By Mike Rowbottom

De Luca_July_8_July 7 - Riccardo De Luca laid down a strong Olympic marker in the last big modern pentathlon event before the London Games get underway as he made up a 10 seconds deficit in the final run/shoot to outpace two Hungarian rivals and earn the European title in the steamy heat of Sofia, Bulgaria.

The 26-year-old Italian (pictured above and below, right) used his outstanding speed to beat Hungarian pair Robert Kasza and Bence Demeter, who had to settle for silver and bronze respectively.

De Luca had started the day in fine fencing form, recording the highest score in his career, and was in a strong position given his outstanding running ability.

But he still had to hold his performances in the swim, ride and shooting together – and he admitted that he had felt the nerves before the run/shoot got underway.

"I am really happy, I still can't believe that I won," said De Luca.

"I know I am the best in the combined, but it is different when you start at the front.

"I get very nervous before the start, so my hand was shaking at my first shoot which did not help.

"However, I was confident I could overcome the 10 seconds [Kasza had a 10 second lead going into the combined].

"I will now go to the Olympic Games, where I will just try to do the best that I can."

De Luca_shoot_July_7_
Kazsa, the 2011 World Cup Final champion, had a good all round performance to win silver.

"This is a very good feeling," he said, "because a European medal is very important to motivate you before the Olympic Games.

"As I have had a very long season with injuries and training so now I have won a medal I think I am going the right way.

"Riccardo [De Luca] was simply too good today, it was his day and I had no chance come the final lap to catch him, he is too quick."

Demeter, a former world junior champion, earned his bronze by first overtaking Russia's world number three Ilia Frolov, who finished fifth, and then, over the final 100 metres, Valentin Prades of France.

"Today is a fantastic day," said Demeter.

"In the first two runs, I ran slowly to keep my power for my last lap which allowed me to overtake Ilia [Frolov] and Valentin [Prades]."

Frolov's fourth place combined with defending champion Andrei Moiseev's eighth place and the ninth place secured by world number one Aleksander Lesun ensured that the Russian men matched their countrywomen's team gold medal feat of the previous day.

Hungary won team silver, narrowly ahead of the Czech Republic.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
July 2012: Lithuania's Asadauskaite wins 2012 European modern pentathlon crown