Baku, June 20, AZERTAC
Austria, Slovakia and Israel are tipped to fight for Athletics gold at the Olympic Stadium on 21-22 June when 14 teams vie for national honours at the first European Games.
The Baku 2015 competition will incorporate the European Athletics Team Championships Third League, into which Austria and Slovakia were relegated from the Second League in 2014.
They will be favourites to bounce straight back in the annual points competition, while Israel finished third in this division and will have their eyes on a bronze medal at least.
Austria are fielding a strong line-up after finishing last in league two 12 months ago, although Gregor Hoegler, vice president of the Austrian athletics federation, admitted relegation has had an unforeseen benefit.
“Actually it’s nice to be here because it’s the first European Games and it’s an honour to be part of it,” he said.
Hoegler is also coach to Austria’s 34-year-old discus thrower Gerhard Mayer, a veteran of the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games, and one of five Olympians in Austria’s squad.
Slovakia’s strength lies with their women, not least the experienced Dana Veldakova, the national triple jump record holder and a past world and Olympic finalist. She is joined by identical twin sister Jana, a 2007 world championship long jump finalist.
Israel will look to European bronze medallist Donald Blair Sanford for big points in the 400m, and to Hanna Knyazyeva Minenko in the horizontal jumps. She finished fourth for Ukraine in the London 2012 triple jump.
The contest for the fourth promotion spot will be equally fierce, with Azerbaijan hoping to turn home-track advantage into team points.
European indoor 3000m champion Hayle Ibrahimov is going for a distance triple in the men’s 1500m, 3000m and 5000m, while all eyes will be on triple jumper Nazim Babayev on Monday evening. One of the faces of the Games, the 17-year-old won bronze at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
While team points are the primary aim, athletes will also have individual goals in mind, not least achieving qualifying marks for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this August and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.