Words of JFK remembered as Ireland look to avoid the drop
Eleven of the second strongest and deeply traditional athletic nations in Europe coming to Morton Stadium
Derval O’Rourke will compete for Ireland in Morton Stadium next week.
Something is dangerously wrong when the most important track and field competition ever staged in this country is being treated with such dissidence. Is the forecast that bad? Have they sprayed anthrax around the Morton Stadium? Why the morbid predictions of miserable failure?
“Give me one good reason for going to Santry next weekend,” my accountant asked, on Thursday night, puffing heavily on a cigarette outside the Roundwood Inn. And he calls himself an athletics man. True, the European Team Championships is not an easy sell – and indeed easily confused with some of its previous incarnations, such as the Europa Cup, or the old Bruno Zauli Trophy, named after the man who dreamed it all up in 1965. But nothing drives the fear into sport than the grief and pain and public humiliation of being relegated on home territory, and that’s the prospect facing 50 of our finest athletes next Saturday and Sunday. It will, believe me, be a very thin line between survival and disaster.
So, although sorely tempted to stay away myself, this is exactly what JFK asked of us 50 years ago – because the whole point of the European Team Championships is athletes doing it for their country. There is no pace making, no prize money, and definitely nowhere to hide, just like Billy Morton would have planned it back in the good old days. It’s all about the honour and minor glory, or in our case, wearing the green vest and fighting off relegation.
It’s four years now since the good people at the European Athletics Federation agreed on the current format, which has worked well: central to that was the combination of men’s and women’s scores (previously separated), and with that a combined outright score to decide final rankings. All 50 European member federations get to take part, the top 12 in the sort of “Champions” League, the next best 12 in the First League, eight more in the Second League, and all the rest in the Third League.
The competition itself is beautifully simple: there are 20 events, men’s and women’s, (no walks, sadly, or marathons, or 10,000 metres) – and each event winner scores 12 points, second place 11 points, and so on down. Anyone disqualified or not finishing gets no score, jointly-placed finishers split the points, and the discus and hammer, naturally, count for exactly the same as the 100m and sprint hurdles. Three teams will be either promoted or relegated in or out of the top league, and two teams in or out of all other divisions.
“Every single half point will count,” Pierce O’Callaghan tells me, the man responsible for promoting the event – and that’s no exaggeration. “And we’ve never really had an opportunity like this before, to see all our athletes compete at home, in all events, at such a high level. From that point of view it’s the biggest track and field competition ever staged in this country.”