Team Europe will be out to defend their IAAF Continental Cup title in the Czech city of Ostrava on Saturday and Sunday.
At the last edition in Marrakech four years ago, the European squad won by the substantial margin of 57.5 points from Team Americas and although the three other continental groupings of the Americas, Africa and a Asia-Pacific have named strong teams to travel to Ostrava, once again ‘The Old Continent’ is the favourite to take the honours.
No less than 24 recently crowned European champions will be in action, a team that is captained by the hurdles legend Colin Jackson, who won four consecutive European 110m hurdles titles between 1990 and 2002.
“The team this year includes many athletes who are familiar with the IAAF Continental Cup and its format – which we are proud to say took some of its innovations from the European Athletics Team Championships when this competition was relaunched in 2009, notably the idea of having a combined contest incorporating both genders – such as Sergey Shubenkov, Renaud Lavillenie, Dafne Schippers, Sifan Hassan, Mariya Lasitskene and Christina Schwanitz,” commented European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen.
Pole vaulter Lavillenie won in Marrakech with a dramatic third-time clearance at 5.80m to seal an unbeaten season in 2014.
This year, his record hasn’t been quite so flawless and perhaps his biggest rival will be wearing the same apparel. Russia’s Timur Morgunov, who is competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, beat the Frenchman in Berlin, finishing one place ahead of him when he joined the six-metre club to take the silver medal, and also in their two most recent encounters when Morgunov won competitions at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Zurich and Brussels.
Nevertheless Lavillenie, who arrived in Ostrava on Wednesday, is motivated to finish his season on a high note and take home the $30,000 first prize cheque for individual event winners.
“Like in 2014, it’s my last competition of the season so I want to do well. as well as helping Europe defend the title we won four years ago. I enjoyed that competition a lot and we don’t get many opportunities to compete for a continental team,” commented Lavillenie, who is certainly familiar with the City Stadium in Ostrava having won there at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in 2013 and 2014.
There will also be high hopes for Team Europe in the women's pole vault featuring Ekaterini Stefanidi from Greece, the reigning world, Olympic and European champion. Stefanidi has been named as one of the two Team Representatives alongside Lavillenie and she is relishing the team format at the Continental Cup.
"I'm really excited because we very rarely get to compete in the team environment. It's one of the things I loved about college that you competed for the team and for the points and I'm really excited," said Stefanidi. "Every time I see someone from my team, I chant 'Europe, Europe!' and I'm really excited to be here and it's a real honour to be one of the team representatives."
Ostrava will be the final competition of the year for many of Team Europe, including Turkey’s world and European 200m champion Ramil Guliyev. Consequently, it represents the last opportunity of 2018 for him to take down the long-standing European record of 19.72 for the sprint, a mark that has stood since 1979.
"It is the first Continental competition for me and it's a big competition. I hope there I can show a good result for the crowd and I can try for a European record again" @ramilguliyev17 #TeamEurope #IAAFOstrava2018 pic.twitter.com/j1oqKk8VRD— IAAF (@iaaforg) September 5, 2018
Guliyev went close in Berlin when he ran 19.76 for the second fastest time ever by a Europe and, in total, he has run under 20 seconds five times this season; most recently at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich last week.
Making her third appearance in the IAAF Continental Cup is Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic who, despite her many other accolades, has never won in the competition.
Having notched up a record fifth consecutive European title in Berlin, her unbeaten season came surprisingly to an end in Brussels last week, and the defeat has made her even more determined to get maximum points for Team Europe.
“The Continental Cup is even more meaningful now,” said Perkovic. “I didn’t throw well in Brussels and now I want to finish my season on a high note.
“I like the Continental Cup. I have a silver from the first one in Split in 2010, that was fun in front of a home crowd, and a third place from four years ago (in Marrakech) so now I want a gold to complete the collection,” she added.
Inevitably, some of the biggest cheers in the City Stadium – with the 15,000-capacity arena sold out for both days of the Cup – will go to the four Czech athletes competing for Team Europe and several of them have roots in Ostrava.
“I am looking forward to going to Ostrava, it will be the most beautiful end of a nice season. My family and friends will come, it will be nice,” said Berlin 2018 javelin silver medallist Nikola OgrodnÃkova, who trained as a young athlete in the stadium.
OgrodnÃkova earned her place in Team Europe by right after finishing second in the German capital, the icing on the cake after the season of her life in which she improved her personal best by more than three metres.
However, in Berlin there was little she could do to rein in Germany’s Christin Hussong, who threw a championship best of 67.90m and who will be her team mate in Ostrava.
The IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 also incorporates some innovative rules changes specifically for this competition such as in the 3000m and 3000m steeplechase when the athlete reaching the finish line in the last position after the third (with four laps to go), fourth (with three laps to go), fifth (with two laps to go) and sixth (with one lap to go) full lap, respectively, is eliminated; with only the remaining four athletes competing on the last lap.
Full details of these rules changes as well as links to a plethora of other information about the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 can be found here.