The birth of a new era for European sport? Let’s just wait and see

Few people know a thing about it but the brains behind the inaugural European Championships, starting this morning and continuing over the next 10 days in Glasgow and Berlin, plan to change all that.

The birth of a new era for European sport? Let’s just wait and see

By Brendan O’Brien

Few people know a thing about it but the brains behind the inaugural European Championships, starting this morning and continuing over the next 10 days in Glasgow and Berlin, plan to change all that.

Embracing seven sports — athletics, aquatics, cycling, gymnastics, golf, rowing, and triathlon — across the two cities, the expressed aim is to “create the grandest of stages upon which to crown the accomplishments of European champions”.

Irish athletes competing at the European Championships in Glasgow and Berlin, from left: Russell White; Rhys McClenaghan; Thomas Barr; Phil Healy; Darragh Greene, and Oliver Dingley. Pic: Sportsfile
Irish athletes competing at the European Championships in Glasgow and Berlin, from left: Russell White; Rhys McClenaghan; Thomas Barr; Phil Healy; Darragh Greene, and Oliver Dingley. Pic: Sportsfile

The thinking is that someone like Adam Peaty, the British breaststroke swimmer who won four gold medals and broke two world records at the 2014 Euros, should become a household name and not just a legend within his own sport’s restricted circles.

Grandiose claims have been made about a ‘new era’ for the quadrennial multi-sport event. A new highlight on the sporting calendar, apparently.

A celebration of world-class sport, we’ve been promised. We’ll see.

All of these individual European events existed in their own right long before now.

This is merely a case of old, familiar competitions served up in new packaging but, to be fair, enmeshing them into one singular offering makes sense.

An agreement between the European Broadcasting Union and the various sporting bodies will see up to 2,700 hours of free-to-air content available throughout the continent with RTÉ and the BBC among those devoting massive time and significant resources to it all.

It is a clever marketing ploy for what are minority sports. Together stronger.

That kind of thing and these multi-sport Euros are not to be confused with the European Games which were held for the first time in Baku in 2015.

Roughly 1,500 athletes will compete across the various athletics disciplines in Berlin with another 3,000 or so concentrating on the offerings in Scotland.

The next hosting is due in 2022 at a venue, or venues, yet to be confirmed.

The most important question is, of course, how will the Irish fare?

ATHLETICS

It’s been a summer sprinkled with some standout performances by Irish underage athletes and it now falls to a 42-strong senior team to assume the baton for championships which get underway at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin next Tuesday.

Ciara Mageean
Ciara Mageean

Portaferry’s Ciara Mageean claimed a bronze in the 1,500m in the Netherlands two years ago but, Fionnuala McCormack’s fourth in the 10,000m aside, it was a disappointing return from the Amsterdam meet from a team of similar size.

McCormack is absent this time but Mageean is one of a number of athletes rounding the bend into Berlin in encouraging form.

Others include Cork’s Phil Healy, Thomas Barr, and Mark English.

AQUATICS

Twelve swimmers will compete at Glasgow’s Tollcross International Swimming Centre with three divers on duty at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh.

Mona McSharry
Mona McSharry

John Rudd, Swim Ireland’s national performance director has admitted that “medals are going to be tough”.

Rudd has chosen more personal targets, challenging his 15-person team to deliver 50% PBs and 65% season’s bests.

Three relay teams is a new departure for the national squad at this level while a number of juniors have been selected to expose them to the biggest stages.

Hoping to set the tone will be 2017 World University Games champion Shane Ryan and Mona McSharry who was crowned World Junior champion last year, while the likes of Brendan Hyland and Darragh Greene will look to build on recent improvements.

Ollie Dingley will be the totem for a diving squad which will also consist of Jack French and Tanya Watson.

CYCLING

Cycling brings its four Olympic disciplines — road, track, mountain bike, and BMX — together for the first time.

Ireland are represented in all bar the BMX.

Ryan Mullen
Ryan Mullen

Ryan Mullen, who won bronze at the last European Championships, is the chief medal hope in the road time trial.

Other targeted events will include the men’s and women’s Madisons — a new event for the Olympic Games in this four-year cycle — with qualification points up for grabs.

Lydia Boylan and Lydia Gurley claimed silver in the women’s Madison last year.

On the track, there are Olympic and non-Olympic events.

The scratch and the points races offer opportunities of a podium place for the likes of Mark Downey, although tactics and bunching make predictions a fool’s errand there.

GOLF

Michael Hoey and Neil O’Briain will fly the flag for Ireland at the inaugural European Golf Team Championship. Gleneagles will play host, it is home to the 2014 Ryder Cup and it was also the venue for Hoey’s 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship victory.

Michael Hoey
Michael Hoey

Starting next Wednesday, the field is spilt down the middle between male and female golfers with mixed, male and female team events.

Strokeplay and matchplay formats are both used. In all, golfers from 15 countries will play a part.

Hoey is a five-time winner on the European Tour but the 39-year-old spends the majority of his time on the Challenge Tour since 2016.

O’Briain, a 31-year-old Dubliner, is another for whom the Challenge Tour is a staple diet.

GYMNASTICS

All eyes will be on Rhys McClenaghan. The Newtownards teenager won his second World Cup gold medal in Turkey last month despite a traumatic lead-up when he was left without a training base.

Rhys McClenaghan
Rhys McClenaghan

He had already claimed a gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

A pommel horse specialist, he is one of three men competing for Ireland.

Andy Smith and Adam Steele will join him in Scotland, as will Meaghan Smith, a 19-year old originally from Canada but an Irish citizen who will compete at her first big international event.

ROWING

No Sanita Puspure this time. The two-time European bronze medallist is in the middle of a major block of training and eyeing up the Worlds after claiming silvers at the World Cup regattas in Belgrade and Lucerne in June.

Denise Walsh
Denise Walsh

Ireland still bear serious ambitions in Scotland.

The lightweight double sculls crew of Paul and Gary O’Donovan continue to stockpile the successes with the latest gold claimed in Lucerne last month.

Also in the frame is the men’s pair of Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll.

Denise Walsh, a silver medallist in the women’s single sculls in the Czech Republic at last year’s Euros, teams up with Aoife Casey in the lightweight doubles.

Casey is a silver medallist from the European juniors in 2017 so the talent in that boat is obvious.

TRIATHLON

The two-year Olympic qualification phase for Tokyo 2020 kicked off back in May and the event at Strathclyde Country Park carries double the amount of Olympic qualifying points than a normal event.

Ireland have three men and six women competing in the elite grade — and 69 more across multiple age grades — with Russell White highest ranked.

The Banbridge athlete finished 14th at the recent Commonwealth Games and is a regular top-20 finisher on the World Series.

The birth of a new era for European sport? Let’s just wait and see

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