Greece tipped to vault back into the Super League

Greece tipped to vault back into the Super League
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Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou hopes to collect full points for Greece by winning the women's pole vault in Heraklion this weekend.

The hosts have been absent from the European Athletics Team Championships Super League since 2013 but with a full-strength team on show including two of the world’s best pole-vaulters, the Greeks are widely tipped to climb back into the highest echelons of the event for a fourth time this weekend.

Their squad is helmed by Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou, who is one of the hottest commodities in world pole-vaulting at present. After clearing 4.80m indoors this winter, Kiriakopoulou matched that mark outdoors last weekend in New York to move to tenth on the world all-time rankings. The Greek record-holder is in the form of her life, and the championship record of 4.75m is in her grasp.

Her team-mate Konstadinos Filippidis might not start as such a resounding favourite in the men’s equivalent but the reigning world indoor champion is rounding into form with a recent 5.77m season’s best clearance.

The Czechs will also be in the hunt for promotion and their duo of Jirina Ptacnikova and Jan Kudlicka, who are both perennial finalists at global championships, should be their nearest rivals.

Fresh from a breakout run in Rome, Likourgos-Stefanos Tsakonas will be aiming for a sprint double for the hosts. Tsakonas set a European-leading mark and PB of 20.09 to defeat Christophe Lemaitre by nearly two-tenths and while the 100m is by far his secondary event, he is unbeaten over the shorter distance in 2015.

Anything other than a sprint double will surely be deemed a palpable disappointment for Dafne Schippers, who will be competing for the first time since announcing her decision to focus on the sprints. Even though her training up until now has been tailored for the multi-events, the Dutchwoman has still dominated the European sprint scene over the past twelve months.

The highest profile name on the Greek team is Pereklis Iakovakis in the 400m hurdles. The European champion from nine years ago hasn’t broken the 50-second barrier since 2012 but his participation should engage his fans in what is shaping up to be the most anticipated event of the weekend.

The top two from the European Championships Kariem Hussein from Switzerland and Rasmus Magi from Estonia are set to renew their rivalry but the favourite might be Thomas Barr. The Irishman recently set a European-leading mark and national record of 48.65 to finish fourth in the Rome Diamond League, beating Hussein and Magi in the process.

The Czechs will be looking to scoop up maximum points from the three remaining one-lap races. World 400m hurdles champion Zuzana Hejnova hasn’t found her very best form after an ankle fracture scuppered her 2014 campaign but a recent season’s best of 55.00 - her fastest time since 2013 - puts her more than one second ahead of the rest of the field.

In the 400m flat, two-time European indoor champion Pavel Maslak is expected to dominate while Denisa Rosolova will face opposition from Romania’s Bianca Razor and the Netherlands’ Nicky van Leuveren in the women’s 400m but the Czech has the fastest PB with 50.84.

Two-time Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova should claim maximum points ahead of Latvia’s Madara Palameika in the javelin while the Jan Zelezny-coached Petr Frydrych, who has surpassed the 85m mark in 2015, is expected to win the men’s event.

Portugal’s team is spearheaded by former Olympic triple jump champion Nelson Evora, who marked his return from injury with victory at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Prague. Also expect the Portuguese to excel on the track with Sara Moreira over 3000m and Ana Dulce Felix set for the 5000m.

Elsewhere on the track, European indoor champion Selina Buchel from Switzerland is the favourite in the 800m. The men’s 1500m will be a rematch of the Prague final with Jakub Holusa taking on Turkey’s Ilham Tanui Ozbilen but watch out for Belgium’s Pieter-Jan Hannes, who comes fresh from a national one-mile record in Oslo.

On the in-field, the Romanians should score highly in the horizontal jumps courtesy of Alina Rotaru, Cristina Bujin and Marian Oprea while Lithuania and Estonia will be expecting wins in the discus from Zinaida Sendriute and Martin Kupper respectively.