A parade of stars on show at the European U23 Championships

Konrad Bukowiecki in Bydgoszcz
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Konrad Bukowiecki is the outstanding favourite for the shot put title at the European Athletics U23 Championships

It will be very much a parade of champions at the European Athletics U23 Championships which start in Bydgoszcz tomorrow morning, but not for one minute are any of them taking their presence for granted.

This afternoon, it was quite a top table at the main athlete press conference on the eve of the event, with Croatia's Olympic javelin champion Sara Kolak in attendance along with Poland's European indoor shot put champion Konrad Bukowiecki, Germany's European triple jump champion Max Hess and Poland's European U20 100m silver medallist Ewa Swoboda.

Bukowiecki is relishing the chance to step into the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium because being at home gives him an extra buzz, an extra level of excitement in his determination to add this title to the European U20 title he won in Eskilstuna, Sweden in 2015 and the European indoor gold medal he won in Belgrade in March.

"I am motivated because it is good to have your audience present," said Bukowiecki. "My friends and family will come and that should help. I feel privileged to be here and I hope I will get a gold medal."

His record is second-to-none in the past few years in his progress up the ranks. He is top of the European outdoor U23 lists with his personal best of 21.51m from Kielce in May. All things being equal, he should find himself back on top of the podium, with the Netherlands’ Denzel Comenentia expected to be his biggest threat in a season where he has achieved a personal best of 20.33m.

At 22, Kolak is the Olympic champion after her amazing exploits in Rio last summer and last Thursday in Lausanne, she secured the world’s leading throw when she won at the Diamond League with 68.43m, a lifetime best and European U23 record.

Turkey's Eda Tugsuz has thrown a lifetime best of 67.21m this season and will prove a major rival but how does Kolak deal with the pressure of being the favourite and the Olympic champion?

"It's not easy," she said. "I take this competition very seriously. I think that it will be really good, because I am ready and focused and it's about taking it step-by-step."

It was a year to remember for Hess in 2016, with his European title leading him to be named the Male Rising Star at the European Athletics Golden Track awards in Funchal, Portugal in October.

 

On distances alone this summer, he is not the best in the field, though he is moving towards a peak as his 17.13m at the German Championships at the weekend showed.

Azerbaijan's Nazim Babayev leads the field with 17.15m but Hess is looking way beyond that. He believes he will need 17.50m to win a bronze at the World Championships in London next month and now he wants to bridge the gap.

Hess said: "In this competition, I may be the favourite but there are others guys like Nazim and they have also jumped 17m. It is a tough battle and at the World Championships, some other guys are at another level.

"Three weeks is enough time to train hard and maybe we don't have train too much to reach the level for 17.50m. I only have to progress."

On times alone so far this summer, there are women in the 100m who have run faster than Swoboda but it gives her a great deal confidence that she has become such a championship performer. She won the European U20 title in 2015 followed by silver on this track at the World U20 Championships last summer and bronze at the European Indoor Athletics Championships.

"The most important thing for the week is to work hard but my target will be to show to other people how you should run," said Swoboda.

The four day championships will be shown on free-to-air television in six different countries – Belarus, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Turkey – as well as in the 54 European territories through Eurosport’s pan-European coverage.

There will be 83 hours of live and 98 hours of live and deferred athletics across Europe including 28 hours of live coverage in Sweden (TV4 & TV12); 27 hours of live coverage in Belarus; 18 hours of live coverage in Poland on TVP Sport; 14 hours on RAI Sport; four hours on Eurosport (delayed) and six hours in Turkey on Sunday.

The whole championships will also be screened live via the European Athletics stream.

The first press conference today saw European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen praise the city for the way they stage events. "Bydgoszcz has been organising athletics for many years and they are fantastic organisers. It's great to see the athletes here and for Olympic champion Sara Kolak, putting the importance of the European U23 Championships in her schedule," he said.

Chief executive of European Athletics Christian Milz stressed how key this event is in the progress of athletes and athletics. "The championships are very important for the development of the sport," he said.

Polish Athletics President Henryk Olszewski said: "Bydgoszcz is a good place to stage athletics and we have been organising athletics here for 18 years."

And Rafal Bruski, the mayor of Bydgoszcz, added: "I want to thank all the members who are taking part in this event. It should be a great championships."