Events & Meetings

European Athletics returns to Rieti and its record-breaking track

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  • European Athletics returns to Rieti and its record-breaking track

The recent announcement that the 2026 European Athletics U18 Championships will be staged in the Italian town of Rieti raised plenty of eyebrows.

Not because of its location as such but because the stadium, and the current iteration of a track installed by the European Athletics Partner Mondo, has seen a plethora of records over the last four decades.

Eight world records since 1982 have been set on the track nestling in the hills about an hour by road to the north east of the country’s capital Rieti.

The record breaking started on the 16 September 1982 when Romania’s Maricica Puica – having won the world cross country title earlier in the year but having to settle for second place over 3000m at the European Athletics Championships just a few weeks previously – gained some revenge for her defeat in Athens by setting a world record for the mile in 4:17.44.

However, what really brought Rieti and its Mondo track to global attention – with the greatest respect to Puica, even though the women’s mile was an official record distance it was rarely contested on the international circuit in this era – was Steve Ovett’s feat the following September when the Briton took almost half-a-second off the 1500m world record with a time over 3:30.77.

Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian in 2007, another 1500m world record break Steve Cram asked the question, “Why is a small town in Italy such a mecca for world records?

“In 1983 Steve Ovett was invited to compete at the track at the end of a troubled season and in the twilight of a glittering career. He stunned the crowd and the athletics world by breaking the record for 1500m when most thought those days were over for him,” reflected Cram.

“…Was it the 1300ft elevation that somehow is optimal for distance running? What about the track surface? Maybe the September timing was ideal for those whose seasons had come together at a late stage? Then there were the less reasoned theories which usually involved Italian food, religious intervention, the weather or the orientation of the track to the sun,” he added.

Two world records in successive seasons at the same international meeting in Rieti by two of the top European athletes of that era heralded another eight world records on the track, mainly middle-distance marks but also one in the 100m.

In 2012, the latest Mondo track was installed at what is now called the Stadio Raul Guidobaldi, a World Athletics Certified Facility, using the Mondotrack product.

Mondotrack was the same track used for the athletics competitions at the London 2012 Olympic Games and a forerunner to the Mondotrack WS products installed for the last two Olympic Games in Rio and Tokyo.

Following its installation, Rieti staged a memorable 2013 European Athletics U20 Championships which provided the stage for a many future stars of the sport to shine, in no small part due to having what was then one of the most technologically advanced tracks in the world to compete on.

The notable winners at that edition eight years ago included Germany’s Malaika Mihambo and Belgium’s Nafi Thiam, who this past summer took gold medals in the long jump and heptathlon respectively at the Olympic Games.

It would be no surprise if winners at the 2026 European Athletics U18 Championships were to climb the podium at the 2032 Olympic Games or at one of the subsequent editions.

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