Only four days after her 19th birthday, Keely Hodgkinson produced a performance of supreme poise and power to become the youngest British winner of a European Indoor title for more than 50 years.
The combination of a mulish kick and a computing brain worthy of Mensa has long been the recipe for British middle-distance success and Hodgkinson followed it to the letter to take 800m gold. Only Marilyn Neufville, who was 17 when she won a 400m title in 1970, has been a younger UK winner at these championships.
For Hodgkinson to win a major title at her first attempt was impressive enough. But the way she did it was suffused with unusual class. After a first 400m run at a doddery pace, she accelerated hard with a 30-second third lap and followed it up with a powerful 28.23sec final lap to burn away from her rivals at the finish.
Behind were two world-class Polish athletes – Joanna Jozwik, fifth at the Rio Olympics, and Angelika Cichocka, a former world indoor silver medallist – yet they never looked like closing the gap as Hodgkinson came home in 2min 03.88sec. Two other Britons, Ellie Baker and Isabelle Boffey, were fourth and sixth respectively.
“I’ve always thought it doesn’t matter how old you are, as long as you’re healthy and doing things right you can be capable of anything,” said Hodgkinson, who ran 1:59.03 to break the under-20 world record last month. “You’ve just got to believe in yourself and not be intimidated by the older girls.”
Her coaches, Trevor Painter and Jenny Meadows, believe Hodgkinson is capable of beating Kelly Holmes’s British record. But for now she has other targets.
“I’m not really looking at those expectations,” said Hodgkinson, who started a criminology with psychology degree at Leeds Beckett University in the autumn. “I’m just going to carry on and try and enjoy it and put myself forward with the senior girls because it’s OK saying: ‘Let’s get to the Olympics.’”
Seven medals on the final day meant Britain ended these championships with 12 overall – equalling the record set in Glasgow two years ago.
Andrew Pozzi was also a warm favourite to win gold in the 60m hurdles but he had to settle for silver despite equalling his personal best of 7.43sec. The 28-year-old was neck to neck with Wilhem Belocian throughout, but the Frenchman pipped Pozzi to win by 0.01.
“The better man won today,” said Pozzi, who had been hoping to add the European title to his world indoor crown. “I’m definitely in the best shape of my life but my timing and rhythm just wasn’t quite perfect. The winner’s time was incredibly fast and mine’s an equal PB. You just accept it.”
There were more medals for Britain in the women’s 60m hurdles with the sisters Cindy Sember and Tiffany Porter taking silver and bronze behind the Dutch athlete Nadine Visser, who stormed to victory in a world leading 7.77. Afterwards the 33-year-old Porter, who became the first athlete to win an international medal wearing a mask, said: “Wearing a mask isn’t my focus but it’s really important for me personally. If I can inspire somebody then that is fine.”
Elsewhere Jamie Webb took bronze in a thrilling men’s 800m in which he tried to lead from gun to tape only to be edged by two Poles, Patryk Dobek and Mateusz Borkowksi. “I made a few mistakes,” Webb said. “But I left it all out there.” There was also a silver for the British women in the 4x400m relay and a bronze for the men in the equivalent race – both teams were well behind the Netherlands.
The Norwegian rising star Jakob Ingebrigtsen comfortably added the 3,000m title to his 1500m crown to become the first man to win both titles since Mo Farah, while the Swede Mondo Duplantis cleared 6.05m in the pole vault to break the championship record in winning gold.
But perhaps the performance of the day came from the young Swiss athlete Ajla Del Ponte, who won the women’s 60m in 7.03 – a time that would have given even Dina Asher-Smith, who missed these championships with a minor niggle, something to think about.