Poland and Germany poised to battle it out for the Super League title

Justyna Swiety-Ersetic
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Poland's Justyna Swiety-Ersetic will contest the 400m and 4x400m relay at the European Athletics Team Championships Super League in Bydgoszcz from 9-11 August

Poland finished 26.5 points behind Germany two years ago in Lille Metropole for their best ever finish but a full-strength team will be looking to bridge this gap when Bydgoszcz plays host to the European Athletics Team Championships Super League from 9-11 August.

Based on current form, the Poles and the Germans are very evenly matched and the direction of the overall title might not be decided until the men’s and women’s 4x400m relays conclude the third day of the programme at the Zawisza Stadium.

The Poles will certainly have the upper hand over their European rivals in both relays. Their men’s team broke the world indoor record at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham last March while their women’s team are the reigning European indoor and outdoor champions.

The linchpin of the Polish relay team is Justyna Swiety-Ersetic who defied the timetable clash at the European Championships by winning the individual 400m title before anchoring the Poles to the 4x400m relay time just over two hours later.

While the Poles will be confident of extending their excellent run of form in the relay - especially after beating the United States at the IAAF World Relays in May - Swiety-Ersetic will be tested individually by reigning European indoor champion Lea Sprunger from Switzerland. European 400m silver medallist Maria Belibasaki was due to contest both the 200m and 400m but she is a late withdrawal from the Greek team.

Swiety-Ersetic is one of five reigning individual European champions from Berlin to be named on the Polish team along with Adam Kszczot in the 800m, Wojciech Nowicki in the hammer and Michal Haratyk and Paulina Guba who swept the shot put titles in the German capital.

The Polish team also includes two more champions from the European Athletics Indoor Championships: Marcin Lewandowski in the 1500m and Ewa Swoboda in the 100m.

Lewandowski might trail Great Britain’s Charlie Grice by nearly four seconds based on season’s bests - 3:30.62 to 3:34.14 - but the elder statesman of the Polish team is at his most dangerous in a championship environment in which he can utilise his 800m pace while the fast-starting Swoboda is the fastest on paper in the 100m with a season’s best of 11.15.

And another candidate for maximum points this weekend is Piotr Lisek who has reached rarefied territory this summer, clearing a Polish record of 6.01m for victory in Lausanne followed by 6.02m for another significant victory in Monaco over the likes of world champion Sam Kendricks and European champion Armand Duplantis.

In Bydgoszcz, Lisek will face the most successful athlete in one discipline in European Athletics Team Championships history in Renaud Lavillenie who has accrued six individual wins from his seven prior appearances.

Lavillenie’s glittering career began in earnest at this event a decade ago when he surpassed the six metre-mark for the first time, clearing a still-standing championship record of 6.01m when the biennial event was held in Leiria, Portugal. Lisek's current form is such that Lavillenie's decade-old mark could be on borrowed time.

Now 32, Lavillenie has succumbed to more than his fair share of injuries in recent seasons but the world record-holder has battled back to competitive form, clearing a season’s best of 5.85m in his most recent competition at the French Championships.

But the biggest danger to the Poles as a collective will come from the Germans who have amassed an enviable record at the European Athletics Team Championships, winning the overall title on three occasions (2009, 2014 and 2017) and finishing runners-up three times (2011, 2013 and 2015).

The Germans might be missing a few of their best known names but their team sheet is still replete with champions, including three gold medallists from Berlin 2018: Malaika Mihambo (long jump), Gesa Felicitas Krause (3000m steeplechase) and Mateusz Przybylko (high jump).

Krause is aiming for her third successive individual win in the 3000m steeplechase while the form that Mihambo has displayed this summer is such we could see the first ever seven metre-plus at the European Athletics Team Championships. Mihambo set a world lead of 7.16m at the German Championships on Sunday.

If the three days of competition goes to form, there should be a close tussle for third behind Poland and Germany between Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

The Italian team will be particularly strong in the men’s track events and Yemaneberhan Crippa could especially embellish their podium prospects with victories in both the 3000m and 5000m although the Italian does face strong opposition from Switzerland’s European half marathon record-holder Julien Wanders in the latter.

The Spaniards will also have high hopes on the track programme with European leaders Orlando Ortega and Fernando Carro in the 110m hurdles and 3000m steeplechase respectively. The team also features reigning European indoor champions Alvaro de Arriba in the 800m and Ana Peleteiro in the triple jump.

And there will be just as much intrigue in the bottom half of the standings as five teams will be relegated into the First League to accommodate the changes to the format which were approved by the European Athletics Council in November 2018.

From 2021 onwards, the top-tier of the European Athletics Team Championships Super League will be streamlined to eight teams so only the winners of the First League will secure promotion.

Some of the teams in danger of relegation will be relying on their big hitters to secure their places in the Super League. The Greek team, who just avoided relegation two years ago, features their three reigning European champions: Ekaterini Stefanidi (pole vault), Miltiadis Tentoglou (long jump) and Paraskevi Papahristou (long jump, triple jump).

And this weekend will also be a particularly momentous for the Swiss who will be making their debut in the Super League only five years after contesting the Second League.

Aside from Sprunger and Wanders, their team features Mujinga Kambundji in the 200m, European U20 champion Delia Sclabas in the 800m and 1500m and European U23 champion Jason Joseph in the 110m hurdles but the late withdrawals of Silvan Wicki (100m) and former European champions Kariem Hussein (400m hurdles) and Selina Buchel (800m) could dent their chances of remaining in the Super League.

The Swiss finished third in the First League in Vaasa two years ago behind group winners Sweden and Finland. The Swedish team features world lead Daniel Stahl in the discus and European silver medallist Andreas Kramer in the 800m while the Finnish team includes European U23 high jump bronze medallist Ella Junnila and world U20 record-holder Wilma Murto in the pole vault.

Live streaming of both the European Athletics Team Championships Super League and First League will be available on the European Athletics website.