Russia’s Ilia Molchanov and Nikita Nikolaev dominated the men’s synchronised three metre springboard to win gold by a clear margin on the seventh day of competition at the Baku European Games.
In an event where Russia has traditionally excelled, Molchanov and Nikolaev led from start to finish to eventually end up with a score of 326.8, 38.64 points ahead of second place finishers James Heatly and Ross Halsam of Great Britain who totaled 286.05 after five rounds of dives.
The Russian duo marked their dominance over the rest of the field in an event where their country has traditionally excelled, by scoring over 70 points in each of their final three dives, a feat only the British could match.
“We are very happy with that. Even if we had a big advantage, we still thought the athletes from the other countries were so good that we could never be sure of victory,” said Molchanov. “That’s why we kept fighting until the end.”
Nikolaev added: “This is a great result for me and for Russia. Beating teams like this is a high-quality result.”
Great Britain’s silver in this event gave Heatly his second medal of the Games after he took the bronze in the men’s one metre springboard the day before.
The victory for Russia, however, became a watershed moment a little while later after it emerged that the final at the European Games would be the last time Molchanov would pair up with Nicolaev.
Although Molchanov, the 18-year-old, would now go on to compete at senior level, Nicolaev, the 15-year-old, would remain a junior.
“No, they won’t be one of the great partnerships because Nikita is going to have to find a new partner now that Ilia is going to move on to the senior group,” said Molchanov’s coach Marina Nikolaeva.
“In the last year, they’ve won a major competition in Italy and now this one. This is the end for them – and it is a very good end.”
Elsewhere, Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov put the disappointment of defeat in the men’s team table tennis final behind him by winning gold in the individual event to become the first male qualifier of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
European champion Ovtcharov started poorly in the final, losing the first two games to Belarus’ Vladimir Samsonov, but quickly recovered to win all bar one of the remaining games to take the title 4-3.
“After winning the women’s team event, the German girls took their gold medal to the German House here in Baku, and I took a good look at the gold medal,” Ovtcharov told reporters.
“That provided me with some extra motivation.”
Meanwhile in the women’s acrobatic group all-round final, the Belgium team of Ineke van Schoor, Julie van Gelder and Kaat Dumarey won their first gold medal of the Games as they denied Russia a hat-trick of gymnastics victories at the Baku National Gymnastics Arena.
The Belgians’ tactics of erring on the side of caution in the last combined exercise to maintain the slim 0.192 lead over the Russians worked wonders as they finished with a total of 86.480 points compared to Russia’s 85.430 points and Belarus’ 84.610 points.
“We had a big lead after the first two exercises, but we were pretty nervous anyway,” van Gelder said.
“We were careful during our exercise. We took it slow, just focusing on the elements and we wanted to make sure that we had no big mistakes or falls today.”