Ireland will be the resounding favourites to top the standings at the European Athletics Team Championships 3rd Division in Silesia from 20-22 June.
All three divisions of the European Athletics Team Championships will be part of the third edition of the European Games in Krakow-Malopolska from 20-25 June and streamed live through the European Athletics channel on the All-Athletics platform.
- Final entries here.
Unable to compete two years ago due to coronavirus complications, Ireland were automatically relegated into the lowest tier of the biennial championships but their sojourn in this division should be a brief one.
On the final entries, Irish athletes feature in the top three in 27 of the 34 individual events based on season’s best performances. Some of the standout names on their team include 2018 European bronze medallist Thomas Barr (400m hurdles), Sharlene Mawdsley (400m), Louise Shanahan (800m) and Sarah Lavin (100m hurdles) - all of whom are expected to collect maximum points in their respective events.
Israel Olatunde, who broke through last summer by reaching the European 100m final, will face a much tougher path to victory though. He comes up against high calibre opposition including world U20 200m champion Blessing Afrifah and 10.08 performer Markus Fuchs from fellow promotion hopefuls Israel and Austria respectively. This makes the 100m surely the highest quality event of the 3rd Division.
And making her Irish senior debut in Silesia next week is Sophie O’Sullivan, the daughter of legendary Irish distance runner Sonia O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, who chased Keely Hodgkinson home in the 800m final at the 2018 European Athletics U18 Championships, has made huge progress in the 1500m this year, improving her lifetime best all the way from 4:17.54 to 4:08.06. This makes her comfortably the fastest on paper ahead of Israel’s Sivan Auerbach whose lifetime best stands at 4:17.13.
And if she does win next week, she will also emulate Sonia who won the 1500m at the European Cup Second League three times between 1993-1995.
Gega to chase yet more history for Albania in Silesia
Luiza Gega became Albania’s first ever European champion in any discipline with gold in the 3000m steeplechase in Munich last summer and she has the opportunity to create even more history next week.
If Gega wins the 3000m steeplechase and 5000m, she will tie Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova-Collio as the most successful athlete in European Athletics Team Championships history with 11 victories and two runner-up finishes.
Gega is the fastest on paper by more than half-a-minute based on season’s bests in the 3000m steeplechase with 9:11.94 but she is likely to face a stern and thorough examination from Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, herself a European champion, in the 5000m.
Salpeter might be better known for her exploits in the marathon these days - as evidenced by her bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene last summer - but the Kenyan-born Israeli has a proven record on the track as well.
Salpeter won 10,000m gold at the 2018 European Athletics Championships as well as individual gold at the 2018 and 2019 European 10,000m Cup. She also has the faster lifetime best over 5000m at 14:59.02 to Gega’s best ever time which stands at 15:16.47.
Along with Ireland, Israel will have aspirations of ascending into the 2nd Division and maybe even challenging Ireland for the overall title. Another strong candidate for maximum points in their team is Tadesse Getahon in the men’s 5000m. He recently finished second at the European 10,000m Cup and led Israel to their first ever team title.
Austria, who also didn't compete two years ago, will also arrive with all of their leading athletes in tow in their bid for promotion and the overall victory in the 3rd Division.
Aside from Markus Fuchs who is targeting a 100/200m double, Olympic bronze medallist Lukas Weisshaidinger is one of their surefire bankers in the discus along with Victoria Hudson who has a season's best of 64.05m in the javelin. Susanne Gogl-Walli, who has broken the 51 second-barrier in the 400m this year, drops down to the 200m.
Other leading athletes who will be in action in the 3rd Division include two-time world 800m medallist Amel Tuka from Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2016 European hammer bronze medallist Hanna Skydan from Azerbaijan and European high jump silver medallist Marija Vukovic from Montenegro, an ever present at the European Athletics Team Championships since the first edition in 2009.
An honorary mention also goes to brothers Darko and Dragan Pesic from Montenegro. Better known as decathletes, Dragan has entered the 400m, 400m hurdles and high jump and Darko will compete in the 110m hurdles. Both athletes feature in the men's 4x100m and mixed 4x400m relay pools too.
The mixed 4x400m relay will be making its debut at the 2023 European Athletics Team Championships.
The top three teams in the 3rd Division will be promoted to the European Athletics Team Championships 2nd Division in 2025.
News and information for all three divisions of the Silesia 2023 European Athletics Team Championships can be found here.
Steven Mills for European Athletics