Nothing beats home success in major championships. From Juha Väätäinen’s long distance double in Helsinki to Snezana Pajkic’s unexpected 1500m title in Split and Dafne Schippers’ 100m title in Amsterdam, we remember eight incredible home victories in European Championships history.
Vaatainen’s electric distance double in Helsinki
Juha Väätäinen ushered in the new era of Finnish distance runners in the 1970s with a phenomenal long distance double at the 1971 European Championships in Helsinki.
Five athletes have completed the 5000/10,000m double on the men’s side at the European Championships but Vaatainen is the only athlete to achieve the distinction of achieving this double on home soil. His double was greeted with pandemonium from the fans with some even throwing their seat cushions onto the track in the Olympic Stadium.
With a blistering sprint finish which would surely make him competitive on the continental stage five decades later, Vaatainen – who ran a hand-timed 100m in 10.9 as a teenager – outsprinted reigning two-time champion Jurgen Haase in the 10,000m with a 53.6 last lap in the 10,000m before unleashing a 53.0 last lap to win the 5000m.
Mennea makes amends in the 200m in Rome
After narrowly missing out in the 100m final against reigning Olympic and European champion Valeriy Borzov from the Soviet Union, Pietro Mennea made amends in the 200m at the 1974 European Championships in Rome.
Running in front of a partisan crowd of more than 60,000 in the Stadio Olimpico which hosted the 1960 Olympic Games – and will also stage the 2024 European Athletics Championships – Mennea powered to his first European title in the 200m from lane two in 20.60.
During the course of his esteemed career, Mennea was to run almost one second faster than his winning time at the 1974 European Championships and the Italian is still credited with the European record at 19.72 which was set back in 1979.
Schmid’s 400m hurdles hat-trick in Stuttgart
After finishing second on the medal table in Athens 1982 with eight gold medals, the West German contingent might have been disappointed to slump down to sixth in Stuttgart 1986 with only two gold medals to show but the hugely popular Harald Schmid delighted his home fans by winning a record third European title in the 400m hurdles in 48.65.
Schmid had won gold four years prior in 47.48 – at the time the second fastest clocking in history and a still-standing championship record which survived Karsten Warholm’s advances in Berlin 2018.
Pajkic defies the odds with 1500m triumph in Split
The final day of the 1990 European Championships was anticipated to be a good session for Yugoslavia with the recently crowned 19-year-old world U20 champion Dragutin Topic tipped to challenge for the high jump title but their medal haul opened unexpectedly just a few hours earlier courtesy of another teenager in the women’s 1500m.
With a blistering sprint finish, the largely unheralded 19-year-old Snezana Pajkic – who only finished seventh in her heat and scraped into the final as a fastest loser – prevailed against one of the strongest fields of the championships in a lifetime best of 4:08.12.
On her lap of honour, Pajkic ran into the arms of her compatriot Topic who went on to win the high jump title on countback with a clearance at 2.34m.
Kallur lives up to expectations in Gothenburg
The mid-2000s marked the halcyon days of Swedish athletics and Susanna Kallur won one of three gold medals for Sweden at the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg.
Two gold medals were tentatively expected on the Friday with reigning champion Kajsa Bergqvist highly fancied to retain her title in the high jump but whereas Bergqvist narrowly fell short, Kallur stormed to an unopposed gold medal in the 100m hurdles in 12.59, pumping the air with both fists as she crossed the finish-line.
“Honestly, it was happiness more than relief. It was just unbelievable. I felt the eyes of the crowd. It was one of the most amazing feelings in my life,” said Kallur who retired in 2017.
Hussein delights the Letzigrund faithful
The 2014 European Championships in Zurich took place at the Letzigrund, one of the great athletics venues on the European circuit and the venue for the annual Weltklasse meeting.
From a domestic standpoint, one of the great moments in that arena was Kariem Hussein’s memorable gold medal in the 400m hurdles. The Swiss flags were brandished and the cowbells rang out as Hussein held off a two-pronged attack from Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev and Estonia’s Rasmus Magi off the final barrier.
That was Switzerland’s first and only medal of the 2014 European Championships but the country’s prospects have improved substantially since then to the extent Switzerland even made their European Athletics Team Championships Super League debut in 2019.
Schippers powers to 100m crown in Amsterdam
Dafne Schippers wouldn’t have been able to keep a low-profile before the 2016 European Championships in Amsterdam even if she wanted to.
Not only had Schippers sprung to sprinting stardom with a sprint double in Zurich 2014 and a European 200m record at the 2015 World Championships, an enormous poster of Schippers adorned the entire front of one of the buildings situated on the main roads just outside the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.
But Schippers coped splendidly with the mantle of being the leading light of the championships. She defended her 100m title on a cool and breezy evening in 10.90 to win by three-tenths before helping the Netherlands to their first gold medal in the 4x100m relay since 1946.
Abele’s emotional decathlon triumph in Berlin
Hosts Germany won six gold medals and 20 medals in total at the 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin but none of their triumphs were emotional as Arthur Abele’s in the decathlon
The sentimental favourite became a prospective gold medal candidate after the demise of world champion Kevin Mayer from France in the long jump and at 32, the oldest decathlete in the field grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Abele was second overnight but the German is a renowned second day performer and duly performed up to expectations in his strongest events, producing the fastest time in the 110m hurdles and the longest throw in the javelin – even outperforming a certain Niklas Kaul in the latter!
Abele crossed the finish-line in the 1500m triumphant and after briefly reflecting on his achievements, the broad-shouldered German broke down in tears before seeking comfort in the arms of mascot Berlino the Bear. Not only was this one of the most emotional wins of the championships, it was also one of the most richly deserved.