After a disappointing opening day, the Israeli delegation to the European Athletics Championships had plenty to cheer about in Helsinki on Thursday.

Donald Sanford, Jillian Schwartz and Yochai Halevi all advanced to their respected finals, salvaging some of their sport’s lost pride in Israel.

The American-born Sanford, who received citizenship earlier this year after marrying an Israeli, progressed to the 400-meters final thanks to a superb finish, ending his semifinal in second place in 45.77 seconds, the fourth fastest time of the day.

“I didn’t start off well, but had an excellent finish,” Sanford said. “In the heats I started off too quickly and today I did the opposite so I’ll try to make some adjustments for Friday’s final because this is my chance to reach the Olympics.”

The 25-year-old, who has a personal best of 45.21s, needs to complete the course in 45.30s on Friday to qualify for the London Games, and he believes he can also win an historic medal for Israel in the process.

“Clearly I want to qualify for the Olympics, but winning a medal is even more important to me,” Sanford said. “I want to come back to Israel with a medal and I think I can even win a gold.

I want to win it for the country, which does so much for me, and for everyone who supports me and most importantly for my wife and daughter.”

The 32-year-old Schwartz, who as things currently stand will be Israel’s lone representative in the track and field events at the London Olympics, cut it close by only clearing 4.35 meters with her third and final attempt on Thursday.

However, she jumped 4.40m with her second try and progressed to the 12- woman final from 10th place.

“I had a good competition in difficult conditions,” said Schwartz, who will be representing Israel in a second major final on Saturday after receiving citizenship in 2009.

“I expected nothing less than to reach the final. I thought I’d have to clear 4.45m to make it, but the tough conditions caused some of my rivals to fail.”

Halevi qualified for Saturday’s triple jump final from sixth place after recording 16.67m, 10 centimeters below his personal best, with his first jump on Thursday.

“It’s a great relief to reach the final,” said Halevi.

Also Thursday, Anastasia Muchkaev finished 16th out of 18 in the women’s shot put qualifiers with 15.83m.

Meanwhile, Christophe Lemaitre of France defended his 100m title, clocking 10.09s in a chaotic final.

Lemaitre’s compatriot Jimmy Vicaut took the silver, with Norway’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure winning the bronze.

Only five of the eight finalists completed the race, with Simone Collio of Italy being disqualified with a false start, Ronalds Arajs of Latvia falling to the ground with an injury and Rytis Sakalauskas of Lithuania not getting out of the blocks properly.

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