Poland has emerged as a tour de force on the European stage over the last decade and the host nation will be aiming to top the medal table at the Toruń 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships for the third edition in succession from 4-7 March.
A mighty Polish team won seven gold medals in Belgrade 2017 before five gold medals sufficed for top spot in the standings in Glasgow 2019. And the strength in the Polish team was on display again later that year at the European Athletics Team Championships in Bydgoszcz - just 50 kilometres away from Toruń - where the Poles defeated the traditional athletics superpowers for their maiden title.
A key protagonist in those successes was their veteran middle distance runner Marcin Lewandowski who will be seeking to win his fourth successive European indoor title in the Arena Toruń.
The first day proper on Friday evening concludes with one of the expected highlights of the championships as Lewandowski and Jakob Ingebrigtsen are due to extend their rivalry in the 1500m final.
Lewandowski still has the distinction of being the only athlete to defeat the Norwegian wunderkind in a senior European final. The wily Pole covered Ingebrigtsen’s every move in the 1500m final in Glasgow two years ago before striking clear on the last lap to win one of Poland’s five gold medals.
And while Ingebrigtsen isn’t one for making excuses, the then 18-year-old could have been forgiven for feeling the effects of a heavy racing schedule in Glasgow. The 1500m final was his fourth race in less than three days in his attempt to capture an audacious 1500/3000m double.
The second chapter of their rivalry could play out in the 3000m with reigning champion Ingebrigtsen and Lewandowski among the entrants along with Jakob’s mercurial older brother Filip who has also registered for the 1500m. With the championships spread out across four days, the timetable is much more amenable for athletes with aspirations of contesting both events.
Lewandowski doesn’t have any discernible championship experience at the 3000m but the Pole is a former European indoor and outdoor 800m champion and his finishing speed remains a potent weapon even at the age of 33.
And if Lewandowski was to triumph in the longer event, he would be the first athlete in championship history - male or female - to have won European indoor titles at 800m, 1500m and 3000m.
The championships were poised to end on a similarly auspicious note for the hosts with the women's 60m final the last individual track event of the programme. Unfortunately reigning European indoor champion Ewa Swoboda, who recently clocked 7.10 to win the Polish indoor 60m title, is a late withdrawal from the championships after testing positive for coronavirus.
With Swoboda out and treble European champion Dina Asher-Smith opting not to compete, the mantle of favourite is now shouldered by Dutch-based Swiss sprinter Ajla Del Ponte from Switzerland who has raced prolifically but consistently this winter, improving her lifetime best to 7.14 in Metz.
The German triumvirate is headed by Amelie-Sophie Lederer who slashed more than one-tenth from her lifetime best to win a highly competitive final at her national indoor championships in 7.12. Also watch out for Lotta Kemppinen who could win a rare medal for Finland in the sprints if she reproduces her recently set national record of 7.16.
The championships will conclude with the women’s 4x400m relay final in which the Polish team will be looking to extend their run of dominance on the continental stage.
The Poles have been all-conquering at European level in the last five years and they have also made some inroads into the US-Carribean dominance on the global stage, memorably upsetting the United States at the World Relays in Yokohama in 2019 before winning silver at the World Championships in Doha.
Their team will be helmed by the indefatigable Justyna Swiety-Ersetic, who won gold medals in the 400m and 4x400m relay finals in less than two hours in Berlin 2018, but some of the key members of their recent triumphs including Iga Baumgart-Witan and Patrycja Wyciszkiewicz will not feature in Toruń.
The Poles still have a rich pool of talent to choose from, including their exciting 17-year-old prospect Kornelia Lesiewicz, but will this be sufficient to counter a rapidly emerging Dutch team that will be front ended by Femke Bol and Lieke Klaver, first and second on the European 400m lists with 50.64 and 51.21 respectively?
Another banker on the Polish team in Toruń is reigning European indoor and outdoor shot put champion Michal Haratyk. Haratyk might trail world record-holder Ryan Crouser by nearly one metre but the Pole has a healthy cushion on his nearest European rivals with a season’s best of 21.83m
The entry list also includes Czech Republic's Tomas Stanek (21.48m), Serbia's Armin Sinancevic (21.25m) and Sweden's Wictor Petersson (21.13m) along with former champion David Storl from Germany (20.83m) although Haratyk's Polish teammate Konrad Bukowiecki, who won gold in 2017, is a late withdrawal due to a toe injury.
The men’s pole vault also features two Poles who have topped the podium at the European Indoor Championships in the past with Pawel Wojciechowski succeeding Piotr Lisek as champion in 2019.
But with Renaud Lavillenie and Armand Duplantis expected to take the championship record far in excess of 6.04m based on recent form, the Poles are more likely to play a supporting rather than a star role in the men’s pole vault which will be one of the highlights of the championships.
And even though he suffered a surprise defeat to 400m hurdles specialist Patryk Dobek at the Polish Indoor Championships, it would be remiss to leave out Adam Kszczot in any story previewing Polish title chances in a major European competition.
One of the most tactically astute and reliable runners in the hurly-burly of championship racing, Kszczot will be challenging for his seventh European title in total and his fourth indoors.
Kszczot will face some familiar names in Toruń including former world champion Pierre Ambroise Bosse from France, Bosnia & Herzegovina's reigning world silver medalist Amel Tuka, reigning champion Alvaro de Arriba from Spain and silver medallist Jamie Webb who leads the entry-lists with 1:44.54 in the absence of his British teammate Elliot Giles.
Other medal prospects for Poland include Angelika Cichocka and Joanna Jozwik in the 800m, Pawel Wiesolek in the heptathlon and the men’s 4x400m relay team.