In-form British trio Laura Muir (coach: Andy Young; club: Dundee Hawkhill), Ellie Baker (Jon Bigg; Shaftesbury Barnet) and Katie Snowden (Stephen Haas; Herne Hill) all progressed to the women’s 1500m final at the European Indoor Championships as for the second successive session every athlete in qualifying action advanced to the next round of competition while Holly Mills remains in contention in the pentathlon in seventh.
Defending champion Muir was made to work after a very slowly run second heat but her quality showed as she took the win for a place in the final while Baker looked good in the third heat, finishing second, and Snowden was the quickest in third overall in 4:08.27 minutes after starting the British charge in the event.
Mills (Laura Turner-Alleyne; Andover) meanwhile seeking a first major championship medal having come so close twice last year set a season’s best 8.34 seconds in the 60m hurdles to start her pentathlon campaign before an indoor personal best of 1.77m in the high jump and a best of 12.99m in the shot put. That combined placed her seventh with 2720 points, 180 off third place.
The women’s 60m heats completed the British interest on the track and, another in-form British athlete Daryll Neita (Marco Airale; Cambridge Harriers) made light work of progressing to the semi-finals, winning her heat in 7.14 for second overall while Asha Philip (Amy Deem; Newham & Essex Beagles) also made sure of her progress.
Defending champion and European lead, Muir, ran in the second of the three heats, and it began at a very slow pace as she looked on from the back of the field.
She began to pick off her rivals through the first half of the race, settling comfortably into third before long-time leader Italy’s Federica Del Buono upped the pace with two laps to go. Muir had to work over those last 400m, but her quality shone through down the home straight as she kicked past everyone and took the win at the line in 4:23.20.
She said: “It’s been a while since I ran at that pace and I think it showed! I wasn’t comfortable running at that pace but it is fine. I was aware there was four of us and I thought I definitely cannot at this pace give anything away, so I just had to stay strong at the finish.
“A couple of the other girls tied up a bit and I got that top three. I don’t know what that last 400m was and I imagine it was fairly fast, and that can do a similar amount of damage than running more evenly. So, I would have felt more comfortable had it been quicker and not as slow but that’s just one of those things. I feel like I conserved as much energy as I could.”
Baker, who broke Zola Budd’s 37-year-old UK Indoor Championship record on the way to the 1500m title last month, arguably looked the most comfortable of the three in-form Brits competing in the women’s 1500m as she completed a sweep of progress into the final.
Finland’s Nathalie Blomkvist stretched the race out early on with Baker slotting herself nicely in second. The pace would shortly settle as five athletes bunched at the front but again Baker looked very smooth to ensure her own qualification.
The race strung out again over the final metres with Baker maintaining second, finishing in 4:10.65, eighth overall, and she said: “I wasn’t expecting it to go quick for some reason. I thought because the first race was quick people might just be like uh uh!
“But to be fair its racing you never know how it’s going to go. I didn’t have any expectation, just to react to what comes. I just tried to keep it controlled and stay out of trouble. I didn’t want to fall over and get myself into any bad situations, so I kept relaxed and felt strong towards the end and worked through.
“[In the final] I am going to stay out of trouble, try my best to not get into the commotion, have a smooth race and see what I can do. It bodes well. It’s a very competitive field in the 1500m in Europe so it’ll be a tough final but I came fourth in the last Europeans in the 800m, so I am hoping to better that out here.”
Stacked with three in-form British athletes, Snowden was the first of the trio to take to the track for these women’s 1500m heats. Romania’s Claudia Mihaela Bobocea took the race out and, when she threatened to pull clear, Snowden went with her to maintain an element of control of her own race.
At the bell, Sofia Ennaoui came into the picture but Snowden, knowing all she needed for a place in the final was a top-three finish, remained calmed as Bobocea won from gun to tape and the Polish athlete came past to finish second.
Snowden clocked 4:08.27, which was third fastest overall, and she said: “I’m really pleased with it – obviously the aim going into it was top three. I wanted that big Q but didn’t care where I came amongst that three. When Bobacea went for it that’s exactly what I wanted to happen, it makes it easier when someone just goes for it.
“I feel like I’ve had my best winter for a number of years and my strongest indoor season ever so it’s really exciting and I am looking forward to the final now. Hopefully we can challenge for that podium.”
In what is fast becoming a theme at these championships for the British athletes in action, Neita’s opening outing in the women’s 60m looked very good indeed as she won the second of five heats, pulling away from the field to win by a tenth of a second in 7.14.
Ranked third coming into the event and second overall into the semi-finals courtesy of her 7.14 clocking, Neita said: “It’s a heat so it’s kind of good to be able to blow that one out of the way. We’ve got three in one day, so I am just learning how to manage that. It’s pretty new for me.
“My coach and I have written out a pretty detailed schedule by the minute for today. So, I just trust that if I follow that I will be ready for this afternoon. The track was nice, it was good, and I am sure it will be a bit more busy later but it’s a great atmosphere and nice. I’m excited.”
Philip, the European indoor champion over the distance in 2017, was drawn in the fifth and final heat and got out of the blocks well and maintained enough to secure an automatic qualifying place with a fourth-place finish in 7.36.
She said: “It wasn’t my greatest but I am pleased to have qualified. I am not going to beat myself up about it. I’ve got another opportunity to run again. This is not my first time here, I have done it before, so I really need to do what I do best and really attack it.
“I’m not really attacking much, so I just need to do that in the semi-finals. I’ve got the first one out of my system, so I know I can keep pushing now. That is all that matters.”
Mills, who was fourth at last year’s World Indoor Championships, began her pursuit for European success with a season’s best in the 60m hurdles, a discipline the Brit has competed in more times than any other this season.
Coming in with a best of 8.48 from five outings, Mills ran a strong race to clock 8.34 – the fourth fastest time overall to open her campaign with 1052 points. The high jump followed and it proved to be memorable for Mills.
Consistently around 1.74m indoors in recent seasons, Mills brilliantly cleared 1.77m for an indoor personal best. She built up to it by going past 1.68m at the first attempt and 1.71m and 1.74m with her second efforts.
The next height, 1.80m, would prove just too much but 1.77m kept her contention after a competitive high jump competition, fifth overall with 1993 points ahead of the shot put, which completed the morning action in the pentathlon.
Mills was the first athlete out in that shot put, opening it with an effort of 12.63m before improving to 12.99m with her second. She recorded a foul with her third, which would see her place seventh overall with 2720 points, 180 away from third with the long jump and 800m to come.
Coverage of the European Indoor Championships continues at 1530 on BBC Two on Friday 3 March and runs until Sunday 5 March. Full details can be found here.