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Minenko leads newly promoted Israel’s hopes in Tel Aviv

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As Tel Aviv stages the European Athletics Team Championships for the first time this weekend, their hosting of the Second League will bring together 12 nations sprinkled with some outstanding individual stars.

Among the favourites in their respective events are Croatia’s Sara Kolak, Serbia’s Amela Terzic, Hungarians Anita Marton and Balazs Baji, Lithuania’s Andrius Gudzius as well as home favourite Hanna Minenko.

And for the Second League itself, it is all change since the last event in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria in 2015 when none of the participating countries were relegated in order to allow the revision of the championships to 12 nations in each division.

Since then, Minenko has developed into one of the best triple jumpers in the world, winning world silver later that year in Beijing and European silver in Amsterdam last summer. She will be looking to claim maximum points again in Tel Aviv on the road to this year’s World Championships in London.

Donald Blair-Sanford, the 2014 European 400m bronze medallist, and Noam Neeman, in the 3000m steeplechase, will also be among the big hopes for the hosts.

Israel are back in this division after finishing third in the Third League two years ago, when the competition was staged as part of the European Games in Baku where Slovakia, Austria and Moldova also gained promotion. They join Latvia and Lithuania - who were both relegated from the First League in 2015 - along with Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Iceland, Slovenia and Serbia.

One of the most anticipated events will be the women’s javelin.

Iceland’s Asdis Hjalmsdottir claimed victory with 60.06m two years ago but she will face Sara Kolak, the shock Rio 2016 Olympic Games champion last summer.

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Having won a European bronze medal last July, Kolak produced a national record of 66.18m in the Rio fourth round to claim the Olympic title just a few weeks later. She will step out at the weekend with the best throw in the field this year of 65.23m, followed by Slovenia’s Martina Ratej’s 64.52m and Hjalmsdottir’s 61.02m.

As she did in Stara Zagora, Amela Terzic will double up, only this time she is testing herself even more. In 2015, she secured a middle distance double, winning the 800m in a national record of 1:59.90, as well as the 1500m. This time she will compete in the 1500m and 3000m.

Hungary finished third two years ago, missing out on the second promotion spot by 13.5 points. They will be looking to bolster their promotion hopes by claiming the full 12 points in a number of events across the programme, including the women's shot put.

Olympic bronze medallist Anita Marton has a habit of producing her best performances when she is wearing the Hungarian vest, as she demonstrated in Belgrade this March when she retained her European indoor shot put title. She is the European-leader this year with 19.63m but she might not have it all her own way as Moldova’s Dimitriana Surdu is ranked third on the lists with 18.83m.

Marton is doubling up by also competing in the discus. She has a season’s best of 58.57m in an event where Serbia’s Dragana Tomasevic leads the Tel Aviv field with 61.57m.

Marton’s teammate Balazs Baji, who won European silver in Amsterdam and lowered his national record to 13.24 earlier this month, will be the man to beat in the 110m hurdles while Bence Halasz should be in the mix in the hammer.

World U20 champion in 2010 and European U23 champion in 2013, Lithuanian discus thrower Andrius Gudzius is having the best senior season of his life.

Twelfth at last year’s Olympics, Gudzius, 26, has led the European rankings since the start of the month with a personal best of 68.61m and he will be a key player as Lithuania chase an instant return to the European Athletics Team Championships First League.

He will go head-to-head with Austria’s Lukas Weisshaidinger, who was sixth in Rio and has thrown 66.52m this year.

Lithuania will also be looking for good points in the women’s 800m from sub-2:00 competitor Egle Balciunaite but Iceland’s former European junior champion Anita Hinriksdottir heads to Tel Aviv fresh from improving her national record to 2:00.05 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo last week.

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