Nine years after reaching the world final in 2009 when Usain Bolt produced the greatest 200m the world has ever seen, it was Ramil Guliyev’s turn to celebrate arguably the greatest moment of his career on the same track at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships.
And while a world title, especially in a men’s sprinting event, obviously carries a much bigger cachet than an equivalent at European level, the 2017 world champion was in even better form at the European Championships in Berlin.
In a flash under 20 seconds, Guliyev had dominated one of the finest fields ever assembled for a European Championships 200m final, broke one long-standing record and almost took down a legendary record.
Guliyev stopped the clock at 19.76, crossing the finish-line with his arms stretched theatrically wide in triumph. Not only was Guliyev’s winning time a lifetime best, he also smashed the championship record of 19.85 and came within 0.04 of the European record which has stood to the late Pietro Mennea from Italy since 1979 – a mark which Guliyev has gone on record to say he is looking to improve in the latter stages of his career.
Guliyev ran a good bend and entered the home straight with a narrow lead but his strength proved the decisive factor. He turned a small advantage into an unassailable gap in the last 50 metres to dash the hopes of a field which included the reigning champion Bruno Hortelano from Spain, who was on the comeback from a career threatening car accident, and 2014 European champion Adam Gemili from Great Britain.
In the tussle for the minor medals with the next five sprinters separated by less than one-tenth, Great Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake came through for silver in 20.04 with Alex Wilson from Switzerland taking a surprise bronze in a national record of 20.05, just ahead of the deposed champion Hortelano (20.05) and Gemili (20.10) in fourth and fifth respectively.
Guliyev was only 18 when he reached the world final in Berlin in 2009 but it took the Turkish sprinter almost a decade to reach the very summit at senior level. Guliyev represented Azerbaijan, his country of birth, in his junior days and his sheer ability at both the 100m and 200m was unquestionable. Guliyev had won major age-group medals in both events and represented Azerbaijan at the Olympics at the age of 18.
But after reaching the final in Berlin, Guliyev was noticeably absent from all major competitions until resurfacing at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich when he was finally eligible to represent Turkey internationally. Guliyev was a distant sixth behind Gemili in the 200m final in 2014 before improving to silver behind Hortelano in Amsterdam two years later before taking the final onto the top of the podium in the stadium where Guliyev had announced himself nine years prior.
Speaking about his gold medal in Berlin 2018 when he became the first Turkish athlete to win a European sprinting title, he said: “This achievement is very important for the people in my country as athletics is a very important sport. I want to be a positive motivation for all the kids. I was here in 2009 but it was just my first major event, everything was new for me. Now, it is different.”