Reigning Olympic and world discus champion Daniel Stahl from Sweden will be one of the star attractions on show at the European Throwing Cup in Leiria, Portugal on 12-13 March.
The yearly competition returns to its traditional mid-March slot after the coronavirus pandemic forced the event to be moved to May last year due to ongoing restrictions. Leiria will already be a familiar venue to most throwers and the Portuguese city will also stage the 2023 and 2024 editions of the event.
Stahl crested a winning streak of 17 competitions last year - which included victories at the Olympic Games and Diamond League finals - but the 29-year-old isn’t guaranteed a comfortable passage on his season’s opener. Among others, the line-up includes his training partner and Olympic silver medallist Simon Pettersson who is also the last thrower to defeat Stahl.
Their Icelandic coach Vesteinn Hafsteinsson isn’t making any predictions in terms of specific distances he expects from them - the weather forecast is also such that this might not be a weekend for massive distances - but he is “expectant” ahead of their entry into the 2022 season.
"I am positive and expectant. Their training has gone well during the winter, and they can throw far," he said in an interview with Svensk Friidrott ahead of the event.
But the biggest challenge to Stahl should come from Kristjan Ceh, the bespectacled six-foot-eight Slovenian who is the newest member of the lucrative 70 metre-club.
Ceh extended his European U23 record to 70.35m last summer in Kuortane, Finland in a competition where Stahl took the victory with 70.55m, one of only a handful of occasions where two athletes have broken the 70 metres in the same competition.
In terms of recent form, Stahl and Ceh are evenly matched. Stahl threw 67.62m in an indoor discus competition which was staged in conjunction with the Swedish Indoor Championships - although it was reported Stahl had a no-throw measured at a would-be world indoor best of 71.60m - while Ceh opened his season with a mark of 67.27m at the Slovenian Winter Throwing Championships.
The line-up also includes Stahl’s predecessor as Olympic champion Christoph Harting from Germany, who is looking to rebuild his career ahead of the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, and Romania’s world fourth-placer Alin Alexandru Firfirica.
Another Olympic medallist in action this weekend will be Eivind Henriksen from Norway, the silver medallist from Tokyo in the hammer. The Norwegian won the ‘B’ competition when Leiria last staged the European Throwing Cup in 2018 but he should contend for victory in the showcase event, especially in the absence of Poles Wojciech Nowicki and Pawel Fajdek.
Henriksen’s main rival should be Hungary’s Bence Halasz and the Greek duo of Christos Frantzeskakis and Michail Anastaskis, both of whom have already surpassed the 77 metre-line this year.
Another highlight will be the men’s shot put featuring the Italian pair of Nick Ponzio and Zane Weir - both of whom have broken the 21 metre-barrier during the indoor season - and Norway’s Marcus Thomsen.
The men’s shot put could offer the best chance of Portuguese success on the men’s side with Francisco Belo and Tsanko Arnaudov due to compete. Both athletes have broken the 21 metre-barrier in their careers and have season’s bests of 20.64m and 20.31m respectively.
With Johannes Vetter from Germany absent from the javelin, this opens up the competition to the likes of Turkey’s Emin Oncel and Spain’s Manu Quijera, the only two athletes to have surpassed the 80 metre-line this year with season’s bests of 81.20m and 80.88m respectively.
Leandro Ramos has thrown even further this year with 82.22m but the Portuguese thrower, 21, has opted for the U23 division before graduating into the senior ranks next year.
There will also be significant interest in the performance of the precocious Ukrainian hammer thrower Myhaylo Kokhan, one of six Ukrainian athletes who were added to the entry-lists earlier this week.
Kokhan was a brilliant fourth at the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 20 but the Ukrainian has chosen to contest the U23 ranks on his season’s debut. Now 21, Kokhan has won European titles at U18, U20 and U23 level and also won the U23 category at the European Throwing Cup in 2019 when he was only 18.