European Cup tinkering is a sure sign of desperation
The shallow pool of European talent - and the looming Olympics - makes this weekend’s competition an irrelevance
Steve CramJune 17, 2008 12:39 AM
As Euro 2008 continues to wow at one end of the Alps, its athletics counterpart takes place this weekend at the French end in Annecy. Except this is by no means an equivalent. The European Cup in athletics has always occupied an odd place in the calendar as individual performers come together for a competition where they are asked to pull out all the stops for the team.
In Olympic year the competition has little or no relevance to the primary task of performing well in Beijing, and for some athletes it might come as a major inconvenience with trials around the corner for most. The cup has struggled to bring in spectators in recent years, as Europe has few big-name athletes to act as a draw. With only three or four nations ever in with a chance of winning in the men’s event, and no one to combat the Russian women, you could be forgiven for thinking the time might be right to scrap the thing.
In response, the European Athletic Association announced that this year’s cup would be the last in its current format and has set out a new structure for 2009 which it hopes will enliven the event and make it more attractive to the viewing public.
The problem is that athletics has no Twenty20 equivalent that is immediately obvious, though that hasn’t stopped the EAA from trying.
Next year it will rename the cup as the European Team Championships.
There will be 12 teams instead of eight and hotly contested promotion and relegation.
On the track they are trialling devil-take-the-hindmost type races where the athlete in last place at the end of each lap must drop out.
In the field too the athletes could be whittled down as the competition reaches its climax.
All of the attempts to revamp the competition are missing the point. European athletics is struggling to maintain its position in the world and results from the last three Olympic Games do not offer too much hope on the track.
Here’s a fact for you. Sir Steve Redgrave alone won as many Olympic gold medals as Europe’s other men managed to muster in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens combined. Five golds in three Olympics is a meagre return although interestingly three of the five were consecutive wins in the 800m. The other two were our British 4 x 100m squad in Athens and the controversial Greek 200m sprinter, Kostas Kenteris.
The women have fared somewhat better but overall it is increasingly difficult for European athletes to win on the track. As we head towards Beijing there is not one event where a European male track athlete is ranked as favourite to win, or is likely to, and perhaps only two for the women.
This is one very good reason why the EAA needs to look further than tinkering with a team competition that offers little relevance to an athlete in such an important season. In years gone by, very strong British teams would still struggle to win the European Cup but even with the late withdrawal of Craig Pickering the men’s team looks good enough to go close in Annecy.