History beckons France in Lille Métropole this weekend (23-25) as the hosts seek their first European Athletics Team Championship title - and their world pole vault record holder Renaud Lavillenie is looking forward to the chance of throwing team-mate Jessica Cerival into the water pit once again.
Lavillenie, targeting a sixth win in his seventh appearance at an event that debuted in 2009, fondly recalls lofting Cerival into the water after the French team made the podium at the last edition in Russia two years ago.
The shot putter could be heading the same way in the Stadium Metropole Europeanee de Lille on Sunday night as France have not only strong chances of reaching the podium again but this time going to the very top to become the third consecutive hosts after Germany and Russia to win the title.
Eleven countries will compete in the seventh edition of these Championships, which succeeded the former European Cup in 2009.
This year sees another innovation as the Championships will begin on Friday afternoon with the first day’s programme made up of heats in the sprints and hurdles with the top eight finishers qualifying for a straight final later in the weekend.
Sadly the hosts will be missing their dynamic sprinters Jimmy Vicaut and Christophe Lemaitre, who have both suffered injuries in the last week, but they can call upon athletes of huge experience and achievement such as Lavillenie, world and Olympic discus silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon and double Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad.
The latter will be attempting a 3000m steeplechase/1500m double, although the second part of that looks suddenly more challenging given the inspiring victory in Oslo achieved by Great Britain’s 22-year-old Jake Wightman.
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Poland, top of the medals table at the most recent outdoor and indoor versions of the European Championship are also keen to earn a first overall win and their team includes Anita Wlodarczyk and Pawel Fajdek in the hammer, who should be bankers for 12 points apiece after unbeaten season’s so far; Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski in the 800m and 1500m respectively.
There are some mighty field event match-ups between Polish and German throwers as Poland’s reigning world and European discus champion Piotr Malachowski faces London 2012 Olympic Games gold medallist Robert Harting, while 20-year-old 2017 European indoor champion Konrad Bukowiecki meets two-time former world champion David Storl.
Germany, hoping to regain a title won at home in Braunschweig in 2014, can also call upon Olympic javelin champion and 2017 world-leader Thomas Röhler, already deep into 90-metre territory this season, who faces Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, eighth in Rio, and newcomer Ioannis Kiriazis from Greece, who has thrown 88.01m this season.
Greece also boast Olympic and European champion Ekaterini Stefanidi in the pole vault.
Great Britain, meanwhile, has chosen a team combining experienced performers such as 2016 Olympic hammer bronze medallist Sophie Hitchon, last summer’s European long jump silver medallist Jazmin Sawyers and European 2014 100m bronze medallist Harry Aikines-Aryeetey.
Also included in the British team are near full-strength relay squads, which include Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallists from both the 4x100m (Asha Philip, Desiree Henry and Darryll Neita) and 4x400m (Emily Diamond, Anyika Onoura and Eilidh Doyle).
Belarus have world champion Marina Arzamasava in the 800m and European javelin champion Tatsiana Khaladovich in a competition also involving the Czech Republic’s world record-holder Barbora Spotakova.
Italy will be captained by evergreen triple jumper Fabrizio Donato, 41 in August, who tops the European lists with his magnificent 17.32m effort earlier this month, having earned a European indoor silver in Belgrade in March.
It’s an astonishing story of perseverance from an athlete who first came to international notice by winning the Mediterranean Games in 2001 and whose outdoor best of 17.60m was set the year before.
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Donato won this event in 2015. This time around, his most obvious rivals are Greece’s Dimitrios Tsiamis, who has a personal best of 17.55m although he has only reached 16.87m this season, and Germany’s 2016 European Athletics Rising Star of the Year Max Hess, who has reached 17.02m this year.
If the Italian veteran can come out on top, it will be another moment of triple-jumping history in a stadium that witnessed the longest triple jump in history during the 1995 European Cup – the precursor to these Team Championships.
Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards, who would earn the world title later that summer with two successive world records, the second of which, 18.29m, still stands, reached out to 18.43, only to see the effort disallowed for record purposes because of a following wind of +2.4mps, narrowly over the admissible limit of 2.0mps.
Beyond the wind gauge stats, personal bests and records however lies the essence of this competition, a team event, where every point is precious and equally valuable.
Lavillenie has another fond memory of the last edition of these championships, where he was required to clear 5.75m and 5.80m on his third and final attempts. What gave him the inspiration to do so, he recalls, was the presence of 10 of his team-mates around the competing area. “I felt like I couldn’t miss” he said.
It is this interdependence that lies at the heart of the competitive format set in motion by the late Bruno Zauli, from Italy, the founder of the European Cup which came into being in 1965.