The SPAR European Cup: Memories of Europe's premier team athletics event
The Cup, first staged in Stuttgart in 1965, has a glorious and fascinating history. Changes in the sport and even changes in the political map of Europe have been reflected in this highlight of the European athletics calendar. The statisticians know that almost all of Europe's great athletes have supported their national sides by appearing in one or more editions and, in what makes this event so unique and interesting, many lesser known performers have also left important marks on the competition.
It was Bruno Zauli, latterly President of the European Committee of the International Association of Athletics Federations, who first envisaged a competition for all European athletics federations in which the challenge was to compete in a range of track and field events. After guiding the idea through approval by the IAAF Council, Zauli died just months before the launch of the event, but his dream goes from strength to strength. Now in its 42nd year the Cup, originally named for Zauli, is the premier team event for Europe's athletes.
For its first two decades, the Cup was organised so that the smaller nations contested preliminary rounds before meeting more powerful countries which would enter at the semi-final stage. The top two from each of three semi-finals would then go forward to the final.
By 1983, the increase in the number of international meetings filled the athletics calendar and this meant the format of the Cup needed to change so that all the teams competed on one weekend. The top level of the new Cup was called the Super League and included eight men's and eight women's teams. Below that were a First League and a Second League, each with A and B groups. This format continues today.
Though the structure of the Cup has modernised its original ethos endures: each athlete, whether at the top, middle or the bottom of the field in their event, must dig deep on the day for every possible point - as their effort could make the difference between glory for their team, or relegation.
Here, we look back at some of the highlights of the European Cup, and remember some of the heroes who have made it the great event that it is.
Special thanks go to the Royal Spanish Athletic Federation, whose 1996 History of the European Cup "Bruno Zauli" has been a major source of information.
Readers interested in the history of the European Cup will find the results of all finals/SPAR European Cup editions from 1965 in the Events Result Database on the Statistics page of the EAA website.
In the first edition of the competition, the men's and women's events take place separately. The men's semi-final in Oslo sees two European records: Gaston Roelants, of Belgium, wins the 10,000 metres in 28 minutes 10.06 seconds, and Romauld Klim, of the Soviet Union, wins the hammer with a throw of 71.02 metres.
In the men's final, held at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart, the importance of every athlete fighting for every possible point is highlighted. The Soviet Union wins nine individual events - the 10,000 metres, the 110 metres hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, the shot put, the hammer, the javelin, the sprint relay and the 3,000 metres steeplechase - but only just squeaks by West Germany to win by a single point,.
In Kassel, East Germany, the Soviet women also triumph over the home team. Soviet sisters Irina and Tamara Press each achieve world records: Irina records a time of 10.04 seconds in the 80 metres hurdles, and Tamara a throw of 18.59 metres in the shot put.
The Cup's second edition sees the men's and women's teams compete in the final on the same track, at the Central Stadium in Kiev. The Soviet Union again wins the men's and women's competitions, both at the expense of the GDR. As in 1965, the Soviet men finish ahead by only one point while the women triumph by eight points. Poland's Irena Kirszenstein (picture), who has already won a silver medal in the long jump at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, aged 18, provides some of the final's most memorable moments. Competing in the first two of what will eventually be 17 individual appearances in the Cup final, she wins both the 100 metres and 200 metres. Now Irena Szewinska, Poland's greatest ever athlete is the President of the Polish Athletic Association, an EAA Council Member and a Member of the International Olympic Committee.
A new decade sees the frequency of the Cup change from every two years to every three, a measure that lasts for only one more edition. This time East Germans break the domination of the Soviet Union, winning the men's and women's competitions. But there is much excitement when the West German long jumper Heide Rosendahl achieves a mark of 6.80 metres, a forerunner of great things to come. Two weeks later, in Turin, she beats the world record with 6.84 metres, and in 1972 wins gold at the Munich Olympic Games.
A record 27 countries take part in the men's competition, with the final staged for the first time on a synthetic track, in Edinburgh's Meadowbank stadium. The Soviet Union wins the men's event, and East Germany the women's. Two 1972 Olympic champions set world records: East German Ruth Fuchs, with the javelin with a throw of 66.10 metres, and Soviet discus thrower Faina Melnik, with a mark of 69.48. Melnik will go on to establish a total of 11 world records during her illustrious career.
The men's 100 metres at the finals in Nice ends in a photo-finish between the Soviet Union's Valeriy Borzov and Pietro Mennea, of Italy, with both competitors clocked in 10.40 seconds. It takes the judges 24 hours to decide that Borzov, the 1972 double Olympic champion, is the victor by a margin of two-thousandths of a second. The 200 metres, held the next day, sees the positions reversed, with Mennea achieving a time of 20.42 seconds and Borzov finishing in 20.61. East Germany is victorious in both competitions, with the women's team finishing 20 points ahead of the Soviet Union.
The sixth edition of the Cup - now staged every two years - takes place in the Olympic stadium in Helsinki. The East German "winning machine" continues its reign, with the men's team finishing 12 points ahead of West Germany and the women's 12 ahead of the Soviet Union. Two East German woman set world records: Karin Rossley wins a new women's event, the 400 metres hurdles, in 55.63 seconds, and Rosemarie Ackermann wins the high jump with a height of 1.97 metres. Eugen Ray, also of the GDR, shatters his country's national record in the 100 metres, winning in 10.12 seconds, and takes the 200 metres the following day.
At the Cup final a 75,000-strong crowd in Turin's Comunale stadium witnesses a fantastic weekend of records - in all, two world, three European, 16 Cup and 27 national records fall - as both East German teams are winners again. The GDR's Marita Koch smashes her own World and European standards with a 48.60 clocking in the 400 metres and her team-mates do the same in the 4 x 100 metres relay with 42.09 mark. West Germany's Harald Schmid (picture) is undoubtedly the man of the match as achieves a magnificent triple, winning the 400 metres hurdles in a European record 47.85 then - just 58 minutes later - taking the 400 metres, with a time of 45.31. The following day he anchors the FRG's winning 4 x 400 relay.
At the final, held in the Dynamo stadium in Zagreb, East Germany's teams trounce the opposition for the fourth consecutive time. The men finish ahead of the Soviet Union by three-and-a-half points and the women beat the same country by eleven-and-a-half points. The highlight of the women's competition is the moment when the young Bulgarian Antoaneta Todorova - just 18 - sets a new world record of 71.88 metres in the javelin, breaking the previous record by almost two metres. In the men's competition 1980 Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe wins the 800 metres with a time of 1 minute 47.03 seconds.
This is the year a new competition format for the Cup comes into play. A Super League, 1st League and 2nd League, and a system of promotion and relegation, replaces the progression of teams through preliminary, semi-final and final rounds. It doesn't make any difference to the GDR as once again they win both the men's and women's Cups. The highlight of the final at London's Crystal Palace is a tense duel in the women's high jump. West German world record holder Ulrike Meyfarth faces the newly crowned world champion, Tamara Bykova of the Soviet Union, and both clear a world record height of 2.03 metres. Clearing the bar on her first attempt, Meyfarth wins over Bykova who requires two tries. Only four days later, at Pisa, Bykova claims the world record in her own right when she clears 2.04 metres.
On home ground in Moscow's Olympic stadium, both the Soviet men and women break the long winning streaks of the GDR teams. Among the Soviet stars of this edition are pole vaulter Sergey Bubka (picture), making his first appearance in the competition. He will go on to set 35 world records, take Olympic gold in 1988 and win a record six world championships. He is now on the council of the IAAF and a Member of the International Olympic Committee.
The final of the Cup's 11th edition in Prague sees East Germany's women recapture the trophy lost two years earlier while the Soviet men retain their title. The GDR's sprint great Marlies Göhr finishes her career in the event by winning the 100 metres in 10.95 seconds and taking part in the victorious 4 x100 metres relay team, bringing her total victory count to 12. Britain's Linford Christie wins both men's sprints, recording 10.23 seconds in the 100 metres and 20.63 seconds in the 200 metres, to start a long and distinguished Cup career.
With the wall between east and west about to come down, the women of the GDR, the most formidable athletics machine in history, score the last of their European Cup victories in style, 25 points ahead of the Soviet Union. On the men's side, the delighted crowd in Gateshead sees Britain win the competition for the first time. The vintage team includes 7 individual winners - Linford Christie (100 metres), Kriss Akabusi (400 metres hurdles), Colin Jackson (110 metres hurdles), Steve Backley (javelin), Dalton Grant (high jump), John Regis (200 metres) and Tom McKean (800 metres).
Italy's Fabrizio Mori competes at his first European Cup - he will go on to make 11 more appearances at the event, a record for a male athlete, and to complete 16 individual starts. Mori will also win the 400 metres hurdles at the Cup five times (in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2002).
In the 13th edition, a unified Germany competes for the first time, with the women winning on home territory in Frankfurt. The women's 400 metres becomes an epic duel between France's Marie-José Pérec and Germany's Grit Breuer, then still a junior athlete. Pérec is victorious, and goes on to win three Olympic golds, one in 1992 and two in 1996. Despite a strong British showing, the Soviet Union, on the verge of break-up, achieves its last splendid victory in the men's competition.
The competition, with its new format featuring the Super League, becomes an annual event. Russia, instead of the Soviet Union, competes for the first time - and both men and women win, the latter beating Romania by 39 points. For the first time nine countries take part in the finals. Crowds at the Olympic stadium in Rome see an unknown Ukrainian, Andrey Bulkovskiy, come from far behind to win in the 1500 metres, then beat the local hero, Andrea Benvenuti, in the 800 metres.
The venue for the 15th edition of the Cup is Birmingham but heroic efforts by Britain's Linford Christie and the 400 metres hurdles world record holder Sally Gunnell (picture) - she wins her specialist event in a time of 54.62 seconds and takes part in the winning 4 x400 relay team - fail to achieve victory for either of the home teams. The British men are easily defeated by the Germans, by 121 points to 106.5 while the women's event is much closer with Germany beating the hosts by one point, the narrowest margin to date in a final
The Villeneuve d'Ascq stadium in Lille sees Germany win the men's event, 10 points ahead of Britain, and Russia win the women's match, 17 points ahead of Germany. The top performer is triple jumper Jonathan Edwards. Even though it is his 30th birthday he can hardly have expected the celebrations that are to follow his magnificent leap of 18.43 metres. The mark cannot be accepted as a record because of a following wind of 2.4 metres per second but it hints at the summer to come in which Edwards is to set three world records - 17.98 metres in Salamanca, and 18.16 and 18.29 metres in Gothenburg.
In its 16th edition the event gets a new sponsor and the top division becomes the SPAR European Cup. The successful partnership continues to the present day. The competition in Madrid sees Germany once again sweeping both the men's and women's trophies, thanks to such names as defending Olympic 5,000 metres gold medallist Dieter Baumann, who powers to victory in the 3,000 metres, and Grit Breuer, who wins the 400 metres and helps the victorious 4 x 400 metres relay team. Italy's Fabrizio Mori wins the first of his five victories in the 400 metres hurdles in a time of 49.45 seconds.
On the women's side, a new star is born as the relatively unknown Russian Svetlana Masterkova wins the 800 metres before going on to take two gold medals (800 and 1500) in Atlanta and set world records in the 1000 metres and mile later in the summer.
A dreary, grey and wet weekend in Munich comes to life when Britain's Linford Christie, ending his European Cup career on a high note, notches up what will prove to be the last of his 17 victories in the 100 metres and 200 metres and leads the British men to their first Cup win since 1989. The downpour is so heavy that the pole vault has to be moved indoors - but this doesn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Russia wins the women's event - the first of what is to become and unbroken string of seven consecutive victories. - Picture: Paula Radcliffe.
Britain's men and Russia's women continue their winning habits in the sun-drenched edition of the SPAR European Cup in the Petrovsky stadium in St Petersburg. The Russian women take top points in no less than nine events - the 100 metres (Irina Privavlova beating France's Christine Arron), the 800 metres, the 1,500 metres (Olga Komyagina beating Britain's Paula Radcliffe), the 3,000 metres, the sprint relay, the 4 x 400 metres relay, the shot put, the discus, and the hammer - to score a runaway victory over Germany 124 to 108. Radcliffe gains some compensation, with a win in the 5,000 metres in a time of 15 minutes 06.87 seconds. Top performer in the men's competition is Britain's Colin Jackson who wins the 110 metres hurdles in 13.07 seconds.
With the SPAR European Cup in her home territory at the Stade Charlety in Paris, Christine Arron, the 1998 European champion, outclasses her rivals with a time of 10.97 seconds in the 100 metres. Germany's men and Russia's women add another win each to their team tallies. The men's 800 metres sees Yuriy Borzakovskiy win for Russia in a time of 1 minute 48.53 seconds, the first time he has made an impact on the international scene. In a remarkable victory, Borzakovskiy, just 18, comes from far behind the field to overtake all his rivals, a tactic which becomes his trademark. The Romanian Gabriela Szabo scores a double victory, winning the women's 1,500 metres in a time of 4 minutes 13.63 seconds, and the 3,000 metres, in a time of 8 minutes 36.35 seconds.
The 21st Century
The millennium year sees the SPAR European Cup return to Gateshead where the British women's shot putter Judy Oakes makes a record 12th appearance in 23 years. Who wins the women's team competition? Russia, of course! In the 100 metres Ekaterini Thanou, of Greece, upsets France's Christine Arron.
On the men's side France's Mehdi Baala has a successful weekend as he wins the 800 metres in a time of 1 minute 47.90 seconds and then comes back to take 1,500 metres in 3 minutes 41.75 seconds. But it is the team competition that provides the real drama as the German men need to finish within four places of Britain in the final race of the programme, the 4 x 400 metres relay, to retain their team title. They finish 7th (to Britain's 2nd) and the hosts win by just half a point - 101.5 to 101.
In Bremen the SPAR European Cup is lifted for the first time by the men from Poland - led by the wins of world and Olympic gold champion Szymon Ziolkowski in the hammer, Pawel Czapiewski in the 800 metres and the country's 4 x 400 metres relay, which earlier in the year had won the World Indoor Championships. A small faux pas sees them awarded the women's trophy by mistake but the Polish men, having waited 36 years for victory, laugh off the error. In another surprise, Italy's men beat the British in the 4 x100 metres relay. Russia's women trounce Germany again, this time with no fewer than seven individual victories.
The SPAR European Cup in Annecy sees a return to familiar team results as Britain narrowly wins the men's event and the Russian women continue their dominance. Cup best performances abound as Britain's Dwain Chambers equals Linford Christie's mark of 10.04 seconds in winning the 100 metres and several Russian women rise to new heights - Yuliya Pechyonkina completes the 400 metres hurdles in 53.38 seconds, Tatyana Kotova long jumps 7.42 metres and Svetlana Feofanova clears 4.70 metres in the pole vault.
On a boiling hot weekend in the newly inaugurated Luigi Ridolfi Stadium in Florence France wins the SPAR European Cup men's competition for the first time since taking the First League Group 1 in 1995, nine points ahead of Germany. The Frenchmen achieve five individual victories - in the 400 metres, the 3,000 metres, the 5,000 metres, the 110 metre hurdles and the pole vault.
In the women's competition the all-round Romanian athlete Ionela Tirlea - twice European champion in the 400 metres hurdles - notches up a women's record of 18 individual starts in the competition in ten years, in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 400 metres hurdles, and the sprint and 4 x 400 metres relays. With her efforts, Romania manages to escape relegation by just one point, beating Italy and Greece while the Russian women surprise nobody by winning yet again.
The "silver jubilee" 25th edition of the SPAR European Cup is hosted by new European Union member Poland in the 19,000-capacity Zawisza stadium in Bydgoszcz. The continuation of the Russian dynasty in the women's events contrasts sharply with the nail-biting finish by the determined German men's team in the men's competition. The Germans come from behind to win the 4 x 400 metres relay and take the title for the first time since 1999 with 107.5 points. France finish second with 105 points, with Poland (104 points), Great Britain (102.5) and Russia (99) following in the most compact finish ever for the top five teams.
In the women's competition the Russian team is dominant, scoring a massive 142 points to win their eighth team crown by 45 points from the Ukraine with France edging out Germany by half a point to take third. While the GB team is relegated from the Super League for the first time ever, it is their team captain Paula Radcliffe who produces the most outstanding individual performance of the weekend with her 14:29.11 solo run in the 5000m.
The SPAR European Cup goes back to Florence for the 2005 edition and on another hot weekend the German men retain the trophy they took in Bydgoszcz in 2004 and the Russian women win the Cup for the ninth consecutive time. Germany score 113 points to beat France by nine points, with host nation Italy taking a surprise third place. An even bigger surprise is seeing Great Britain, winners four times in the last ten years, only avoiding relegation because nine teams will compete in Malaga in 2006.
Russia is again dominant in the women's competition, winning by 37.5 points from Poland who achieve their best ever result in the Cup. Russia's Anna Pyatykh wins the triple jump for the fourth consecutive time, while Romania's Ionela Tirlea-Manolache extends her record as the woman with the highest number of starts to 21.
The 2006 SPAR European Cup is held mid week for the first time to avoid clashing with matches at the football World Cup. France's men repeat their triumph of 2003 thanks in no small part to Marc Raquil, who becomes the first athlete to win the 400m four times and clinches victory on the anchor leg of the 4x400m to secure the win by four points from long time leaders Russia.
In the women's competition the result from 2005 is repeated as Russia amass 155 points, their highest total ever, to beat Poland by 43.5 points. French shot putter Laurence Manfredi becomes the third athlete to compete in the Cup on a record 12 occasions.
France won their third men's SPAR European Cup, having previously won in 2003 and 2006, with 116 points in front of 30,000 spectators in Munich's iconic Olympic stadium. In a thrilling finish to the men's Cup competition, France took the title for the second consecutive year only on the very last event.
Germany, having lead from the fifth event on Saturday to the penultimate event on Sunday, finished second with exactly the same number of points and the same number of individual event victories as France, but the hosts had to settle for being the runners up behind their neighbours and rivals in the tightest ever Cup contest on the basis of fewer second place finishes.
On the women's side, Russia's emerged on top for an 11th successive time with 127 points with France producing strong showing over the final five events to take second place with 107 points, the first time their women's team has finished so high.
Britain's Craig Pickering and Germany's Christina Obergföll, pictured right, who set a new European javelin record, were named as the Athletes of the SPAR European Cup following their outstanding performances in Munich, Germany.