A highly anticipated British battle for the European 100 metres title disappeared in a freak mass outbreak of cramp on Tuesday night, when Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita both blamed unexpected calf problems for missing out on gold.
Asher-Smith had already skipped the Commonwealth Games earlier this month in a bid to recover from a hamstring injury and be fit enough to defend her three European titles in Munich this week.
That ambition was going to plan when she won her semi-final early in the evening, but disaster struck 90 minutes later as she slowed to a jog halfway through the final and walked over the finish line a distant last, later revealing she had suffered cramp in both calves.
Her absence opened the door for domestic rival Neita to claim her maiden international title, but she also cited cramp in her right calf for only managing to pick up bronze.
Germany’s Gina Luckenkemper triumphed in 10.99 seconds, with Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji running the same time for silver. Neita clocked 11.00sec behind them in a blanket finish.
After the race, Asher-Smith insisted the problem was entirely unrelated to the hamstring issue that had struck mid-race during the World Championships 4x100m final last month. She said she should be fine to contest the 200m later this week.
“It’s so frustrating because I’m in a good place,” she said. “I had to take a week off and was annoyed to miss the Commonwealth Games but I felt absolutely fine, really good. Then I got cramp in both my calves.
“I’m very, very frustrated. I’ve never cramped in a race in my life. I don’t even cramp in training.
“I wasn’t about to go and run a whole race on two cramping calves and possibly tear them. It’s just very annoying.”
Neita, who made the Olympic final last year, has run some eye-catchingly fast times this summer and claimed Asher-Smith’s British 100m crown before boldly declaring: “There are two of us now. I’m here to stay.”
But where Asher-Smith has - injury-withstanding - always tended to deliver at crucial moments, Neita has often been hindered by her inability to do so.
At the Commonwealth Games earlier this month, she clocked a scintillating 10.90sec in the semi-final, but only managed to win bronze when running far slower in the final. At the World Championships she did not even make the final.
That curse struck again here in Munich where she romped to victory in her semi-final in 10.95sec, only to be struck by cramp before the final.
“The gold should have been mine and it wasn’t,” said Neita. “When we set up our blocks, I had the worst cramp I have ever had in my life. I was looking for my coach, to say: ‘I don’t think I can run.’
“But after missing out on a final at Worlds and not doing my best performance at the Commonwealths, I wanted to run. So I stood on the start line and gave it a go.
“I honestly do not know how I got a medal. I’m a fighter. I got on the start line and gave it a go even though I knew I wasn’t in a good position. You fight or flight. I just chose to roll the dice.”
Britain’s woes also hit long jumper Jacob Fincham-Dukes, who was denied a shock silver when his best mark was belatedly removed long after he had finished his celebrations.
Fincham-Dukes, arrived in Munich ranked only 22nd out of the 26 competitors on season’s bests, but jumped 8.06m with his opening effort. That appeared good enough for second behind Greece’s Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou, but it was belatedly ruled to be a foul after the competition had concluded.
Olympic 100m champion Jacobs puts troubles behind him to win Euros gold
By Ben Bloom
Marcell Jacobs, last year’s surprise Olympic 100 metres champion, put a troubled season behind him to snatch Zharnel Hughes’ European title.
Not since Linford Christie in 1992 has the Olympic gold medalist hailed from this continent, but there were major question marks over what the Italian would produce in Munich after an early-season issue with a virus and various physical ailments.
He arrived in Munich having withdrawn from the World Championships semi-finals due to a thigh injury last month, but added European gold in 9.95 seconds. Hughes claimed silver in 9.99sec, while there was a surprise bronze for Britain’s Jeremiah Azu who ran a personal best 10.13sec for bronze.
While he has failed to deliver on the global stage in recent years, Hughes has this month claimed Commonwealth and European silver medals. The longer the race went on, the more likely he looked to catch Jacobs and retain his European title, but he ran out of track.
“I’m happy to come away with a medal,” said Hughes. “That’s the most important thing. I wanted the gold medal. I was closing with every possible stride I could give, but Jacobs was just better than me tonight.”
Azu said: “I saw first come up, I saw second come up, and I said: ‘Surely I have done enough to get third’. I saw my name and just screamed.”
Jacobs’s winning time was some way from the European record 9.80sec he set to win Olympic gold last year, but marked an astronomical upgrade from his two previous European Championships outings: 11th in the long jump in 2016 and a 100m semi-final exit two years later.