We may be living in uncertain times, but this much we know: the jumps and vaults at the Torun 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships are going to be extra special.
European athletes currently lead the 2021 world list in six of the eight events involved – with women heading the way in pole vault, long jump, triple jump and high jump standings, and men topping the list in the pole vault and high jump, as well as occupying second place in the triple jump.
That is one measure of the current level of continental excellence prevailing in these disciplines but what promises to be unmissable once the action gets underway in the Arena Toruń on Thursday (4) evening is the human drama that will be involved as some of the world’s highest achieving performers converge.
And nowhere - surely - will it be more compelling than in the men’s pole vault where the old master Renaud Lavillenie has soared back into competitive life this year, reaching heights not achieved since 2014, the year in which he broke Sergey Bubka’s long-standing world record of 6.15m by a centimetre.
That record was raised to 6.17m, then 6.18m by the then 20-year-old Armand Duplantis, the 2018 European champion, last February before the coronavirus pandemic began to bring the world into lockdown.
Fast forward to 29 January 2021 and the first World Athletics Indoor Tour gold meeting of the season in Karlsruhe. Bolstered by matching his best ever season-opener with a 5.92m clearance in Bordeaux, the 34-year-old Lavillenie won the event with three insouciant first-time clearances - 5.62m, 5.80m and then 5.88m - before rounding off his evening with a first-time success at 5.95m that topped the 2021 world list. Gauntlet down.
Two days later in Dusseldorf, Duplantis - being Duplantis - usurped Lavillenie with 6.01m on his season’s debut which was incidentally where he also made his season's debut in 2020.
But the new lead lasted only a few hours as Lavillenie responded at a meeting in Tourcoing, snaking his way over the cross-bar at 6.02m. It was his first 6.00m clearance since 2016, and there was no mistaking the surge of sheer, raw satisfaction it produced.
Duplantis responded in turn, returning himself to the top of the class with a 6.03m clearance in Rouen and on 24 February in Belgrade he went over at 6.10m, denoting a clean bill of health after a tight injury forced him to retire from Lievin and withdraw from the Copernicus Cup in Torun where he broke the world record for the first time last February.
Three days after Duplantis embellished his world lead, Lavillenie responded again with a third-time 6.06m clearance at home in Clermont-Ferrand, roaring with satisfaction as he fell to earth, before attempting a world record of 6.20m.
This is still one of the great rivalries in athletics although home vaulter Piotr Lisek, who has cleared 5.80m this year, will be striving to become part of the story in a competition in which he has already won gold, silver and bronze medals. Likewise, reigning champion and event ambassador Pawel Wojciechowski will aspire to reach the podium again on home soil.
The women’s long jump also promises riches to come for virtual spectators all over the world.
On 20 February Italy’s Larissa Iapichino, 18, produced an electrifying and exuberant effort at the Italian Indoor Championships in Ancona, displacing the world indoor U20 record held by Heike Drechsler and setting a world leading mark of 6.91m.
Iapichino - the daughter of Fiona May who won two Olympic silver medals and two world titles and Gianni Iapichino, who was second in the pole vault at the 1991 European Cup - won the European U20 title in 2019. Could she add a senior title to her title haul in her final season in the junior ranks and could she even secure sole ownership of the Italian indoor record after matching May's mark in Ancona?
If so, she will have to overcome a huge array of European long jumping talent. Also on the start list are four hugely experienced performers who are only slightly adrift of Iapichino’s best mark.
Starting from the top: Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia, a 6.92m jumper who has reached 6.82m this year; Germany’s world and European champion Malaika Mihambo, whose best of 7.30m puts her 12th on the world all-time list; Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova of Belarus, who jumped 6.93m to take silver in Glasgow two years ago; and Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, the European and world silver medallist, who has a best of 6.70m so far this year.
The field would have been further bolstered had Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic not been prevented from seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive title by a hamstring injury sustained in her last technical session before Torun.
The competition will be equally strong in the men’s high jump where in the same arena on 17 February, Maksim Nedasekau of Belarus, Andriy Protsenko of Ukraine and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi all bettered the 2021 world lead with a 2.34m clearance.
Four days later Tamberi, who will defend his title in Torun, took the overall 2021 world lead outright with a clearance of 2.35m in Ancona - his best clearance since that awful evening in Monaco just before the 2016 Olympics when he suffered a potentially career threatening ankle injury when attempting 2.41m.
Nedasekau and Tamberi will cross paths again in the Arena Torun in the qualifying rounds on Thursday evening although Protsenko, who cleared 2.40m in 2014, is a late withdrawal due to a back injury.
The women’s high jump will also be a compelling affair given the presence of the prodigious 19-year-old world silver medallist Yaroslava Mahuchikh from Ukraine whose 2.06m clearance in Banska Bystrica on 2 February established her at joint third on the all-time indoor list.
Her closest challenger is likely to be her compatriot Yuliya Levchenko, a comparative veteran at 23. Levchenko will be looking to deny Mahuchikh by completing the full set of European indoor medals after bronze in 2017 and then silver in 2019.
Also in the mix will be Great Britain’s Morgan Lake, who cleared 1.96m in Belgrade on 24 February, and Italy’s Alessia Trost, a 2.00m jumper who has cleared 1.94m this season.
Reigning European indoor champions Miltiadis Tentoglou and Paraskevi Papahristou will be defending their long jump and triple jump titles for Greece and in the absence of Olympic champion Ekaterini Stefanidi and reigning champion Anzhelika Sidorova, Great Britain's Holly Bradshaw will be looking to vault to her second European indoor title after triumphing in Gothenburg in 2013.