Baku 2015: On the Road to Rio

With the European Games coming to a close there is plenty to cheer for Team GB. And, with Rio on the horizon, we take a look at some of the athletes that will be hoping to use their experiences in Baku as a springboard for success in Brazil.

Nicola Adams once again showed that she will be the woman to beat in Rio after she powered her way to gold in Baku.

Adams is never far from the etching a new chapter in the history books and she did it again by defeating Sandra Drabik to become the first women’s flyweight European Games champion.

The 32-year-old was in scintillating form in Azerbaijan and will be an imposing figure in the Rio ring for anyone that comes up against the Olympic champion.

“I’m European Games Champion and I’m bringing back a little piece of history to Great Britain. Now it’s onto the qualifiers for Rio,” she said.

While Amber Hill’s gold secured her Rio berth, teammate Elena Allen had already sealed her spot after she took world silver in 2014.

That silver was Allen’s second individual world medal and added to the team gold she won with Hill in Granada.

Allen had a tougher time of things in Baku after she shot 67 in the qualifiers and missed out on  a spot in the finals.

But the 42-year-old has been there and done it all before having been part of Team GB in London 2012 and will be looking to repeat her World Championships form when she makes the trip to Rio next summer.

Lani Belcher missed out London 2012 but will be looking to make her mark in Rio after she took 5000m K1 silver in Baku.

No one in the field could get close to gold medallist Maryna Litvinchuk who clocked 22:48.990 on her way to victory.

But Belcher was the best of the rest as she finished in 23:05.625 to hold off the challenge of Hungary’s Renata Csay.

There was no medal for Paul Drinkhall in Azerbaijan but the 25-year-old produced some brilliant performances against some of the best in Europe.

Drinkhall represented Team GB at the Olympics in 2012 but has developed his game since then and a 4-2 defeat to number one seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov in Baku shows that he is capable of holding his own against the best around.

A 4-2 defeat in the bronze medal match ultimately denied Drinkhall but he is optimistic as he charts his course to Rio.

“My game is definitely up there when I play my best and I’ve felt my game has got a lot better over the last couple of years,” he said.

“I’ve got a few more months before Rio and hopefully I can get there and do some damage.”

For Kat Driscoll an individual medal in Baku ranks up there with the best achievements of her career and could serve as the catalyst for future success.

Driscoll has four World Championships medals to her name but none in the individual discipline.

In Baku she scored 53.910 to take silver ahead of Belarus’ Hanna Harchonak but couldn’t find enough in the locker to dislodge Russia’s Yana Pavlova from top spot.

However, an individual medal is a great sign for Driscoll ahead of a busy year that will see her compete in the World Championships in Denmark before turning her attentions to Rio.

Amber Hill secured qualification for Rio in the most astonishing of circumstances after she saw off the challenge of Italy’s Diana Bacosi in dramatic fashion to clinch European Games gold.

The 17-year-old showed that she will have no problem handling the pressure in Rio as she matched the more experienced Bacosi stride for stride before clinching victory in a shoot off.

The Italian came into the competition was world number one but Hill showed that she has no trouble going to toe to toe with the best in the business.

Hill has a world gold to her name after the women’s skeet finished top of the pile at last year’s World Championships and the task now is to carry her stunning rise onto Brazil next summer.

Jade Jones is slowly ticking off everything a taekwondo player could hope to achieve off her list.

The Olympic champion didn’t manage to take World Championship glory earlier this year but she did finally achieve victory over long-term rival Eva Calvo Gomez and took gold in Baku.

It was far-from plain sailing for Jones who didn’t perform to her best in Azerbaijan and had to battle through some tricky encounters.

But in the end gold was waiting and, still just 22, Jones has everything at her disposal to become a double Olympic champion next year.

When it comes to sheer punching power nothing comes close to a super heavyweight boxer and Joe Joyce showed he has plenty in the tank as he boxed his was to European Games gold.

Joyce stopped Alexei Zavatin with a first-round knockout in his round of 16 bout before forcing the referee to step in and call time on Mantas Valavicius’ competition after he put on a power-punching clinic.

Gold seemed inevitable and Joyce duly delivered with a 3-0 victory over Russia’s Gasan Gimbatov.

The omens are good for the 29-year-old as he builds up to Rio and the Brit has every chance of adding Olympic gold to his European Games medal.

Ed Ling secured his quota place for Rio 2016 in September last year when he took men’s trap silver from the World Championships in Granada.

There were no medals for Ling in Baku however after he missed out on third to Giovanni Pellielo – the Italian edging Ling 13-11 in the bronze medal match.

Ling however was content with his showing and is sure to have plenty more to offer when Rio rolls around.

“I’d have taken a spot in the final any day. To get there is a tough thing in itself,” he said.

There won’t have been many in Baku with more Olympic experience than 31-year-old fencer Richard Kruse.

The men’s foil athlete is a three-time Olympian, having made his debut in Athens 2004, but a medal on the biggest stage has so far evaded Kruse.

However, after taking team foil gold alongside Marcus Mepstead, Alex Tofalides and Ben Peggs, Britain could be in with a shout in Rio.

For Kruse it would be the crescendo of a long career and he is sure that the team’s unity could get them over the line.

Kruse said: “I knew we were capable of it we showed some real will power to come together and showed the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Olympic champion Ed McKeever knows there is plenty to work on ahead of this year’s World championships.

McKeever took bronze in the men’s K1 200m behind Petter Menning of Sweden and Hungary’s Miklos Dudas.

But McKeever admitted that bronze wasn’t what he had come to Baku for and will look at how to improve ahead of a busy 12 months.

“I’m very happy with my form over the weekend and looking forward to going home and getting some work done over the next eight weeks looking forward to the World Championships,” he said.

Preparations were far-from ideal for Lutalo Muhammad ahead of the European Games but the 24-year-old was still able to fight his way to bronze.

Muhammad had knee surgery five weeks prior to Baku but recovered in time to compete and won 12-7 against Italy’s Roberto Botta to take silver.

The victory is a crucial one for Muhammad with competition set to be fierce for a spot on the squad for Rio 2016.

But in current form he looks like he has the tools to make it and potentially bring home a medal for Britain.

Britain’s judokas didn’t have the best of times in Baku but Natalie Powell fought her way to within a whisker of bronze.

In the end it was just out of her grasp as she lost out to Slovenia’s Anamari Klementina Velensek.

But she was delighted with her performance and believes it is a sure sign that she is heading in the right direction.

“I’m really pleased and this is my best result at the Europeans but I was just that close to a medal,” she said.

© Sportsbeat 2015