FLORENCE, Italy, June 20 (AFP) - The recentlyrefurbished Luigi Ridolfi stadium hosts the two-day 2003European Cup which starts here on Saturday.
Teams from Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Russia,Poland (men only), Romania (women only) andnewly-promoted teams from Greece and Spain will beaiming for individual and team success.
Last year Jonathan Edwards’ 17.19 metre win in thetriple jump helped Britain to an overall men’s victorywith 111 points, four ahead of Germany and six more thanFrance.
This year however Edwards is not taking part due to alack of fitness and so the British, who clean-sweepedall the sprint races and won both relays, have theirwork cut out to defend their title successfully.
World indoor silver medallist Daniel Caines, winner ofthe individual 400m last year, misses out throughillness.
Therefore former world junior champion MarkLewis-Francis, winner of the national 100 metresselection race which took place at the IAAF(International Amateur Athletics Federation) Super GrandPrix in Ostrava last week, represents Britains bestchance of an individual victory.
Former British middle-distance runner Steve Cram saidhe was expecting big things from Lewis-Francis thisyear.
``I have never seen him as animated after a race as hewas in Ostrava. He was very pleased with his run, and hethinks he can go a lot faster - to be doing 10.07seconds at this stage of the season bodes well for laterin the year,’’ Cram told the BBC.
Surprise winners in 2001, Poland are unlikely to posea threat this time around with several athletes outinjured, including hurdler Marek Plawgo and sprinterPavel Januszewski.
The east Europeans’ hopes suffered a further setbacklast week after Olympic hammer throw champion SzymonZiolkowskis withdrew from the squad following defeat inWarsaw last week.
Greece will seek inspiration from 200m runnerKostantinos Kederis, the only man to hold Olympic, Worldand European titles at the same time.
Gregory Gabella, a surprise winner of last year’s highjump with a new personal best of 2.30 metres, willspearhead French hopes.
Spain’s best chance of an individual victory isrepresented by long jumper Yago Lamela, whose 8.44m leapis the third best in the world.
Italy, aiming not to finish among the last two teamsand therefore be relegated to the first league, arehoping to have 400m hurdler Fabrizio Mori fit. Theformer world champion has struggled for the past fewmonths with an Achilles tendon injury.
In the women’s competition, Russia will be seekingtheir seventh successive triumph.
Last year they destroyed the field, winning 10 of the20 events and ending up with a massive 19.5 advantageover second-placed Germany. The Russians then went on towin the World Cup in Madrid.