SPAR European Cup: 50 days to go
The brand new nine-lane Athletics Stadium of Malaga will allow an expanded number of countries to compete in the top flight of the world’s premier competition for national teams.
France, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Russia, Spain and the Ukraine will be represented in both the men’s and women’s events. Finland and Italy complete the men’s field, while Romania and Sweden will also have teams in the women’s competition, the latter making its debut in the Cup.
Although the final entry date for teams is still more than a month away, up to nine of last year’s individual world champions can be expected to wear their national colours in the Cup, which is returning to Spain for the second time, a decade after its capital Madrid was the host in 1996.
In Malaga, Germany will defend the men’s title they won for the second successive year in 2005, after another fierce contest with their neighbours and 2003 winners France.
Russia’s women will be looking to extend their winning streak into double figures and are bidding for their 10th crown, having been unbeaten since 1997.
The question will inevitably be asked, why stage this year’s SPAR European Cup on Wednesday and Thursday evenings rather than at the weekend.
“This is so that it does not clash with matches at the football World Cup and to allow us to maximise TV coverage and spectator interest in the event,” explained European Athletic Association President Hansjörg Wirz.
The Athletics Stadium of Malaga can seat nearly 11,000 spectators and the Cup will be shown on television across Europe so that athletics fans can share the experience of one of the most exciting and historic events in the sport. National broadcasters in 10 of the 11 competing countries have already signalled their intention to broadcast either live coverage or highlights of the event.
The European Cup was inaugurated in 1965 and, in addition to the thrills provided by the teams contesting the honour of being the best in Europe, a host of world and European records have been broken its 26 editions.
The list of European Cup Best Performances are a testament to the quality of the competition but the warm summer nights on Spain’s Costa del Sol, where Malaga is situated, mean that many of those marks could be under threat this year and many athletes could perform better than they have ever done before.
The SPAR European Cup also links directly to the two other big events this summer for European athletes.
France and Germany have already announced that any of their Cup winners, who have also achieved the qualifying mark, will be selected for the 2006 European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 7-13 August.
The top two nations in the Cup gain direct entry to the four-yearly IAAF World Cup later this summer in Athens, Greece, on 16-17 September. Russia were the overall women’s team winners in 2002 when the competition was held in Madrid.
One should also not forget that the rest of Europe will be competing in the European Cup First and Second Leagues being staged across the Continent on 17-18 June, hoping to climb the ladder which will see them gain promotion to the SPAR European Cup.
This year, coincidence sees these venues concentrated in Eastern and Southern Europe with the Czech Republic capital of Prague and the popular Greek coastal city of Thessaloniki staging the First League matches.
Banska Bystrika, Slovakia, and Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro, are the hosts for the Second League competitions.
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