Charlie Dobson wins 400m silver at European Championships in huge boost to Olympic medal hopes

Charlie Dobson celebrates finishing second in the men's 400m final
Charlie Dobson celebrates finishing second in the men's 400m final - Reuters/Manon Cruz

It is only four years since Charlie Dobson ran his first competitive 400 metre race and barely 12 months since he was departing university with a first-class degree in aeronautical engineering. Now he is leaving Rome with a European Championship silver medal and is set for a first Olympic Games in Paris next month where he could yet contend for medals.

On what was a more disappointing night for Britain’s world champion pole vaulter Molly Caudery, who took bronze, Dobson lowered his personal best to 44.38sec to go fifth on the British all-time list and among the 10 fastest in the world this year.

It also took a championship record from Belgium’s Alexander Doom to beat him, with both men inside Iwan Thomas’s 44.52sec mark that was set more than a quarter of a century ago in 1998.

It was Thomas who predicted two years ago that the 24-year-old – a runner he called “the ginger ninja, the 200m boy” – had the potential to become a world beater over the longest of all sprint distances.

Dobson himself would require some convincing, and he was still mixing only occasional 400m outings with running indoors over 60m as recently as last year. His focus has narrowed this Olympic season however and, with three 400m runs already now under 45sec, recent results suggest that a rare talent has indeed been unlocked.

With team-mate Matthew Hudson-Smith not racing in Rome following his European record 44.07sec in Oslo last month, the emergence of Dobson also represents a major boost to Britain’s 4x400m Olympic relay team.

Dobson, whose university dissertation was on the finite element analysis of a gas turbine engine, demonstrated maturity in his pacing to improve from third to second and briefly even threaten the more experienced Doom in the finishing straight.

“I’m over the moon, I couldn’t be happier – I think I executed the race perfectly, exactly how me and my coach wanted to,” said Dobson. “I’ve always had a very kind of engineering mindset towards things. When I first moved to Loughborough I hadn’t dreamed of doing the 400.

“People convinced me to give it a try – I did in 2020, during the Covid year as there were no major championships, and I ran pretty well. Everyone wants to be an Olympian at some point in their lives. I don’t think I realised I could until a couple of years ago.”

Caudery takes pole vault bronze

Already the only Briton to win a world pole vault title, Caudery had earlier been favourite to continue her history-making 2024 by also becoming the first British woman to win a major outdoor title in the event.

The big danger was expected to be Finland’s Wilma Murto but the defending champion unexpectedly went out at 4.58m, leaving the former Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi and Switzerland’s Angelica Moser to contest the medals with Caudery.

Having needed two vaults to clear both 4.68m and 4.73m, Caudery opted to raise the bar to 4.83m for her final two attempts of the competition. A clearance would have meant leapfrogging both rivals for gold but, with only Moser clearing 4.78m, Caudery missed agonisingly on her final attempt when just her elbow brushed the bar.

It left Caudery 13cm short of her world-leading best this year and feeling decidedly mixed emotions in trying to compute how expectations – principally her own – have so shifted.

Molly Caudery
Molly Caudery makes a successful jump during the women's pole vault final. - Getty Images/Michael Steele

“I don’t think you should ever be disappointed with a medal – but 4.73m is not really the shape I was in,” she said. “Last year, if I told myself I would get a bronze medal at the European Championships, I would have been over the moon. I’ve got these new expectations of myself and I think other people do as well. But I don’t think I should be too disappointed.

“You make your own luck, but my last attempt was so close. It’s not really the one that matters this year. I learnt a lot and that’s important. It’s more fire in the belly. The medal will still be up on my little shrine. It may not be the very centre - but it will still be up there.”

Eilish McColgan, meanwhile, will return for her first 10,000m race in more than a year on Tuesday following what she calls a really “s--- year” of family tragedy and injury.

She had been in the best form of her life approaching the 2023 London Marathon, recording times over both 10,000m and the half-marathon that were among the top 10 in the world last year.

A knee injury, however, would destroy the rest of her season. “There’s a lot of nerves – I feel maybe a little bit vulnerable,” she said. “I’m just very aware, I only have until the end of June to show that fitness and forum [for the Olympics].”

McColgan’s mum and coach Liz will be in Rome to offer her support following the loss of her husband, John Nuttall, last year and then her mother last month. McColgan will be wearing a bracelet in Tuesday’s race in memory of her late grandmother Betty Lynch.