Amsterdam gears up for the European athletics championships

Sifan Hassan in action earlier this year. Photo: AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonSifan Hassan in action earlier this year. Photo: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Thousands of athletes from all over Europe are descending on Amsterdam this week for the European athletics championships which kick off on Wednesday.

Representing 50 different countries, 1,500 sportsmen and women will be completing in 23 different disciplines over five days, ending in a half marathon through the city on Sunday.

The first edition of the European athletics championships was held in Torino, Italy in 1934 and now, 82 years later, the 23rd edition is taking place for the first time in the Netherlands, with Amsterdam as host.

Most of the events will take place at the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1928 Olympics and since refurbished to meet modern standards. But the qualification rounds for the javelin and discus are taking place on the Museumplein in the heart of the city, where the half marathon and the mass start 10k fun run on Sunday July 10 will also take place.

Innovation

It was on the Museumplein way back in in October 1886 that provided the backdrop to the first official athletics event in the Netherlands.

At the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam that innovative streak shone through again when women were allowed to compete for the first time. This year’s innovation comes in the form of the International Para-Athletics Challenge (IPAC), which will be held in conjunction with the European championships for the first time.

The stadium during the 1928 Olympics. Photo: RijksmonumentenThe stadium during the 1928 Olympics. Photo: Rijksmonumenten

‘‘It’s a wonderful thing for athletes to be able to compete in a fantastic event like this in their own country,’ says Ellen van Lange, the 1992, 800 metres Olympic champion.

‘Never before have so many Dutch athletes and potential medal winners competed in a European championship. Dutch athletes have been performing well internationally and that is all the more reason to turn this event into an unforgettable celebration.’

Van Langen’s win was the first gold medal for a Dutch athlete in a running event since Fanny Blankers-Koen’s Olympic triumphs of 1948.Today the Netherlands has several gold medal potentials, including Dafne Schippers and Sifan Hassan.

Dutch athletes to watch

Dafne Schippers is a Dutch medal hopeful. Photo Ralf Hirschberger/dpaDafne Schippers is a Dutch medal hopeful. Photo Ralf Hirschberger/dpa

The total Dutch squad is made up of 54 athletes, 26 men and 28 women.

1 Dafne Schippers is hot favourite for the 100m title and is not defending her 200m title which she won in Zurich two years ago. Since having made the decision to switch from the heptathlon last June, at the World Championships in Beijing, Schippers has won the 200m world title and taken silver in the 100m.

2 Sifan Hassan may very well do the Netherlands proud in the 1,500m race. Born in Ethiopia, Hassan became  both a Dutch citizen and a Dutch champion in 2013, winning a gold in the under 23 category at the 2013 Cross Country Championship. Hassan hasn’t looked back since and is also in with a chance in the 800m race.

Thijmen Kupers may also be in with a chance in the 800m. He finished third in European Indoor championships last year.

4 Susan Kuijken or Maureen Koster could bag a medal in the 5,000m while in the men’s 5,000m Dennis Licht and Khalid Chouloud could make the winners’ podium.

5 The combined events (decathlon for men, heptathlon for women) could have a surprise in store in the shape of Eelco Sintnicolaas who was silver medalist at the Barcelona games in 2010. Nadine Broersen is also a medal hopeful.

6 Curaçao born Churandy Thomas Martina has competed in three Olympic Games and in 2011 decided to represent the Netherlands. A year later he won the 200m European title and in 2012 he achieved an honourable fifth place at the Olympics.

7 Parathlete Marlou van Rhijn is a former swimmer, but nowadays focuses on the 100m and 200m. She had her finest moment during the Paralympic Games in London in 2012, where she won silver in the 100m, followed by gold in the 200m.