It counts in Amsterdam!

The season is shortly before its first peak: the European Championships in Amsterdam. So far, athletes’ main interest was to consolidate the form, do preparation races and qualify for the Europeans and/or the Olympics. This period is over. Time for a preview.

(Disclaimer: this is my very, very personal view. I sometimes lack insider knowledge and might be wrong… we’ll see. I’ll put a bias on those athletes that I personally know (most of them Swiss) and take the freedom to ignore others, even if they are the favourites.)

Day 1

Decathlon Men: Swiss hopes are resting on Jonas Fringeli who qualified earlier this year in Götzis. Back then he showed no major weaknesses and made 7862 points – a new PB. Will he deliver even more in Amsterdam? This seems quite possible. With less than 140 points missing to the magic 8000 points margin he hopefully won’t put himself under too much pressure, though.

Who are the favourites? The best of the season, Abele (GER), Mayer (FRA), Kazmirek (GER), Uibo (EST), and Auzeil (FRA) are missing. At face value (the SB list), it’s the Austrian Dominik Diestelberger. However, the strong Dutch starters Pieter Braun and Eelco Sintnicolaas will also aim at the title, as do Hans van Alphen from Belgium and Oleksey Kasyanov from the Ukraine.

 

100mH Women: Two years ago, Clélia Rard-Reuse (then Reuse), broke her leg in the semifinal of the Swiss Championships. A long way back began. The 2012 Olympian tried everything to regain form. Things started to look good in early 2016, and after many races in the low 13s she eventually ran 12.87 in Thun. Before Rio, the Europeans in Amsterdam will be more than just a test for her.*

Of course all eyes will be on the comeback of the 2006 European Champion Susanna Kallur (SWE) who was injured since 2008 and seems to return to competitive strength very recently.

200m women. Three Swiss starters are in Amsterdam. The fastest on paper is Mujinga Kambundji. So far, her season was good, but a little weaker than 2014/15. What does this mean for her prospects? She is a superbe competitor who is fastest when it counts. Well, hic Rhodos – hic salta. She must play her cards now.

Swiss eyes will also be on Ellen Sprunger who is a superbe runner in the curve and who is just above the Olympic Standard. No secret, she wants to run a new PB of 23.20 in the heat.  Fingers crossed for her!!

Much earlier in the season Cornelia Halbheer was one of the few Swiss sprinters who dared to compete in the cold and rainy weather. Back then, I posted she might run much faster and be one of the surprises of the season. In Thun she ran 23.46 and qualified for the Championships. Participating in Amsterdam will be the biggest moment of her young career.

The top favourite is Dina Asher Smith (GBR), but we will have to see if she can approach her tremendous PB (22.07) of the earlier years. The World Champion from Bejing, Dafne Schippers (NL) is not on the start list.

100m Men. It’s been a weird season vor Alex Wilson, the fastest Suisse. Last year he missed the Olympic Standard (10.16) only closely. This year he started into the season with 10.14! Alas, there was 0.1m/sec too much wind. Alex wouldn’t be Alex if he lost his mood. ‘I don’t mind’, he told me. ‘I’m injury free and it’s just a mater of time’. …

Well, so far it didn’t happen. Rainy conditions, and a pulled hamstring in Luzern. At the Europeans he and Amaru Schenkel will start over the 100m.

Outlook: It’s very simple. If Alex runs the desired Olympic Standard, he will make it into the final. If not, then not. Sad that rocketing Bastien Mouton had to waive the season because of a pulled hamstring.

Long jump Men. Benjamin Gföhler was one of the big surprises of the season. In June the 22-year old jumped 8.13m on a meeting in Germany.

400m Men. Joel Burgunder delivered some of the biggest entertainment in the early season. ‘I want to qualify for the Europeans’, that was his early announcement. And his form was good. The weather was not! So he missed his goal at the first serious race, but ran a huge 46.11 in his home stadium in Langenthal. The home crowd cheered and celebrated. So nice to document this in pictures.

Even better, shortly before the deadline Luca Flück joined Joel later when he ran 46.63 in Thun. So two Swiss will challenge the European Elite.

Outlook: Question mark. Two years ago, the two Swiss would have had no chance. It’s just uncertain who of the international competitors will or will not start this year. For them, a serious set of races in Amsterdam might be in conflict with a proper preparation for Rio.

400m Hurdles Men. The defending champion will start on day one of the championships. Obviously, Kariem Hussein‘s aim is to defend the title. In Bellinzona he ran his first sub 49secs of the season. Of course, he is hoping to be faster in Amsterdam. On paper, Yasmani Copello Escobar (TUR) will be his strongest opponent.

Recently, Dany Brand qualified as the second Swiss starter. With a PB of 51.32 his aims will be to run properly and, hopefully, improve his PB again.

800m Women: In 2015, Selina Büchel had a remarkable winning streak and improved her PB to 1:57.95. The problem was that she was over the peak of her form in the later season. This year, her start into the season was a little slower. However, not it will count. Will she do her first very fast race when it’s most important?

The pressure will be on others this year. Renal Lamote (FRA) is the fastest of the starting grid. And eyes will be on whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova who will run under a neutral flag.

*Clélia is qualified directly for the semifinal. So she won’t run in the morning.

Spitzenleichtathletik Luzern

Spitzenleichtathletik Luzern is another atmospheric Swiss meeting, meanwhile in its 30th year. It was another test of the Swiss elite against world class athletes.

2016-06-14-luzern-regenbogen-1

The top star of the event was Jimmy Vicaut who equalled his own European 100m record one week earlier (9.86 secs) and is currently leading the world top list. The 100m race was a drama. False start by Beejay Lee who didn’t stop running. Vicaut and Richard Kilty missed hearing the false start alarm and ran full gas to the finish line. Vicaut clocked 9.98 secs. Of course the race didn’t count and after some discussions (that stretched the regeneration period) is was repeated.

Vicaut also won the repeated race, but now “only” at 10.08 secs. There was a taint. With 9.98 secs, Vicaut would have qualified for a share of the jackpot. With 10.08 he did not. The spectators didn’t know this and cheered. And Vicaut didn’t show anger and waived into the crowd.

(The question regarding the jackpot was answered one day later. Eventually, Vicaut received “his” share. 50 percent were paid by the meeting organizers. The second half was paid by the Swiss pole vaulter Nicole Büchler who was the only athlete eglible for the jackpot. “He deserved it” she commented to me. While this is true, she deserves deepest respect.)

Sad that the Swiss top sprinter, Alex Wilson, didn’t meet his own expectations. 10.50secs in the same race were far from what he was hoping for. Later on the day, he even pulled his leg muscle over the 200m. You can do nothing but feel sorry and hope for speedy recovery for one of the nicest personalities on the track.

Some side blabla on sports photography: As you can see, I sat exactly on lane 5, Vicauts lane. I was there 30mins before the run. Photo colleagues are very respectful. Who takes the position first has the right to stay. Even the big agencies respect that rule. If you’re late, your photos are compromises.

Let’s turn to the women’s sprint events. Like one week earlier in Bellinzona Swiss hopes were on Mujinga Kambundji. The organisers put her on lane 5 (who was sitting there???), hoping she would win. However, like one week earlier, there was no breakthrough. Under wet and cold conditions, the second place and 11.36secs were not bad, but she is still waiting for improving to the absolute world class level. The race was won by Britains Daryll Neita in 11.30.

What do these times tell us? Well, it was cold, wet, and there was light headwind. So deduct, maybe, 2/10secs. So Mujinga shouldn’t feel too bad about her form. Which brings me to the B final that was won (in the same unfavourable weather!) by Ajla Del Ponte in a new PB of 11.52 and a new Ticino record. Despite of her nice performance, Ajla was disappointed because she missed the standard for the European Championships by just 2/100secs. (Photo blabla again: I knew how badly she wants the qualification. So this time I shot from behind the clock, knowing I would catch her eyes.)

Later on the day Mujinga ran the first 200m race of the season. She ran against 20 year young Gina Lückenkemper from Germany. Both looked good and fast, battled side by side. In the end, Gina was 1/10sec ahead, but both were happy with their race.

Talking about the Swiss athletes – there were three Swiss victories. First, Nicole Büchler won the pole vault under super difficult conditions. 4.70m in Lucerne qualified her for the jackpot (see above). The second Swiss vaulter, 19 year old Angelica Moser finished with 4.40m. One year ago this would have been almost a PB, this year she has a streak of 4.40s and she’s still hunting 4.50m (which she cleared indoor). The even younger Wilma Murto (FIN) jumped even higher in the indoor season and mastered the 4.50m for the first time in an outdoor competition. 4.85 vaulter Fabiana Murer from Brasil also cleared 4.50m, taking rank three.

The second Swiss victory was achieved by Kariem Hussein over the 400mH. Despite of the cold, wet, windy circumstances, Kariem looked unhappy about his 49.47secs which is not the desired step forward, compared to his performance in Bellinzona one week before. Good though, he beat strong opponents, like USA’s Jeshua Andersen or Algeria’s Abdelmalik Lahoulou.

Third, there was the steeple chaser Fabienne Schlumpf who won the last race of the night. Hiding in the field for most of the race, she was the strongest on the final lap.

The next Swiss top starters were Selina Büchel and Lea Sprunger. Selina wanted to clock below  2 mins over 800m for the first time of the season. After 100m it was clear that this wouldn’t work. The race was sloooow – every runner played chess against the others. So it was a test of the sprinting ability. Selina came in 4th and lost 1 second to the winner, Britain’s Linsey Sharp.

Lea Sprunger had her first race against world elite runners over the 400m hurdles. A few days after her first 54er in Geneva, expectations were high and you could feel the tension. After the first hurdles, Lea was behind her competitors, but on the finish straight she still had a lot in the tank. She felt that too and made a mistake. Instead of concentrating on the last hurdle, she started fighting between hurdles 9 and 10 which ended in a disaster. She had to do some short steps before the last obstacle, almost stood still, did a high jump over the hurdle and lost the race. She said she will learn from this. The winner, Sara Slot Petersen from Denmark clocked 55.20 – a benchmark for what would have been possible.

.

 

 

Bellinzona

The season is heading to its first highlight, the European Championships. This means athletes are aiming to seriously test themselves against other international athletes.

The Galà dei Castelli, named after Bellinzona’s three UNESCO World Heritage castles, is a nice summer-night meeting. No wonder the athletes love it. Perfect conditions and super friendly hosts.

Taking an international point of view, the most striking result were the 7.04m in the long jump by USA’s Brittney Reese. The Olympic Champion of 2012 and three times World Champion was very consistent in length, had some faults, though.

From a Swiss point of view the highlight was the European Champion’s victory over the 400m Hurdles. Kariem Hussein ran his first sub 49er this season and clocked with 48.98 secs. Later, I met him in the hotel restaurant, and he was really pleased with the result.

The Swiss also cheered for Lea Sprunger who won the women’s 400m H event. 55.83secs were a very good result, although experts might have expected more (in fact, one week later, she clocked 54.92 in Geneva).

Another world class result was delivered by Germany’s Julia Fischer. She threw impressive  64.57m in the discus. Her training collegue Anna Ruh finished second with 61.97m.

Who is the Swiss spectator’s darling? Perhaps/certainly, Mujinga Kambundji. In fact, it’s extremely difficult not to like her. Alas, she is still seeking her form from the previous year. Would Bellinzona be the breakthrough? Not quite. A windstill 11.34secs over the 100m is not bad, but far less than in the previous year when she set up a new Swiss record. She lost the race to Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova who won in 11.20 ahead of Ukraine’s Natalia Pohrebnyak (11.26).

The hosts and the home spectators were super happy with Ajla Del Ponte and her  nice performance. In the heat the young runner from nearby Ascona excited the crowd with a new PB which she improved again when won the B final in 11.57secs. She really enjoyed the success in her (almost) home stadium.

Similar to Mujinga, Selina Büchel is still waiting for her top form to come. Last year the 800m runner had a phantastic winning streak over 800m that ended – in Bellinzona. Back then, she was just over her form peak. This year she took a slower start. Bellinzona was only her second serious race over 800m with rising instead of declining form. She scratched the 2min margin and hopefully will improve as the season goes on. The race was won by Poland’s Angelika Cichocka in 1:59.97.

The men’s 5000m were a Kenyan event. Cornelius Kangogo won in 13:12.54, just tyne 13/100sec ahead of Victor Chumo.

 

Hypomeeting Götzis

The Hypomeeting Götzis is THE heptathlon and decathlon meeting in the world. Its history comprises three world records (Daley Thompson 1980, 1982 and Roman Šebrle 2001).

Emotional ties grew when I received an Email in August. My picture of the vice World Champion Brianne Theisen-Eaton had been nominated as a candidate for the 2016 poster subject. Two months  later I received brilliant news. My picture had won the competition! Expectations high, I traveled to Austria and found this:

2015-05-30-brianne-1

I was looking forward to shoot Brianne again, but in Götzis you are under constant pressure not to miss any of the many other superstars. So here are my anecdotes.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

The winner of 2014 is considered as one of the shooting stars in the heptathlon. The 23 years-young Liverpudlian was interviewed at the welcome reception, but the interviewer despaired of her strong accent, very much to the amusement of the folks. Like the other athletes, she was asked about her goals for the upcoming competition. Pleaded to answer slowly, her reply was short: “six-thou-sand-two-hun-dret points” (this is the Olympic Standard). The crowd was shaken with laughter.

Hypomeeting Götzis 2016
Katerina Johnson-Thompson

Overall, she seems to be a very delightful person. Nobody ever had doubt that she would reach her “goal” (her PB is 6’682 points, this makes her a medal candidate at the Olympics). Her performance was surprisingly erratic. PB over the 100m Hurdles, PB over 200m, strong as usual in the high jump, but a little woeful in the shot put, the long jump, and with the javelin. 6’304 points and rank Six.

Hypomeeting Götzis 2016
Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Damian Warner

His goal: “A valid attempt in the shot put” – the Canadian gave this reply because of his three fouls in 2015 where he was in great form. He was the top favourite and had an incredible start: 10.15 seconds over 100m and a Decathlon World Best!

Hypomeeting Götzis 2016
Damian Warner

Surprisingly, he was under constant pressure for the rest of the competition. First, the fabulous high jumper Jeremy Taiwo took over the lead after stunning 2.18m. Damian’s answer was “only” 2.00m, but in high jump, this difference translates to 173 points.

Hypomeeting Götzis 2016
Jeremy Taiwo

In the 400m, Damian re-assumed the leader position, despite of getting beaten by the German Kai Kazmirek. He extended his lead over the 110m Hurdles, but all these disciplines were a little weaker than people expected, given his base speed.

Hypomeeting Götzis 2016
Damian Warner

Then, the strong disciplines of Kevin Mayer followed. The Frenchman has a strong second day finishing 1st in the diskus throw, and 2nd in the pole vault and javelin throw.

Kevin Mayer
Kevin Mayer

The overall standing was close, but Damian was in the lead. He knew that if he marked Mayer over the 1500m and beat him on the final straight he would be the overall winner. And this was exactly the tactic. In the end, Damian secured is second victory in Götzis with 8’523 points.

2016-05-29-goetzis-day2-2.jpg

Kai Kazmirek

The winner of 2015 had justone goal. Finishing as one of the best three Germans. Germany traditionally has many strong decathletes and the qualification rules for the Olympics were that the best three of Götzis and the meeting in Ratingen would be selected.

Kai Kazmirek
Kai Kazmirek

In the opening discipline, Kai could not know that his German competitors would all drop out. On the first day, Kai finished only 7 points short of Warner, after winning the 400m. Nobody goes deeper into the lactic acid than he does – I remembered this from the year before. Here are two shots from the 400m – one during and one after the race.

The second day was difficult due to the changing weather conditions. Pole vault was interrupted twice due to heavy rain. Kai was affected most by these complications since he didn’t drop out before the rain (like most of the others), but also did not enter the competition after the rain (like a few of the others).

Eventually, he finished with 8’318 points and is now in a top position regarding the German Olympia qualification.

Felix Austria

Dominik Diestelberger’s role in Götzis is special. Götzis is his home competition and he is under constant monitoring by the home TV station ORF. Covering the event extensively, the ORF follows every of his moves. He seems to accept this role. You learn that athletes are great personalities when they lose! I admired his professional interviews after a quite disappointing performance in the year before.

Not so 2016! 8’100 points are the Olympic Standard. Dominik firmly announced this as his goal. And he performed well. Setting up a new PB he finished fifth in the overall ranking and achieved 6’175 points. Good for the spectators? Good for the ORF! Good for Austria! Good for the Hypomeeting!

Brianne Theisen-Eaton

Aah, I should not forget my photo subject! With the World Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill absent, Brianne was the top favourite. She opened the event with a strong 12.93 over the hurdles and never left a doubt who would be the winner. One of the must shots was to repeat my 2015 picture. I was pleased with the result. Photography geeks will also notice the technical progress. The 2016 shot was with the 135mm F2 lens and the background got blurred.

On day two, Brianne went straight towards the victory. This included an improvement with the javelin. Whoever wants to win Gold at the Olympics must beat her. And – this will be difficult.

 

The Swiss

Swiss athletes are traditionally invited to the meeting. Caroline Agnou, the 2015 European U20 champion, had a difficult start into the season with injuries. Struggling to find her form, it was important that she completed the heptathlon.

Michelle Zeltner had a brilliant indoor season, so it was thrilling what she would deliver in her first important heptathlon after a long injury break. The start was good, especially her 200m run. Unfortunately, her hip injury started hurting again which made it impossible to achieve a better overall result.

Jan Deuber who did a good decathlon in 2015 was re-invited. An early injury made it impossible to complete the decathlon. He gave up after the high jump.

Jonas Fringeli was very strong. His decathlon was without weaknesses. The result was 7’862 points – a new PB and the standard for the Euro Championships in Amsterdam! Will he join the 8000-club later in the season? The same decathon plus one positive surprise and this seems possible.

Finally, there was Ellen Sprunger’s comeback after two surgeries. The intentions of the double Swiss athlete of the year (2012/13) were clear: new PB and the Olympic Standard.

Given the long injury break and the short preparation time, experts knew that this would be like an Eiger Northface climb.  Ellen’s start was brilliant, though. Close to her PBs over the hurdles and in the 200m run, and with solid performances in the shot put and the high jump, everything seemed possible after day one.

“Tomorrow will be a very important day”, was her short comment after a convincing day 1. Would she be able to use her speed for a PB in the long jump? Odds were against this, because she did only one long jump competition in the preparation period. Well, miracles are called miracles because they are rare. 5.95m were OK, given that almost all other athletes struggled on that day, too. However, this was not what she needed to build up a safety cushion.

Ellen now needed 44m in the javelin and a 2:12 over 800m – both extremely difficult. The javelin stopped her. Her elbow was not ready to throw that far. It was sad to see her standing in the rain, the eventual failure sinking into her mind.

2016-05-28-goetzis-day2-18

Despite of not reaching her goal, Ellen was impressive. After getting over her disappointment, there are good reasons to continue her work and prepare for the rest of the season. There’s more to come than pouring rain.

Berner Rundfahrt 2016

The Berner Rundfahrt is a UCI 1.2 race just next to my house door. Of course, I wanted to shoot this. Besides the men’s pro race there were other events, a national women’s race, a U17 race, an amateur race and, the hobby races. I had to skip the hobby races for personal reasons, and just covered the pros and amateurs.

One lap of the course is 34km long. The toughest part is climbing the Frienisberg, a 12 percent ramp. Nothing for sprinters and heavy rouleurs.

I selected several shooting positions starting a few meters behind my house and ending at the finish line. Enjoy the gallery.

 

Zurich Marathon

After the indoor season and the Swiss 10k road running championships my cameras got a little rusty, but where should I shoot? Sure there were events on every weekend, but… spring 2016 isn’t really that inviting. As no must-events were around, I preferred to let my gear rust.

Then came the Zurich Marathon. This event is big. So I decided to go. The race promised to be interesting. Three Swiss runners tried to qualify for the Olympics: Adrian Lehmann who was in great shape according to his test races, Julien Lyon whom I already met when he won the 10k Nationals and who ran his first marathon, and Michael Ott.

2016-04-24-zurichmarathon-1000
Adrian Lehmann, Michael Ott shortly after the start

Adrian wanted the qualification badly. He tried everything. Turned professional, changed his entire life, went to Kenya, brought two pacemakers with him from Kenya.

However, not only the Swiss runners were of interest. Quite a lot of superbe African runners lined up. Moreover, there was the favourite: Yuki Kawauchi from Japan who is a superstar at home. In the women’s race there were Yoshiko Sakamoto, and the German Katharina Heinig who aimed at the Olympic Standard too.

Yuki Kawauchi, Edwin Kiprop Korir
Yuki Kawauchi, Edwin Kiprop Korir

Very shortly after the start, the weather forecast proved terribly wrong. First, it started to rain… then hail… then snow. Conditions became extremely ugly. If you never ran in such conditions: the hail hurts. The snowflakes stay on your skin and melt. Your system cools down and you start freezing. Freezing costs energy. Loss of energy is detrimental to Marathon performance. There is nothing you can do against it.

Yoshiko Sakamoto
Yoshiko Sakamoto

Well, top athletes are top because they stay focused even in bad conditions. Even Adrian’s pacemakers who had never seen snow in their life before continued fighting. However, determination is one thing, the physics behind the wet and super cold conditions another. The lost energy quickly makes you even freeze more.

Adrian Lehmann, Julien Lyon
Adrian Lehmann, Julien Lyon

Way too early, Adrian’s pacemakers had to give up. They weren’t to blame. One was even taken to hospital with hypothermia. Adrian lost contact to Julien who adapted to the conditions a bit better. However, both did not maintain their pace at the desired level.

What about the international athletes? Only ONE African made it to the finish line, second ranked Abere Belay from Ethiopia.

Abere Belay (ETH) belegt den zweiten Platz beim Zürich Marathon 2016
Abere Belay (ETH) belegt den zweiten Platz beim Zürich Marathon 2016

The glorious winner was Kawauchi. This guy is iron tough. He ran the entire race at the front, from the start to the finish line.

2016-04-24-zurichmarathon-4

Impressive how Kawauchi sprinted down the finsh straight. Like an 800m runner he crossed the line and stopped for the photographers, breathing heavily.

Alexanderplatz Berlin Fernsehturm Mond
Yuki Kawauchi Zurich Marathon 2016
Yuki Kawauchi siegt beim Zürich Marathon 2016
Yuki Kawauchi, Zürich Marathon 2016

So what about the young Swiss runners? Julien did a great job. A third rank and 2:16 in his first marathon under these conditions are simply super. Great to see his joy.

Julien Lyon wird Dritter beim Zürich Marathon 2016
Julien Lyon wird Dritter beim Zürich Marathon 2016

And then the drama started. Everyone was waiting for Adrian. Time was running adn running and everyone knew, he’d be utterly disappointed. A young runner did everything right to fulfil his dream, but the very two hours of the event destroyed his hopes. Face swollen, his look empty he came down the long finish straight. What a bitter moment.

Adrian Lehmann wird Vierter beim Zürich Marathon 2016
Adrian Lehmann, fourth at the Zürich Marathon 2016

So how did the Women’s competition end? All the favourites had to give up. The winner was the toughest in the field, Daniela Aeschbacher. She said she couldn’t believe it. She just had to run back to Zurich, despite of the bad conditions, because her family was waiting. Suddenly a bike appeared besides her with the sign “first woman”. And she was winner of the Zurich Marathon. Sometimes life writes really nice stories.

2016-04-24-zurichmarathon-1
Daniela Aeschbacher wins the Zurich Marathon 2016

Naturally, joy was great. Even minutes after the finish, she could not believe it. But all photographers were hunting her. Yes, it was true.

2016-04-24-zurichmarathon-14.jpg