After the successful staging of the 2018 European Mountain Running Championships in Skopje, the attention of athletics fans in the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will turn to the track as the city will stage the next European Athletics Team Championships Third League on 10-11 August 2019.
The venue will be Skopje's Philip II Arena, the 34,500-capacity national football stadium which underwent a €3.5 million reconstruction and expansion - including the laying of a new athletics track and additional facilities - in 2011. Around 300 athletes and 100 officials and coaches are expected to participate.
This will be the second time Skopje has held a European Athletics competition on the track after staging the European 10,000m Cup in 2014 and reflects the Member Federation’s growing commitment and ambition to host of continental athletics events.
The Member Federations who will be vying for three promotion places are: AASSE (the Athletics Associations of the Small States of Europe – Gibraltar, San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein), Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosts FYR Macedonia, Iceland, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia.
Serbia, having been surprising relegated from the Second League in 2017, should start as favourites.
They will be hoping to have 2016 European long jump champion Ivana Spanovic fit and at their disposal after her 2018 season came to an agonising end with an Achilles injury after she led the qualifiers in the defence of her title in Berlin.
Spanovic has got maximum points for Serbia in the European Athletics Team Championships on three occasions in the past and her absence in 2017, again through injury, was keenly felt.
Other Serbian stars who could help engineer an immediate return to the Second League by getting big points include: former European and world championships 400m hurdles medallist Emir Bekric, former European indoor shot put champion Asmir Kolašinac, former European U20 and U23 1500m champion Amela Terzic and Berlin 2018 discus finalist Dragana Tomasevic.
In 2017 Luxembourg romped away with this League but there were only 22.5 points between second and fifth place so a close competition for the two other promotion places is expected if Serbia do fulfil expectations.
Bosnia and Herzegovina missed out on promotion by just 1.5 points but amassed seven victories, including an impressive 3000m and 5000m double from Osman Junuzovič as well as a shot put win from 2013 European Athletics Indoor Championships silver medallist Hamza Alic, and should be in contention for promotion again.
However, several other teams have outstanding athletes who performed well at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships.
Moldova finished bottom of the Second League in 2017 and were relegated but have a wealth of strong throwers such as javelin exponent Andrian Mardare, the hammer throwing siblings Serghei Marghiev and Zalina Petrivskaya as well as the reigning world U20 discus champion Alexandra Emilianov.
Montenegro finished fifth in 2017 but also have an emerging star in their midst in Kristina Rakocevic, Emilianov’s predecessor as the world U20 champion in 2016, and 2010 world U20 high jump champion Marija Vukovic, one of the star performers in this league in 2017 when she cleared 1.90m for victory.
Indeed, the potential combination of Emilianov, Rakocevic and Tomasevic all battling for points to aid their nations’ promotion prospects could make the women’s discus one of the highlights of the 2019 Third League.
Azerbaijan fielded only a partial team in 2017 and struggled for cover in all events but they had two triple jumpers in the top four in Berlin with Alexis Copello and Nazim Babayev while hammer thrower Hanna Skydan finished fifth in the German capital and the latter could potentially contribute valuable points in the other throws at this level.
Albania may also be a factor and return to the fray after not competing in 2017. They could call upon the likes of steeplechaser Luiza Gega, who could score significant points if she doubles in an event without the barriers, and former European indoor long jump champion Izmir Smajlaj.
No less than eight of the competing nations of the 2019 European Athletics Team Championships Third League are members of the Association of the Balkan Athletic Federations and so this time around this division will have a very strong south eastern European aspect to it, not least because of where the event is being staged.