniard’s strategy of leading in the second half was about to pay off.
“When I decided to take the lead, I knew I had to give it my all,” Garcia said. “Because towards the end of the race, that’s when you have less energy, so I need to get this right.”
In the final 100 meters Wightman was able to make it close. He got ahead of English and was closing down Garcia but just couldn’t catch him before the line. Only 6/100ths of a second separated them, and Wightman got silver in 1:44.91.
“I was very close to the gold, and I would be very glad to get that, but still I am pretty happy with the silver,” Wightman said. “I was not quite close enough in the last straight and it is tough when you are not that close with a strong opponents.”
English, who won the bronze medal at his first European Championships in 2014, got the bronze in 1:45.19.
“I am really pleased to get the bronze medal,” English said. “I can’t really ask for more.”
Sweden’s Andreas Kramer nearly caught English and finished fourth in 1:45.38. He was in last place with 110 meters to go in the race.
Crippa’s victory was achieved by a fast start, a slow middle and a fast finish. France’s Jimmy Gressier decided to attack the field right from the gun, running an improbably-fast first lap of 61.6 seconds. The Frenchman said that he felt most comfortable going hard from the gun.
“I go fast because it’s my best strategy,” Gressier told Race Results Weekly in English. “I like (to) run fast. It is the same as cross country; I like to push the run.”
The field immediately strung out. Gressier had Britain’s Marc Scott and Turkey’s Aras Kaya right on his heels through 3000m (8:09.9), and the leaders were on pace to run 27:13. Scott expected Gressier to push early and was ready for that.
“I thought he’d do something like that just knowing the type of character he is,” Scott told Race Results Weekly. “But it’s nothing most of the field can’t handle because we all knew it was going to come back.”
Indeed, when Scott took over the lead at 3600 meters, lap times fell to the 70-second range and the field bunched up again. France’s Yoann Kowal tried a solo breakaway but by 4800 meters he was absorbed. Kaya was the nominal leader at 5000m (13:54.2) with Crippa and Scott right behind. Crippa, who won the bronze medal at the 2018 edition of these championships, was feeling confident.
“Compared to fours years ago, in Berlin 2018, I feel I have changed a lot – especially my mindset,” he said. “I am much stronger mentally than I was in the past.”
He used that mental strength to hold back in the second half of the race. He led for five laps through 8400 meters averaging a not-too-fast 67 seconds per lap. He didn’t immediately react when Norway’s Zerei Kbrom Mezngi took the lead at 8800 meters and built up a small lead over Crippa, Gressier, Britain’s Emile Cairess, and France’s Yann Schrub. Instead, he waited for the final 200 meters to try and catch the tall Norwegian. The crowd roared as Crippa began to close from at last 50 meters back.
“I believed in myself, and I knew I could do what I did tonight,” Crippa said.
With about 80 meters to go, Crippa passed Mezngi to seal the victory. Mezngi held his speed and got the silver in 27:46.94, a personal best, while Schrub managed to pull away from Gressier and get the bronze in 27:47.13, also a personal best.
“I kept some energy and was able to use it on the last meters,” said Schrub, who is a medical student. “I would have never thought that I could win a medal today.”
posted Monday August 22nd
by David Monti