Barcelona: Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium finally came alive on day four of the European championships when Arturo Casado, Marta Dominguez and Manuel Olmedo claimed Spain’s first three medals.
Crowds had been relatively sparse on the Montjuic hill in the Catalan capital but Friday’s turnout of more than 35,000 in the 55,000-capacity arena was much more impressive and the noise levels rose accordingly.
Dominguez failed in her bid to add the European steeplechase crown to her world title, but still drew some of the loudest cheers of the week in taking silver.
The wiry 34-year-old with the trademark pink headband and running shoes was unable to overhaul Russian Yuliya Zarudneva on the final straight despite the roars of encouragement.
Casado later sent the local fans, clad in the red and yellow of the Spanish flag, into fresh raptures on a warm Mediterranean evening when he stormed to gold in the 1,500 metres, compatriot Manuel Olmedo clinching bronze.
“I can’t believe it yet. I’m the European champion -- and at home!” a jubilant Casado told Spanish television.
“I couldn’t ask for more and not many things could be better than this,” he added.
“I just listened to the crowd and looked straight ahead. At no point did I want to look back.”
The 27-year-old from Madrid, a bronze medallist at the European indoor championships in 2007, looked astonished when he crossed the finish line in first place and stretched his arms wide before embracing his team mates.
He and Olmedo ran an emotional lap of honour carrying a huge flag in the Spanish colours as spectators chanted “ole ole ole” and “ar-tu-ro ar-tu-ro” before they began streaming away.
Russian Zarudneva, second behind Dominguez at the world championships in Berlin last year, set a championship record of 9:17.57 to take gold, with Dominguez running 9:17.74 and Lyubov Kharlamova, another Russian, well back in third (9:29.82).
After crossing herself at the start line, Dominguez quickly pulled away with Zarudneva from the rest of the field.
Many of the crowd were on their feet as the pair galloped around the final circuit of the light-blue track, but Dominguez fell back at the last water jump and was unable to close the gap on her rival before the line.
“I felt unique, running here has been an unforgettable experience,” Dominguez told a news conference. “I would have liked to win but for me this is like a victory.”
Spanish teenager Eusebio Caceres also got the crowd going earlier in the day when he set a junior European long jump record of 8.27 metres in qualifying for Sunday’s final.
“I didn’t come here to be a spectator,” the 18-year-old told reporters. “I gave it my all and fortunately it came off well.”