European Athletics U20 Championships celebrates its Golden Anniversary

Pietro Mennea
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Italy's legendary sprinter Pietro Mennea was out of the 200m medals at the 1970 European Junior Championships but would set a world record and get Olympic gold in the years to come  

Fifty years ago today, the first European Junior Championships – now the European Athletics U20 Championships – got underway in the Stade Olympique de Colombes in a suburb of Paris.

An unofficial continental competition for juniors had been held in 1964, followed by further competitions in 1966 and 1968 recognised by the European Committee of the International Association of Athletic Federations, but just two months before the European Athletic Association (now known as European Athletics) came into being, the first official competition for Europe's most talented teenage athletes was staged, the 26th edition of which will be held in Tallinn, Estonia on 15-18 July 2021.

The competition in the centrepiece of the Paris 1924 Olympic Games lasted three days from 11-13 September and was clearly going to be a success from the moment entries started to arrive.

No less than 25 nations decided to send athletes, more than double the 11 that competed in Leipzig in 1968 when many countries had declined to send teams owing to the prevailing crisis in Eastern Europe although 19 had competed in 1966.

Thirty-five events were on the schedule for men under 20 and women under 19 – not until the 1989 championship would both genders be under 20 competitors – with 21 events for men and just 14 for women. In the case of the latter there was no 400m hurdles, steeplechase, pole vault, triple jump, hammer, race walk nor any track event longer than 1500m.

However, like at every championship since, Paris provided a glimpse into a crystal ball as a plethora of soon-to-be famous names competed; some with significant success, others less so.

In addition to giving these teenage athletes the vital experience of international competition, the championship also helped prompt the European Athletic Association to set up its first list of official junior records two years later.

With the kind permission of the publication Athletics International who produced the list below, it is interesting to see some of the most significant names who competed in Paris 50 years ago, most of whom did not immediately make their mark but who definitely achieved distinction in the years afterwards.

  • Pietro Mennea ITA: 5th in 200m (22.3)... set world record of 19.72A in 1979 and won 1980 Olympic title.

  • Fernando Mamede POR: 5th in 800m heat (1:56.3)... set world 10,000m record of 27:13.81 in 1984.

  • Thomas Wessinghage GER: 8th in 1500m (3:57.5)... 1982 European 5000m champion; pbs included 3:31.58 (1980), 3:49.98 mile (1983) and 13:12.78 5000m (1982).

  • Bronislaw Malinowski POL: 1st in 2000mSC (5:44.0)... 1980 Olympic 3000mSC champion; pb 8:09.11 in 1976.

  • Jürgen Straub GDR: 6th in 2000mSC heat (5:55.6)... 2nd 1980 Olympic 1500m; pbs of 3:33.68 (1979) and 8:19.8 3000mSC (1975).

  • Aleksey Spiridinov URS: 2nd in HT (64.88m)... set world record of 78.62m in 1976 and 2nd in that year's Olympics.

  • Karl-Hans Riehm FRG: 4th in HT (64.22m)... set world records of 78.50 in 1975 and 80.32 in 1978; pb of 80.80 in 1980; 2nd 1984 Olympics.

  • Aleksandr Makarov URS: 2nd in JT (74.92m)... 2nd 1980 Olympics with pb of 89.64 (old model).

  • Ferenc Paragi HUN: 8th in JT (65.14)... set world record of 96.72 (old model) in 1980.

  • Aleksandr Grebenyuk URS: 7th in Dec (6404 points)... European champion in 1978; pb of 8400 in 1977.

  • Monika Zehrt GDR: 1st in 400m (54.0)... Won 1972 Olympic title and set world record of 51.0 that year.

  • Grazyna Rabsztyn POL: 1st in 100mH (13.9)... set world records of 12.48 in 1978 and 12.36 in 1980.

  • Sara Simeoni ITA: 5th in HJ (1.70m)... 1980 Olympic champion and set world record of 2.01m twice in 1978.

  • Jacqueline Todten GDR: 1st in JT (55.20m)... 2nd 1972 Olympics; pb of 63.14m (old model) in 1973.

  • Eva Wilms FRG: 5th in Pen (4315 points)... 4641 indoors in 1977; 2nd European Indoor SP in 1980; pb of 21.43 in 1977.