Keely Hodgkinson fights through illness to strike European 800m gold

    Some races are about guts more than glory. About pulling it out when the throat is scratchy and the sniffles are worsening by the hour. This was one of those nights for Keely Hodgkinson. But after loading up on First Defence, paracetamol and aspirin, she found a way to rope-a-dope her way to another 800m European championship title.

    But it was a close run thing. At one point Slovakia’s Gabriela Gajanova briefly threatened an almighty upset, before the Briton found a little extra to win in 1min 58.65sec – and by just 0.14. No wonder she puffed her cheeks out at the end.

    “It not been the greatest 24 hours,” Hodgkinson said. “It’s the worst I’ve ever felt in a race. I felt a little bit of a sore throat and sniffles yesterday in warm-up. And then it got worse. I’ve been umming and ahhing all day. Can I still put on a performance? I’d be disappointed if I didn’t try so I wanted to try. I would have liked a better time but it was just about finding a way to win.”

    The 22-year-old was such an overwhelming favourite beforehand that a £33 bet on her would have yielded a £1 profit. Such odds didn’t appear entirely crazy given that Briton’s personal best was three seconds clear of the field.

    Yet that three-second gap did not look an unbridgeable chasm once the race started. Hodgkinson led at halfway, but a modest 58.51sec. And there was no smooth glide through the gears over the last 400m either, as Hodgkinson used her status as the best 800m in Europe to her advantage.

    “Sometimes when you are racing, you’ve got to think as much as you are nervous, they are also nervous to race you as well,” she said. “But I had to believe in the fact that I am the defending champion. I have trained ill before. You think how much worse is it going to make me in two hours when I crash. But hopefully it has been worth it.”

    Still, a gold medal is a medal. And it is sometimes also easy to forget that Hodgkinson is just 22, and that she has been on the circuit for only three years. Yet her tally of medals and titles now stretches into double figures.

    Her trophy cabinet is now stuffed with four European championship gold medals, two Diamond League titles, and silver at two world championships, an Olympic Games, and a Commonwealth Games. And the most crazy thing of all? She is only just getting started.

    There was a second gold on the night for Britain as the women’s 4x100m team held off France to win in 41.91 sec. Dina Asher-Smith got Britain off to a fast start before handing the baton to Desiree Henry. She then passed it to Amy Hunt on the third leg, before Daryll Neita brought the victory home.

    Daryll Neita, Amy Hunt, Desiree Henry and Dina Asher-Smith celebrate relay victory. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    Meanwhile in the men’s 1500m Jakob Ingebrigtsen sent out a warning to Josh Kerr as he defended his title in a championship record 3:31.95. The Norwegian took the lead after 600m and controlled the race before winning by 10 metres.

    No wonder he held one finger in the air, like an emperor afterwards. However Britain’s Neil Gourley and Adam Fogg could only finish ninth and 12th respectively.

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    Earlier in the night there was another gold medal for the Dutch star Femke Bol as the Netherlands won the women’s 4x400m relay in 3:22.39 ahead of Ireland, who took silver in a national record 3:22.71 and Belgium in third. Bol, who won the 400m hurdles title on Tuesday, took the baton in the lead on the final lap and looked to be running well within herself before accelerating away in the last 50 metres.

    Another individual star of these championships, the 400m gold medallist Alexander Doom, also added another title to his tally as Belgium won the men’s 4x400m relay gold in 2:59.84. Italy took silver, while Germany claimed a bronze that looked unlikely on the final bend.

    At that point, Britain’s Alex Haydock-Wilson was in third but he tied up badly in the last 50m and the team finished seventh.

    Elsewhere the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch left it until his last throw of the competition to win it with a season’s best of 88.65m, while Germany’s Malaika Mihambo’s huge 7.22m world lead gave her long jump gold ahead of Italian Larissa Iapichino, who had an outdoor best of 6.94m.

    But for British eyes this night was about Hodgkinson most of all. Although when she races in the Olympic final in exactly seven weeks she will hope to feel an awful lot better than she did on this warm night in Rome.

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