Six Impressions of Day 1

1 Two medals for the hosts

The win in the 5000m race by Nadia Battocletti in the last race of the day was a fitting end to day one, particularly as the Italian athlete only took the lead in the final lap.  There had been a previous Italian victory by Antonella Palmisano, but in the women’s 20k race walk where only the final lap was in the stadium. I would like to tell you that the stadium erupted, but see point 2.

Italy gets the first medals, going gold and silver in the 20k RW, photo by European Athletics

2 Spectators

The day’s disappointment was the sparse crowd, made worse by the fact that they were spread around the cavernous 60,000-seat stadium. Rome is a great city, and the Stadio Olimpico is a great stadium. I understand the desire to move the event around the continent, but having it in an enormous but empty stadium cannot be the answer.

The sparse crowd in Stadio Olimpico, June 7, 2024, photo by Stuart J Weir

3 Heptathlon

Two things emerged from the heptathlon.  Firstly, Nafi Thiam looks like the athlete to beat in Paris as she took a clear lead at the end of day 1.  Sadly the injury-prone world champion, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, withdrew with a niggle.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the finest multi-eventer ever, with top 8 scores in the heptathlon, and Nafi Thiam, the #3 All-time, from 2022 World Championships in Eugene, photo by Jim Jennings

4 Irish eyes were smiling

Ireland pulled off an exciting win on the mixed relay with a team of Christopher O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr, and Sharlene Mawdsley, with Italy second and Netherlands third – Femke Bol on leg four could not take the Netherlands to gold this time.

Ireland takes gold, photo by European Athletics

5 Where does the mixed relay fit?

The bigger question is what to do with the mixed relay. It is an exciting event, but where does it fit in the program? If it is on day 1—like here—there is the question for the athletes with aspirations for an individual medal. Do they risk weakening their challenge for an individual medal by putting an additional race in their legs? Britain came fifth but could have challenged for a medal had they picked their strongest team. The GB quartet were athletes not running in the individual.

6 Drama

Finally, this column likes a bit of drama and controversy.  In the morning, Klaudia Wojtunik was DQed in the 100m hurdles for a false start.  But then, in the evening, she was allowed a rerun alone and qualified by 0.02 secs.  Sadly, there was no audible announcement, and many in the crowd may not have had a clue what was happening.