Hansjörg Wirz, the President of European Athletics, has today hailed the status that the SPAR European Cross Country Championships now has in the athletics calendar – on the eve of the 20th staging of the event.
It was 1994 when Alnwick, a market town in the north east of England, played host to the event. Now 20 years on, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, will see the sport celebrate its final major event of 2013.
A record number of 571 athletes and a record number of 37 countries are taking part in the biggest athletics event in Serbia for more than 40 years.
Speaking at the event press conference in Belgrade today alongside the leading officials from Serbian athletics and dignitaries from Belgrade, Wirz said: “It was 20 years ago that we started making efforts to bring the European Cross Championships back to the forefront of the sport.
“We have had important athletes coming through the ranks such as Mo Farah and we know cross country can create exceptional track athletes," he continued.
Farah, of Great Britain, won these Championships in San Giorgio su Legnano in 2006 and has now become one of the greatest European distance runners in history.
We have also been able to integrate younger age groups with the Junior and Under-23 categories; this has caused the event to attract more runners, he concluded.”
Belgrade arrives at an extremely healthy time for Serbian athletes.
At the IAAF World Championships in the summer, the country celebrated brilliant performances from Emir Bekric, who won bronze in the 400m hurdles, and Ivana Spanovic, who was third in the long jump. Both achieved national records and Bekric was named the male Rising Star of 2013 in the European Athletics awards.
Now the attention turns to another leading Serbian runner from the summer in Amela Terzic who carries big hopes in the under-23 race on Sunday.
Veselin Jevrosimovic, the President of the Athletics Federation of Serbia, spoke of the excitement ahead of the championships.
“Tomorrow we hope to witness a terrific event. I would like to thank the President of Serbia for his support and he has played a special role in helping organise this event. I also thank our 23 Serbian athletes representing our nation tomorrow, and wish them the best of luck,” he said.
Siniša Mali, President of the Belgrade City Board, stressed the importance of showing Serbia’s presence in athletics.
“This event represents the pinnacle of our efforts to increase Serbia’s role in athletics. This championship is the most significant athletics event in Serbia since 1969.
We are taking this event very seriously to make the final preparations happen on time for tomorrow,” he declared.
Slobodan Brankovic, the General Secretary of the Athletics Federation of Serbia, spoke of the setting for the races and how it will show the picturesque nature of the city.
“The track next to the river is one of the best locations for cross country the city has to offer. We hope our guests in Belgrade will use this opportunity to visit Belgrade’s old town and beautiful sights near the course.”
I also believe our broadcasters Eurosport will show our beautiful city to the rest of the world,” he stated.
Christian Milz, European Athletics Director General, revealed how there are over 1600 accredited members present.
Also 250 volunteers will be spread out around the course helping with the organisation of the event.
Milz concluded by saying: “European Athletics is pleased to announce that the championships will be accessible live all around the world through the european-athletics.org live stream. This initiative is possible thanks to our main partner SPAR.”