Croydon Harrier James Dasaolu tonight won the 100 metres gold medal for Britain at the European athletics championships in Zurich.
The 26-year-old sprinter was never headed and finished well clear of the favourite, France’s 2010 champion, Christophe Lemaitre, as another south Londoner, Carshalton’s Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, took the bronze medal on a great night for the Great Britain athletics team.
Fourth was another Londoner, Belgrave Harriers’ Dwain Chambers, the 36-year-old narrowly missing out on a medal some 16 years after he’d first stood on the podium at the Europeans.
Dasaolu’s was the third gold medal for Britain on the night, following double Olympic champion Mo Farah winning the 10,000m and Tiffany Porter taking the women’s 100m hurdles. On Tuesday night, 40-year-old mother-of-two Jo Pavey had won Britain’s first gold of the championships in the women’s 10,000m.
Tonight was a tough, gruelling one for the sprinters. Instead of a balmy August evening in which they could keep their finely tuned hamstrings warm, they were confronted instead with storms in the lakeside city, with high winds and cold rain which all saw the timetable delayed by nearly an hour.
But Dasaolu’s chances of gold improved considerably just before the semi-final when the French team announced that Jimmy Vicaut – the fastest in Europe this year and the man who had denied the Croydon sprinter European gold when they raced at last year’s European indoor championships – had pulled out through injury.
Dasaolu impressed in his semi-final, and looked to be the man to beat when eight of the fastest men in Europe settled into their blocks for the final just after 10pm local Swiss time.
After all the disruptions, the athletes were understandably edgy, but a false start went unsanctioned by the judges, who had had to contend with difficult conditions throughout the evening and clearly were in an understanding mood, which was just as well for Aikines-Aryeetey, of Sutton and District AC, who might have been disqualified from the race.
At the second time of asking, Dasaolu, drawn in lane three, got away from the start much the best, and by 40 metres he was two metres clear of Lemaitre and the rest of the field.
In better conditions, and without the slight headwind, he might again have managed to dip under 10sec, but his main task was to beat his seven rivals, which he did, stopping the clock at 10.06sec. Lemaitre was second in 10.13, with Harry A-A, the former world youth champion, charging through late to overhaul the fading Chambers in the final stride and score his first international championship medal as a senior with 10.22.
Dasaolu was understandably overwhelmed with his first international title. “It’s a lovely feeling to be the European champion,” he said. “I’m just trying to take it all in.
“I didn’t think I got a good start, and I thought, ‘what am I going to do here?’ as I’m racing, so I’m happy just to win the Euros.”
Despite running at the London Olympics and that European indoor 60m silver medal last year, Dasaolu has had to struggle with injury for the last three years and missed out on selection for the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a result. “It’s a lovely feeling to come away with a medal, my first senior medal outdoors. Onwards and upwards,” he said.
His team mate and lifelong south London sprint rival, Harry A-A, was equally ebullient.
“I’ve got my medal,” said a delighted Aikines-Aryeetey, 25, who has had to work for almost a decade since his international age-group achievements to achieve success as a senior, including overcoming three stress fractures in his back and a potentially career-ending snapped tendon.
“I know these are the Europeans, and the Jamaicans and the Americans are not here. But I’ve got to congratulate James, because he’s done what he needed to do.
“We’ve grown up together: he was Croydon, I was Sutton. We had a little rivalry. But this is a landmark for me, I’ve been through so much. I’m so happy, I want to hug everyone right now.”
For all of Croydon Harriers’ great athletes through the years, from the likes of Don Faircloth and Judy Oakes, through to Donna Fraser and Martyn Rooney, Dasaolu is the club’s first European title-winner for 45 years.
Not since Paul Nihill won the 20-kilometre walk in Athens in 1969 has the club boasted a continental champion outdoors. Rooney, an easy winner of his 400m semi-final today, could back-up Desaolu’s win in his final on Friday.
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: The Wind Rises, Aug 14
- Mind-Loosing Workshop, Aug 16
- David Lean Cinema: The Love Punch, Aug 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Aug 16
- RAF Kenley Battle of Britain fly-past, Aug 17
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- David Lean Cinema: Stop The Pounding Heart, Aug 21
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- David Lean Cinema: Frank, Aug 28
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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