The saying that every point counts at the European Athletics Team Championships was never more true than two years ago in Heraklion when Estonia avoided relegation from the by just one point.
At the other end of the table on that occasion, 2015 hosts Greece finished second on home soil to secure promotion back to the European Athletics Team Championships Super League and Finland will be looking to follow their example when the Karl’s Stadium in Vaasa stages to the European Athletics Team Championships First League from Friday to Sunday (23-25).
The standout name on the Finnish team is former world javelin champion Tero Pitkamaki, who is still going strong at the age of 34.
Pitkamaki has surpassed the 83 metre-line in his five competitions this season but he will need to be in this shape to ensure maximum points as Estonia’s Magnus Kirt only narrowly trails the Finn on the season’s lists with his season’s best of 84.08m.
The Finn is one of the dependable and successful members of the national team. He made his debut at the event’s predecessor - the European Cup - back in 2005 when he claimed victory in the First League to help Finland clinch promotion and followed it up two years later with a Super League win in the very stadium he will be competing in this weekend.
Maximum points again in Vaasa this weekend will be a boon to his country’s bid for promotion back to the next Super League which will held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 2019.
The race of the weekend is set to be the 400m hurdles which features three of the top six finishers from the Olympic Games - Turkey’s reigning European champion Yasmani Copello, Ireland’s Thomas Barr and Estonia’s Rasmus Magi - along with 2014 European champion Kariem Hussein from Switzerland.
However, the pre-race favourite will be Norway’s Karsten Warholm, arguably the world’s best 400m hurdler at present.
After setting a national 400m record of 44.87 earlier this month, Warholm transferred that flat speed to the hurdles with a breakthrough victory on home soil in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo in 48.25 before backing it up three days later with victory in Stockholm in 48.82; beating all his main rivals in Vaasa on one or both occasions.
Norwegian athletics is enjoying some heady times thanks in no small part to Warholm and the achievements of the Ingebrigtsen brothers.
Henrik has been forced to cancel the rest of his season due to a hamstring injury but 2016 European champion Filip will be lining up in the 1500m while younger brother Jakob – who is already a 3:56 miler at the age of 16 and holds the world age-best for the distance – will step up to the 5000m where he will face Turkey’s Ali Kaya and Switzerland’s Julian Wanders, another emerging prospect of Europe distance running.
Isabelle Pedersen just missed out on victory - and a national record - in the 100m hurdles in the Oslo but she is expected to bolster Norway’s promotion bid with maximum points in the 100m hurdles while Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal will contest the 1500m in Vaasa.
Not only are there promotion places up for grabs, Scandinavian pride is also at stake with Sweden also competing in the First League.
Daniel Stahl has been in brilliant form on the Diamond League circuit and goes head-to-head with Belgium’s world and European silver medallist Philip Milanov in the discus while Meraf Bahta and Michel Torneus are the favourites in the women’s 3000m and long jump respectively.
Turkey missed out on promotion back to the Super League two years ago but they have named a strong team with prospects across the programme.
Unbeaten this season over 100m and 200m, Ramil Guliyev is expected to claim maximum points in the longer sprint while European cross country champion Aras Kaya will contest the 3000m steeplechase.
On the in-field, 20-year-old Eda Tugsuz holds the world-lead in the women’s javelin with 67.21m.
Switzerland finished eighth in Heraklion two years ago but they will be looking to improve on that showing in Vaasa.
Their team is particularly strong on the track with Mujinga Kambundji (200m), Lea Sprunger (400m), Selina Buchel (800m) and Petra Fontanive (400m hurdles) while in-form Fabienne Schlumpf will be one of the busiest athletes of the weekend as she will attempt a 3000m steeplechase/5000m double.
Ivet Lalova-Collio will be aiming to achieve a sprint double for newly promoted Bulgaria, who can also boast of Rio women’s high jump silver medallist Mirela Demireva, while Denmark were also promoted from the Second League in 2015 and have in their team the 2016 European 400m hurdles champion and Rio silver medallist Sara Slott Petersen.