Norway’s celebrated Brothers Ingebrigtsen – Henrik, Filip and Jakob – are putting themselves on the line on their home track in Sandnes, as is their compatriot Karsten Warholm, the world and European 400m hurdles champion, in seeking to earn the single promotion place available at the European Athletics Team Championships First League from 9-11 August.
Following the decision of the European Athletics Council in November last year, the event is being streamlined from 2021 onwards, with tiers being reduced from 12 to eight teams, which means that five teams from the First League will make way for five relegated nations from the Super League – that competition runs concurrently in Bydgoszcz, Poland – and only one will move up. There will be live streaming of both competitions on the European Athletics website this weekend.
Should Norway succeed in a three-day event that starts on Friday it will feel like a family celebration – all the Ingebrigtsens were born and still live in this town.
But Turkey, who missed out on promotion by 3.5 points in 2017 despite a championship record of 20.20 from world and European champion Ramil Guliyev in the 200m, could spoil the party as could the Belarusians and the Dutch who were both relegated from the Super League two years ago.
Norway has been involved in staging continental athletics events from the first post-World War II European Athletics Championships in 1946 through to the 2010 European Athletics Team Championships Super League in Bergen, but this is the first time Sandnes has been the host for a significant European competition. Strangely, the name of Ingebrigtsen is absent from the list of stadium records at their local arena.
Unless he falls over or loses his way, 18-year-old local hero Jakob Ingebrigtsen will claim maximum points in the men’s 1500m, the distance at which he is the reigning European champion and European indoor silver medallist.
His European U20 record of 3:30.16, set this season at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, is more than five seconds faster than the best of his nearest challenger - Richard Douma of the Netherlands - who has run 3:35.77.
Elder brother Henrik is similarly placed in the 3000m in which his national record of 7:36.85 - set this season at the Bislett Games in Oslo in June - is more than 15 seconds superior to any of his rivals.
Meanwhile Filip, the 26-year-old European 1500m champion in 2016, has similar leeway in the 5000m with a recently set lifetime best of 13:11.75. Turkey’s Aras Kaya, who won bronze behind Filip at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg last December, appears his most likely challenger with a best of 13:23.91.
For Jakob and Filip, the stadium record targets both stand to British runners on the same day – June 9, 1988 - as Peter Elliott, who would take Olympic 1500m silver in Seoul later that year, clocked 3:37.89 and Jon Richards won the 5000m in 13:31.82 although their foremost priority will be ensuring maximum points to further Norway's ambitions of returning to the top tier of this competition.
Warholm, who has elected to run the 400m flat and 4x400m relay, has much more of a race on his hands in what promises to be one of the high points of the meeting.
His opponents include another runner of star quality in Belgium’s 19-year-old world U20 champion Jonathan Sacoor who has a best of 45.03. The exuberant European indoor champion will also need to keep an eye on Liemarvin Bonevacia of the Netherlands - whose best of 44.72 betters his own of 44.87 - and Ricardo Dos Santos of Portugal, who has run 45.14. Warholm’s stadium record of 46.44 from two years ago looks set for some substantial revision.
But one stadium record which looks safe is Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal's 9:13.25 in the 3000m steeplechase which she set at the 2017 Norwegian Championships.
While she is not running that event here, Grovdal is another home banker in the 3000m in which she is the fastest runner with a best of 8:37.58 although the British-based Maureen Koster of the Netherlands has run faster this season with 8:43.12. Grovdal will also contest the 1500m in which she will face Romania's Claudia Bobocea and Belarus' Darya Barysevich who have set PBs of 4:02.27 and 4:03.58 respectively this season.
While great things are expected from the Norwegian superstars, their chance of earning the single promotion place will also rest on how the other members of the team respond.
Ezinne Okparaebo looks capable of adding big points in the women’s 100m in which she has the best recorded time of 11.10 but she will have significant competition in the shape of Marije van Hunenstijn of the Netherlands who has improved to 11.13 this season.
Hedda Hynne also looks capable of earning a significant haul in the women’s 800m, where her season’s best of 2:01.27 has only been bettered by one runner in the field – Slovakia’s Gabriela Gajanova who has run 2:00.58. Based on recent performances, Sondre Guttormsen (pole vault), Marcus Thomsen (shot put), Ola Stunes Isene (discus) and Elvind Henriksen (hammer) should all challenge for maximum points in their respective disciplines as well.
The women’s 100m hurdles looks like being one of the most competitive events, with the favourite being European champion Elvira Herman who arrives fresh from winning the European U23 title in a championship record of 12.70.
But Herman will need to be in top form given the presence of European indoor champion Nadine Visser of the Netherlands, who has a best of 12.71, and home hurdler Isabelle Pedersen, who has run 12.72.
With Warholm concentrating on the 400m flat, it falls to Norway’s Joachim Sandberg to fill the gap in a race that looks like being between Turkey’s Yasmani Copello and Ireland's Thomas Barr who finished third and fourth at the 2016 Olympics.
Belarus will also expect maximum points in the women’s long jump in which European indoor silver medallist Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova is the only seven metre-plus athlete, and also in the women’s javelin, where they field 2016 European champion Tatsiana Khaladovich, who has a lifetime best of 67.47m and a season's best of 67.22m from the European Games in Minsk.
Meanwhile world U20 champion Karyna Taranda of Belarus, 20, is the only 2.00m high jumper in the women’s field, a height she has achieved this year to equal the long-standing national record. Fresh from setting a season's best of 2.30m this weekend, Dmitry Nabokau could make it a Belarusian double in the event.
In the men’s triple jump, Portugal’s naturalised Cuban, twice world silver medallist Pedro Pablo Pichardo, is clear favourite on his Portuguese debut, having reached 17.53m this year. At his very best, Pichardo is an 18 metre-plus performer and could challenge the championship record held by compatriot Nelson Evora at 17.59m.
Belgium’s Philip Milanov is one of the favourites in the men’s discus, and will double in the less familiar shot put, while Lithuania's Edis Matusevicius, whose mother Dalia Matuseviciene represented the Soviet Union in the 800m at the 1989 European Cup, is the sizeable favourite in the javelin after smashing the national record with 89.17m last month.
*Since publishing this story, Karsten Warholm has pulled out of the European Athletics Team Championships First League with illness. He has been replaced by Fredrik Øvereng