Spain closes the European Athletics Championships on the indoor track in Istanbul with two medals | Sports

Quique Llopis goes wrong. He is running late. He speeds between the fences. uncoordinated. He misses out on the title that should be waiting for him at the end of the straight, 60 meters alone, and five hurdles. Before the fifth obstacle, 1.07 meters, and the goal already there, he already stumbles, adjusts so much that he stumbles and falls like a dead weight, all his length, 1.91 meters, on the dark gray of the sixth street . He hits his shoulder and his head bounces off the tartan. He falls and doesn’t get up. He is lying in the street. Still. The race ends in a breath. The Swiss Jason Joseph (7.41s) wins. Nobody celebrates. Nobody cheers. The alarmed faces of the assists impose silence and fear. The immobility of the athlete from Gandía, 23 years old. So much energy contained in his muscles, frozen. Unconscious. Inert. Urgent gestures to the doctor and nurses who are in the band. His faces shocked. They quickly come to his side, smack him in the face, put their fingers in his mouth and take out the medal with which he always runs between his teeth, they turn him on his side. Other people spread a screen of sheets around it. It’s four minutes of anguish that is only relieved when the screen is removed. Llopis, a marvel, is on a stretcher, a collar on his neck. He has come to even though he still doesn’t move a muscle. The physio of the Spanish team, Miguel Ángel Cos, who is there, turns to the stands and makes a gesture, just a gesture, the thumbs up, which restores breath and calm.

Llopis trips over the fence and falls.
Llopis trips over the fence and falls.MURAD SEZER (REUTERS)

Llopis is transferred to a hospital. He suffered head and chest trauma and a concussion, doctors report, and a blow to the elbow. He quickly regained consciousness. He spoke with colleagues before getting into the ambulance. He said that everything hurt. At the hospital they do tests to check if there are any fissures and a CT scan to see if there is any damage to the brain. They do not observe anything. He is oriented. Aware.

A judge demands that the assistants come to attend to Llopis, unconscious on the ground.
A judge demands that the assistants come to attend to Llopis, unconscious on the ground.Khalil Hamra (AP)

The anguish and concern, the vision, so close, of the inevitable, suddenly make Adrián Ben, 800m European champion for only 20 minutes, so emotionally Galician happy, and the long and chained from Adel Mechaal 15 minutes earlier, with a silver medal around his neck, the third of his career in 3,000m, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen gold for the eleventh time, remain as memories of a distant, carefree past.

And they were beautiful moments. Terribly fought for Ben’s victory, a machine gun of thoughts and impulses that fight to get out of his mouth minutes later, a race of blows, pushes and science, his knowledge, his ability, the wisdom and the strength that allow him to be in the place where you have to be when you have to be, and your heart is still racing from a 50-meter sprint behind the Frenchman Benjamin Robert, who is exhausted, exhausted, and does not reach the line, and when he arrives he does so behind, only three thousandths behind, from Ben (1m 47.335s), 24 years old, Galician from Viveiro, where there is only rain, he says, no running track or anything, and 100 kilometers by car, round trip, to Lugo to train when he was an excited youth, always excited. He finishes the race and when the doubt is resolved, who has won, it has been Ben, he kneels on the ground and tries to cry. “But the tears wouldn’t come,” he says. “Didn’t you see that episode of the Simpsons where Mr. Burns…?” And everyone around them splits up, and he splits up, his torrent of words, that of an athlete who was the first Spaniard to reach a World Cup final outdoors, in Doha, and also the first in an Olympic final, in Tokyo, and he prefers to remember the hard moments of athletics, the year 2022, in which he failed to qualify for either the Eugene World Cup semifinals or the Munich European final where Mariano García triumphed, and he saw his teammates advance and he stayed. “And before going to the 800m I saw Mariano García once and I saw how the bike accelerated, and I said, I want to be like him, I want to do what he did”, says the athlete who talks about his career as his beloved coach would talk, Arturo Martín, or the other Arturo, Casado, the former athlete from Santa Eugenia who tests his efforts and gives him advice. “And I’m already European champion.”

The middle distance, from 800m to 3,000m, is the breeding ground for medals on the Spanish indoor track that leaves Istanbul with only two. Ben’s victory, the seventh gold in history in 800m, the 24th in total in the distance of the four laps; in 1,500m, there are also 24 medals (eight gold, 11 silver and five bronze), and 24 (6-7-11) comes the 3,000m, not to be outdone, with silver by Adel Mechaal (7m 41.75s), 33 years old, who got hooked, hypnotized and an analyst, behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s back, lap after lap, and there are 15, trying to understand, he explains, the mysteries of almost quantum physics, as he tells it. Mechaal, who loves the science of athletics, explains that it is very easy to run behind Ingebrigtsen, the phenomenon who won the 1,500m 48 hours before, running the same, although a little faster, at 23 seconds per lap, and not 33. -32-31-30-29-28, the panoply of the 3,000m. He wins with 7m 40.32s, two seconds off the championship record. He is a metronome, apparently always the same stride frequency, but like this, continues Mechaal, he is able to imperceptibly accelerate because surely he puts more force into his footstep and gains speed. “Because change, change, has only changed in the last 100m. Only then does the frequency increase, ”says Mechaal, who by then was already looking back to make sure that no one was coming close, securing his third European indoor medal after the gold in Belgrade, six years ago, and the bronze in Torun 2021, his first run-in with Ingebrigtsen. And he was only chased by nothing. Like him, as if by moving away from Ingebrigtsen they lost the power of an engine that dragged them along, they were all wagons that slowly stopped. And they all want to be like Ingebrigtsen, whom Mechaal calls the best athlete in history in Europe and soon in the world. “We are going to change the training method, we are going to train like the Ingebrigtsen, with the Norwegian method”, announces Mechaal. “Antonio Serrano, my coach, and I are investigating to find out everything they do.”

Two medals is the lowest balance of some of the last indoor Europeans since a solitary silver in Paris 1994. “We are not satisfied with the results,” says José Peiró, national coach. “Spanish athletics is for more. But I have to highlight the great competitive attitude of all the athletes”.

In the final hour of the four days in Istanbul, Spanish athletics experienced all possible emotions, including the lament of Lorea Irarzabal, who, achieving her personal best (2m 0.87s), was three hundredths of a medal in the 800m from Keely Hodgkinson (1m 58.66s). Or the desperation of David García Zurita, 17, the fourth reliever (after Husillos, Markel and Búa), who took the baton first and finished fourth (3m 6.87s), advanced in the last 100 meters by Belgians (champions again, 3m 5.83s), French and Dutch. Older athletes would not have dared to do what Zurita did, the great talent from Extremadura, who runs with the daring of unconsciousness, who runs the first 200m as if they were the only ones. “I am like that”, says Markel Fernández, from Sopela (Bizkaia), the second in the established order to ensure that changes are always made cleanly, without fuss, taking advantage of the Husillos atomic exit. Markel, 20, was a racing cyclist on the town circuit and that’s why he always has to go around the track before putting on heels, because that’s what he did with the bike. “I always go out on top. You have to take risks and go as far as you go”.

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