A new star has appeared on Croatia’s athletics horizon
The European Athletics Championships Barcelona 2010
Sandra Perković in full concentration befor the discus throw. Photos by AP and Getty Images
A new star has appeared on Croatia’s athletics horizon - discus thrower Sandra Perković – only 19 years old and yet ready to climb the podium at this year’s most important event, the European Athletics Championships Barcelona 2010. With her brilliant 66,85m performance at the Croatian winter throws champs in Split last Saturday she improved her own national record by 4,06 metres.
"Obviously the two big goals for this summer are the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona and the IAAF Continental Cup. If I can throw as well in Barcelona as I did in Split this weekend then I could get a medal. It might even be good enough for gold," she commented, knowing that Russia's Darya Pishchalnikova won her European title with 65.55m in Göteborg four years ago.
Perkovic, who won the 2009 European Athletics junior championships, is the hot favourite to obtain the first Croatian medal at a European Athletics Championships since their independence. The female Discus final will take place on Wednesday, 28 July at 6.30pm, four days ahead of the female High Jump final, where the country’s top star Blanka Vlašić will fight for her first European gold.
"Blanka has been great for athletics in Croatia but it would be even better if there were other faces for the public to recognise as well”, said Perković, who, apart from her young career, has already experienced a big international competition when she made it to the Discus final last year in Berlin.
Regarding 2010 she is very confident saying that “you can expect a lot from me this year”. Before travelling to Barcelona in July she will participate at the European Cup Winter Throwing in Arles, France, on 20-21 March and later this year, one month after the European Athletics Championships, she will compete at the IAAF Continental Cup on home soil (Split).
Many of us expected a Croatian gold in Barcelona, but hands up who predicted it would be Sandra Perkovic?
The stocky 20-year-old lit up an otherwise sterile women's discus competition by dramatically leapfrogging long-time leader Nicoleta Grasu with a stunning final round throw of 64.67m to win the battle of the generations.
Perkovic also created history in becoming not only the youngest ever winner of this gold medal - some 143 days younger than the 1982 champion Tsvetanka Khristova of Bulgaria - but also the first ever Croatian to win European Championship gold.
Grasu, 38, who made her international debut at the 1990 World Junior Championships – the year Perkovic was born – had led from her opening round 63.48m but was left to rue the fact she could never improve on that effort, which always looked vulnerable.
Ironically, the bronze medal winner and fourth place finisher were also both aged 38, although you might be surprised to hear that it was Joanna Wisniewska who clinched the bronze from the 2004 Olympic champion Natalya Sadova of Russia (61.20m).
Wisniewska’s fourth round effort of 62.37m – a season’s best – was good enough for the Polish veteran to claim her first ever major championship medal. By contrast, Sadova has collected a slew of medals in her long and storied career – including European silvers in 1998 and 2002 - but she is now left to reflect on the fact she is likely to end her career without continental gold.
Here is what the elated Croatian had to say after her historic win
An elated Perkovic said: “It’s unbelievable that I achieved the gold medal with my last attempt. The great atmosphere gave me an extra push. I had a good feeling before the last throw.”
The veteran Grasu was surprisingly philosophical in defeat, and the 1998 and 2006 European bronze medallist added: “It’s a pity I lost, but I’m still satisfied.”
Grasu let out a shriek of delight following her first round 63.48m as she took an early advantage, but the Romanian was given an early warning she would not enjoy an easy ride as Perkovic responded with a splendid opening 62.98m.
Unheralded Lithuanian Zinaida Sendruite also impressed with her first attempt hurling the discus out to a personal best of 60.48m to move into the bronze medal position.
A low key second round saw no change to the medal picture, although notably European leader Nadine Muller posted a foul to back up a modest opening throw of 57.78m and scurried towards the stands to start up an animated conversation with her coach.
In round three Grasu unleashed a 63.08m effort, which did not improve upon her lead but illustrated her determination to land gold 16 years after she made her European Championship debut.
Whatever was exchanged between athlete and coach clearly did not work for Muller, could only muster 55.58m with her third attempt. She qualified eighth to earn the right for three final attempts but could not improve upon that position for the remainder of the competition.
The fourth round was memorable for Wisniewska’s gallop up the leaderboard. The Pole leapt from sixth into third and punched the air with joy following her season’s best 62.37m.
The fifth round saw no alteration to the medal positions and we had to wait until the final round for the fireworks to begin.
Sendruite the surprise package of the final posted her second PB of the final with 60.70m but could not advance on her fifth place position. Sadova also hit her best distance of the competition with 61.20m, but was to remain fourth. Wisniewska, who had not kept the smile from her face since her fourth round throw, then created a huge roar from the crowd when it appeared her final effort had challenged the lead. However, her left foot had crept over the front of the circle and it was rightly red flagged.
Cue Perkovic and her moment of glory. Possessing a wonderfully expressive face the European Junior champion may never win a game of poker but she can certainly throw. She unleashed her mighty 64.67m to take the lead and accepted the acclaim of the crowd. Grasu could not respond and it was Perkovic and a day of celebration for the younger generation.
Sandra Perković, winner of the 10th European Cup Winter meet in Arles, France, in March 2010
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