Baku, June 16, AZERTAC
Athletics takes on an unusual format at the inaugural European Games, where national rather than individual honours will be up for grabs in Baku’s Olympic Stadium on 21-22 June.
Normally regarded as an individual sport, with medals at Olympic Games and other major championships to be won in each event, Athletics in Baku is a two-day team competition with just one gold medal on offer for the winning nation.
Known as the European Athletics Team Championships Third League, this is the fourth tier of a continent-wide competition for all European nations, split into four divisions headed by the Super League which contains such European Athletics powerhouses as Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain and Spain. All divisions take place over the same two days.
The 40-event contest in Baku will feature 14 countries vying for four promotion places, with Azerbaijan relishing their chance of gaining a spot in the Second League for the first time.
According to Maharram Sultanzade, formerly head coach of Azerbaijan Athletics and now competition manager for the sport at Baku 2015, his nation’s hopes are not misplaced.
"It will be a struggle but they could finish anywhere between third and fifth so that gives them a fighting chance," he said. "Last year they were fifth, and it is a stronger team now. But in sport, of course, you never know until the competition."
Sultanzade picked out teenage triple jump star Nazim Babayev and European indoor 3000m champion Hayle Ibrahimov as two athletes the host nation will look to for maximum points.
Babayev earned fame in 2014 when he became the first athlete competing for Azerbaijan to win an Olympic medal, claiming bronze at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.
Ibrahimov chased Britain’s perennial double-winner Mo Farah to the line to take 5000m silver at the 2014 European Championships before grabbing gold himself over 3000m at the 2015 European Indoor Championships in Prague.
With 14 points awarded to a winning athlete’s country, the Ethiopian-born Ibrahimov is aiming to bag 28 for his adopted nation as he goes for a 3000m/5000m double.
However, the performance of every athlete will be crucial to his or her country’s overall score as points are awarded in a descending scale for every finishing position from 14 for first to one for last. Only an athlete who fails to register a valid performance will not score.
The team with the most points after all 40 events will win gold, and in Athletics even the nation in fourth place will earn a prize.