Old stadium ready to inspire new generation
ATHLETICS:THERE’S NO escaping the iconic Irish victories that come to mind on arrival at Helsinki’s old Olympic stadium – Eamonn Coghlan so defiant in 1983, Sonia O’Sullivan simply untouchable in 1994.
It’s possible these moments can help inspire the new generation of Irish athletes in action this week, although they may need to look them up on YouTube.
None of the 26 Irish athletes that have made the trip here this week were even born during Coghlan’s era, and the majority of them were just about walking when O’Sullivan took charge.
Indeed it is, on many levels, a new era – not just for Irish athletics, but for the sport in Europe as a whole. Whatever about the benefits of these European Athletics Championships going biennial they’re definitely playing support to the London Olympics, and little wonder many of the big faces are waiting for the headline act, just over five weeks away.
The condensed, five-day schedule here (no walks, no marathons) should work well from a spectator point of view, but only by Sunday evening will a clearer picture emerge of what exactly the 21st edition of these championships now represent.
Some events are unquestionably weakened by the absence of some leading names that have stayed away for no other reason than to save all their efforts for London – that includes Derval O’Rourke, who won the silver medal in the 100 metres hurdles in the last two editions of these championships – in Gothenburg in 2006 and Barcelona in 2010.
Would it be that if O’Rourke won a medal here it would somehow be less significant than her other two?
Or would it somehow demean what she’s won in the past, knowing how hard-earned and cherished those two medals are?
Would Sonia O’Sullivan feel the same about her five European medals, having added two more gold medals in 1998 and two silvers in 2002? It’s evitable that by diluting these championships some of the power and magic is lost, although that’s not saying that any medals will necessarily be easily won in Helsinki this week.
The depth of previous championships is certainly missing, but with Britain’s Mo Farah set to defend his 5,000 metres title this evening, and France’s Christophe Lemaitre out to defend both his sprint titles, the cream of European athletic talent will still be floating at the top.
Overall entries have actually held up well compared to previous championships, with 1,342 athletes (738 men, 604 women) from 50 countries – only the second time all 50 member federations are represented.