How Braunschweig is taking athletics beyond the track

How Braunschweig is taking athletics beyond the track
European Athletics

Russia is aiming for a fourth consecutive European Athletics Team Championships title in Braunschweig but they will be up against strong contenders in Germany, Great Britain and France.

Sixty kilometres from Hanover sits the picturesque German city of Braunschweig.
Dating back to the 9th century, its industries have included sugar production, fashion and even the creation of video games. This weekend it takes on a new role - as the epicentre of athletics.

Braunschweig is the host venue for the Super League as the European Athletics Team Championships celebrates its fifth staging. It is not alone in joining the party because across the continent, the settings for the First, Second and Third Leagues - Tallinn, Latvia and Tbilisi respectively – are also holding the event for the first time.

And as Germany prepare to host the competition, they do so with a squad brimming with world class stars and newcomers in their bid to lift the title for the first time since the opening European Athletics Team Championships in Leiria in 2009.

But, win or lose, the people of Braunschweig will not forget this weekend.

They are embracing it in such a way that it has become more than just a sporting event.

Twelve countries are taking part, with Russia looking for a fourth successive triumph as, along with Germany, they face opposition from Great Britain, France, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, Italy, Turkey, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Spain.

And in these weeks leading up to the championships, pupils at 12 local primary schools in the city have been taught about the cultural and sociological background of the nations whose athletes they will see for themselves on Saturday and Sunday.

In addition, youngsters from the fourth grade in schools are taking part in a special athletics day where all the colours of the 12 nations will be worn.

When it comes to the real event itself, those in the German kit include two of their greatest ever field eventers in Olympic, three-time World and European discus champion Robert Harting, who is the captain, and David Storl, the double World and European shot put champion.

Their strength among the women is also impressive, with Betty Heidler in the hammer, Christina Schwanitz in the shot put, Verena Sailer over 100m, Nadine Muller in the discus and Linda Stahl in the javelin.

The competition, which combines scores from the men’s and women’s teams, was close 12 months ago in Gateshead as Russia won by just seven points from Germany, 354.5 to 347.5, with Britain third in 338.

The Czech Republic were promoted to the Super League after winning the First League and the presence of Pavel Maslak, the 400m European champion who won the World Indoor crown in March, will only add to the glamour of the occasion.

And, while it is a team event, with points for each placing, there will also be the chance to see the man who stole so many headlines during the winter – France’s pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, who broke the World record in February.

He is part of an exceptionally strong squad which includes sprinters Jimmy Vicaut, running the 100m, Christophe Lemaitre, in the 200m, Myriam Soumare, who will double up in the 100m and 200m, and in the 110m hurdles, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde who tops the world rankings with 13.12.

Sweden bring with them arguably the world’s leading middle-distance woman in 1500m World champion Abeba Aregawi who will no doubt put on another show.

Her run will be just one for the memory banks for the local youngsters who are being made to feel so much a part of this outstanding competition.