Gothenburg gears up for European athletics week

The European Athletics Championships gets under way in Gothenburg on Monday with a host of Olympic and world champions looking to add a continental title to their accolades.

The week-long tournament has been given a good dose of doping subplot in the wake of the Justin Gatlin scandal with the inclusion of returning drug offender Dwain Chambers in the British team.

Chambers won the 100m and gold in the 4x100m relay in the last European championships in Munich in 2002, but consequently tested positive for doping.

He was handed a two-year ban, had to forfeit both gold medals and was also stripped of the national record of 9.87sec he held with Linford Christie.

Chambers injured his thigh in the semi-finals of the British trials but is adamant he will be fit come the first round of competition here.

“I’m definitely running on Monday and we’ll see what happens then,” said the 28-year-old Londoner who posted an impressive 10.07sec behind Jamaican Asafa Powell’s record-equalling 9.77sec in Gateshead last month.

An added twist to the 100m race is that Portugal’s Nigerian-born sprinter Francis Obikwelu, who finished second behind Chambers in Munich, also runs.

Obikwelu has a sprint double in his sights, also going in the 200m, where his main contenders will likely be French duo Ronald Pognon and David Alerte and possibly Marlon Devonish of Britain.

Swedish hopes lie with an experienced quartet of gold medal contenders in Stefan Holm and Kajsa Bergqvist (high jump), Christian Olsson (triple jump) and Carolina Klüft (heptathlon).

Holm, with a world leading 2.34m to his credit this season, leads the charge in the men’s high jump but will have his work cut out against Russian duo Yaroslav Rybakov, the defending champion, and Ivan Ukhov.

World champion Bergqvist, who has recovered from an early season ankle injury, looks a safe bet to defend the title she won in Germany four years ago.

Local boy and reigning champion Christian Olsson goes into the triple jump as hot favourite, with British pair Nathan Douglas and Phillips Idowu expected to be close on his heels.

Klüft, who beat Eunice Barber by just 63 points to claim the world title last year in Helsinki, will be up against her French rival again but should prevail in front of her home crowd.

Elsewhere in the field, Lithuanian veteran Virgilijus Alekna, the double Olympic and world champion, arrives in Gotheburg striving for the one title he has not won.

The men’s javelin promises to be a dogfight between Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway and Tero Pitkamaki from Finland, with the 40-year-old Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic, a triple Olympic champion, providing the colour as he has a last tilt at winning the continental title.

Whether Yelena Isinbayeva will add to the five outdoor world records, during 2004 and 2005, in the women’s pole vault is in doubt, however, the Russian struggling somewhat with a change in her vaulting technique.

Indeed, her last visit to Sweden – Stockholm on July 25 – ended with her beaten on count back by Poland’s Monica Pyrek, the winning height that day a modest 4.62m.