Krisztian Pars, the Olympic and double European hammer gold medallist, will spearhead Hungary’s bid for instant promotion from the Second League of the European Athletics Team Championships in Stara Zagora this weekend.
Hungary finished bottom of the First league in Tallinn 12 months ago and were relegated along with Slovenia and these two nations should be in contention along with hosts Bulgaria who have a strong squad including Ivet Lalova, the 2012 European 100m champion.
It is a match between eight countries, with Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Iceland and Serbia also in the chase for the top two spots.
But there is, at least, the relief that there is no relegation from this league because of the changing of the set-up of the championships.
Four teams will be promoted from the Third League in Baku so the Second League has 12 teams from next year onwards.
Pars retained his European title in Zurich last August and is the only athlete to have won his event in all five previous editions of the European Athletics Team Championships, hoping that he will remain undefeated in Stara Zagora.
He was one of only two Hungarian winners in Tallinn and he is joined in Bulgaria by teammate 110m hurdler Balazs Baji who won the 110m hurdles 12 months ago in 13.51.
That race could be one of the closest of the Second League as he faces Milan Ristic, the Serbian who ran a national record time of 13.50 last month, a performance which puts him joint-eighth on the European Athletics rankings. Baji is in 10th with a season’s best of 13.52.
Fellow Hungarian Anita Marton, the European Indoor shot put champion, will be the strong favourite for her event while Serbia’s Emir Bekric, the world bronze medallist, should have it all his own way in the 400m hurdles.
Lalova will surely light up the arena with her spectacular, powerful style of sprinting as she doubles up and will also be part of the 4x100m relay team.
Cyprus are here as the Third League champions, having gained promotion with Iceland, and their team includes 2014 winners in the men’s event in Panayiotis Ioannou (100m), Amine Khadiri (1500m), Milan Trajkovic (110m hurdles), Nikandros Stylianou (pole vault) and in the women’s in Ramona Papaioannou (100m), Eleni Artymata (200m), Androniki Lada (discus) and Paraskevi Theodorou (hammer).
Three women doubling up in the middle-distance races may contend the top three positions in both.
Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir, with a personal best of 2:00.49, should beat Cyprus’s Natalia Evangelidou (pb: 2:02.36) and Serbia’s Amela Terzic (2:04.67), but the 1500m will see a reverse by quite a long way.
Terzic is the European Under-23 champion at the distance and her best time of 4:05.69 is almost 10 seconds quicker than Hinriksdottir with 4:15.14 while Evangelidou's quickest is 4:16.05.