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Belgrade Reflections


THE EUROPEAN Indoor Champs returned to Belgrade, Serbia, for the first time since 1969. Thankfully a 200m track welcomed the competitors to the Kombank Arena, rather than the 195m track they used 48 years ago and athlete numbers were more than double those of 1969. Interestingly 48 nations were represented, compared to 22 in 1969, emphasising the changes in European boundaries as demonstrated by the division of the old host state of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The Kombank Arena proved a superb venue for indoor athletics, with good viewing throughout, a positive change since the problems of Prague. Over 100 spectators from the UK, principally using the services of Track & Field Tours, enjoyed Serbian hospitality with a three-day admission ticket for upper-tier seating, offering a very good view and costing less than £10!

Despite the pricing the arena was not full, except on the final evening when Serbian star !vana. Spanovic was in the long jump. Her impressive performance saw three consecutive jumps over seven metres, with the best at 7.24m being the longest in the world indoors since 1990! Not surprisingly the local crowd were ecstatic, with the atmosphere being maintained by the performances of Mihail Dudes in the heptathlon, where his bid for bronze in the final 1000m event proved elusive as he fell on the last bend; that he was subsequently disqualified seemed a poor reward for an impressive performance over two days from the 28-year-old.

Organisationally the event did suffer from either inexperience or incompetence. It was difficult as a spectator to decide which as false starts were common, with no apparent consistency applied.

Other concerns included the heptathlon pole vault overrunning significantly, not helped by the event starting late. The delay in starting the women's relay was inexcusable, with TV schedules delayed for 30 minutes or so. Laura Muir was initially stopped from completing her lap of honour after winning the 1500m and it was just one example of inconsistent officialdom as many 'victory laps' were curtailed after 100m, while other winners were granted a full lap.

Competition wise the field qualities were varied, with some top European competitors present, including Beitia, Maslak and David Stott yet other fields were short of competitors with only four heats of the men's 60m required and the men's 60m hurdles not requiring heats.

Overall competitor numbers at 525 were down on Prague where 643 registered. Some countries were understandably using the event to give their junior competitors a taste of senior competition and a number of youngsters won medals — such as Konrad Bukowiecki, who took the men's shot for Poland aged 19.

Unfortunately, the UKA selection policy led to Asha Philip being our only women's 60m competitor, yet Shannon Hylton would have qualified for the semi-finals based on her indoor performances this year. Both Ireland and Norway, incidentally, had semi-finalists aged 17 and 18 respectively.

Presumably the UKA team management were happy, with 10 of the 12 women selected for individual events making finals, while half of the 14 men selected (excluding heptathlon) making finals. As a result, UK athletes finished second in the medals table to Poland (who also topped the table in Belgrade in 1969), while finishing equal first on the placings table.

It would be interesting to compare funding provided to UKA compared to the Poles, as from a spectator viewpoint having six male athletes specifically funded for the relay, but no team being sent to the championships seems absurd. It will be interesting to see how the selection policy changes for Glasgow in two years' time, when a home crowd will surely require home athletes to compete in more events.

Overall, Belgrade was a great host city and the British team had their best medal haul ever from an overseas European Championships.

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