Rome's Memorable European Champs Of 1974 Revisited

Rome’s memorable European Champs of 1974 revisited

Ahead of this week’s European Athletics Championships in Rome, Steve Smythe remembers the last time the Italian capital staged this event 50 years ago

In Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in September 1974, one of the greatest ever European Championships took place.

Surprisingly the Europeans has not been in Italy since but this week it returns to Rome and, given its pre-Olympics position, it will be hard pressed to match the action of half a century ago when it was the most important and top quality competition of the year.

Rome’s memorable European

Ian Thompson won the marathon and Britain’s other golds came from Brendan Foster at 5000m, Alan Pascoe at 400m hurdles and the men’s 4x400m while silver medals were won by Steve Ovett at 800m, David Jenkins at 400m and Tony Simmons at 10,000m.

Shot putter Geoff Capes and 20km walker Roger Mills (retrospectively after a rival’s doping suspension) won bronze as did Joyce Smith at 3000m and Andrea Lynch at 100m. Britain’s women thus won only two medals but it should be remembered that the standard in the women’s events was probably higher than it had been in the 1972 Olympics and drugs testing was at its infancy as Eastern Europe flexed its muscles.

Brendan Foster leads Lasse Viren (Mark Shearman)

Foster’s 5000m win was extraordinary. It was hot and humid but he led all the way setting a fast pace of around 64 second laps but then put in a 60.2 eighth lap that initially only double Olympic champion Lasse Viren could follow. Even the great Finn could not keep pace for long and Foster hit the bell with an 80m lead. He could have gone close to the world record but chose to ease round the last lap in 62.2 to run 13:17.2 and only miss the world record by four seconds.

Pascoe wasn’t at his fittest and couldn’t break 50 seconds in the build-up to Rome but a 48.82 PB held off defending champion Jean-Claude Nallet of France and Pascoe also ran the third leg of the relay in 46.5 following Glen Cohen (46.7) and Bill Hartley (45.8) but it was the anchor leg from Jenkins that tipped the balance. His 44.3 clocking made up nearly 10 metres on Finland and France and held off West Germany’s Karl Honz, who had easily beaten him in the individual event (45.04 to 45.67). Britain timed 3:03.5.

Rome's memorable European Champs of 1974 revisited

GB relay winners in Rome ’74: Alan Pascoe, David Jenkins, Glen Cohen, Bill Hartley (Mark Shearman)

Ovett was only 18 years old and he ran an European junior record 1:45.8 but was annoyed he was boxed at the time Luciano Susanj produced a stunning burst 200 metres out to win in a near world record 1:44.1.

Simmons, a former world age-14 mile record holder, ran a sub-55 last lap in his 10,000m but came from too far back and just fell short of East Germany’s Manfred Kuschmann who would go on to finish second in the 5000m to Foster. Both were timed at 28:25.8.

Rome's memorable European Champs of 1974 revisited

Tony Simmons leads (Mark Shearman)

Capes achieved one of the finest results by a British putter as though he only threw 20.21m behind Hartmut Briesnick’s 20.50m, he beat Olympic champion Władysław Komar and future Olympic champion Udo Beyer, double Olympic medallist Aleksandr Baryshnikov and multi European indoor champion Reijo Ståhlberg.

Rome's memorable European Champs of 1974 revisited

David Jenkins wins for Britain with Alan Pascoe on the infield (Mark Shearman)

Away from a British perspective, the were three world records.

Rosemary Witchas set a new mark in the high jump with a 1.95m leap. Just 1.75m tall, she cleared her winning height with her third attempt having had to endure a deafening chorus of whistles throughout the competition as the home crowd hoped to put off all rivals of their future Olympic champion Sara Simeoni who ended up third.

Ruth Fuchs added a metre to her javelin mark when her 67.22m gave her a whopping five metre victory while East Germany ran 42.51 in the 4x100m relay.

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Double Olympic champion Renate Stecher was in their team but individually she was outshone by Irena Szewinska.

The pole and all-time great ran a 11.13/22.51 championships bests sprint double and also won a 4x100m medal but many think her best performance was an unavailing 48.5 final leg in the 4x400m when at the start of the season no one had ever broken 51 seconds off the blocks. Her 200m time was also run into a huge headwind.

Rome's memorable European Champs of 1974 revisited

Annelie Ehrhardt (Mark Shearman)

Underlining the quality, other current or past Olympic champions to succeed were Valeriy Borzov at 100m (10.27), triple jumper Viktor Saneyev (17.23m), walkers Vladimir Golubnichiy (1:29:30.0) and Christoph Höhne (3:59:05.6), hurdler Annelie Ehrhardt (12.66) and shot putter Nadezhda Chizhova (20.78m) and discus thrower Faina Melnik (69.00m).

Such was the standard, 1972 Olympic winners such as high jumper Ulrike Meyfarth and javelin thrower Klaus Wolfermann failed to win a medal.

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