BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Athletics Championships, which were set to kick off in Berlin on Monday, will be the “strongest ever seen” and will help bring the “good times” back to an ailing sport, according to European Athletics president Svein-Arne Hansen.
The 24th edition of the 84-year-old event, which for the first time will come under the umbrella of the new multi-sport European Championships being co-hosted by Glasgow and Berlin, comes with the sport trying to emerge from a grim period.
Yet Hansen, the 72-year-old Norwegian who was the meet director at Oslo’s Bislett Games, said the Championships could help restore credibility to a sport disfigured by doping problems.
The event features seven reigning Olympic champions, 15 world champions and 34 victors from the last championships in Amsterdam two years ago.
“I think it’s the strongest championships we have ever seen,” Hansen said.
There will again be no Russian team in Berlin with their national federation still suspended from international competition over state-sponsored doping, even though the IAAF have said they have made “significant” improvement in key areas.
A group of 29 Russians will compete as ‘Authorised Neutral Athletes’ in Berlin after satisfying IAAF requirements.
“Athletics in the world is very much coming out of that dark period with Russia,” Hansen said.
“We don’t want the cheating. The Russian athletes who will be in competition in Berlin are clean.”
He believes that Berlin’s historic Olympic stadium that hosted a successful world championships in 2009 featuring Usain Bolt in his world record-breaking pomp now has the chance to showcase “new stars” and attractive plotlines.
Among them are the outlandish prospect of Norway’s three Ingebrigtsen brothers — 27-year-old Henrik, Filip (25) and Jakob (17) — sweeping the medals in the 1,500 metres.
There should be a sprint battle to relish in the women’s 100 metres between Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers, bidding for a third successive title, against Britain’s brilliant Dina Asher-Smith, the reigning 200m champion.
Norway’s world champion Karsten Warholm launches his 400m hurdles bid on Monday but will then also attempt the most unlikely double over the flat 400.
The men’s 100m could top the bill in the stadium where Jesse Owens and Bolt thrived, featuring a quartet who have dipped under 10 seconds this season — Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, France’s Jimmy Vicaut, Italy’s Filippo Tortu and Turkey’s Jak Ali Harvey.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Greg Stutchbury