A contingent of 31 athletes are currently in Cyprus as this weekend they will represent Athletics Malta at the European Team Championships Third League in Limassol.
Maltese athletes will be up againstAlbania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus, Georgia, Luxembourg, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, San Marino and Serbia.
The top three countries will be promoted to the Second League.
Hosts Cyprus will be one of the favourites for promotion back into the Second League. Their team includes world finalists Milan Trajkovic (110m hurdles) and Apostolos Parellis (discus).
Serbia also have a formidable line-up with athletes such as Ivana Španović, who is the reigning world and European indoor champion.
The championships were originally scheduled for last year but were postponed due to COVID-19. This weekend’s two-day meeting is being held under very strict health-protocols.
The build-up for these championships have been anything but easy for Maltese athletes as their training and competitive events disrupted due to COVID-19.
Still, Athletics Malta managed to send its national team athletes to four international events in the space of two months with the assistance of the Maltese Olympic Committee and SportMalta.
“Despite the challenges that we faced over the past months, we believe we have invested significant time, energy and funds to push for one of the three promotion spots for next year’s edition,” Andy Grech, Athletics Malta president told the Times of Malta.
“Malta faces stiff opposition, as we will be competing against far larger countries such as Serbia and Georgia and strong countries such as Cyprus.
“Malta’s team includes athletes of all ages, 17 the youngest and 45 being our eldest. I believe we have one of the strongest teams Maltese Athletics has had in the past 20 years.
“A mixture of experience and enthusiasm will be used as an important springboard for the remaining part of the international season and as a part of the build-up to the 2023 GSSE games.
“Unfortunately, many of our young and promising athletes have had to be left behind, due to important examinations being held over the very same weekend.”
On his part, Mario Bonello, the national team’s technical director, said that the build-up for this year’s championship has been anything but easy.
“This year we started with national team training soon after the 2019-20 season came to a close,” Bonello said.
“Naturally all athletes worked on their personal development, but we wanted to ensure that we also start working as a team. Unfortunately, with the pandemic hitting us hard once again earlier this year, some team training had to be cancelled.
“Additionally, with refurbishment works taking place at our one and only national athletics track, our athletes and coaches had indeed to be not only committed to their training but also creative in their approach.
“Added to this, these competitions have clashed heavily with the SEC and Advanced Matriculation exams.”
Bonello said that Team Malta was in a good place but the pool athletes in all disciplines needs to be increased if the country can challenge for promotion.
“The commitment shown by our team of athletes has resulted in some good performances in our early competitions, with many athletes still registering improved performances over the past seasons,” Bonello said.
“The European Team Championships, however, necessitates that we field athletes in all disciplines, and this is where we also need to develop, since a few events are rather weak compared to others.
“In the sprints events, ranging from the 100m to the 400m, we have a strong core of athletes.
“With further development of this group, we can compete at a good level, particularly seen that we have youngsters also coming though, challenging for the top positions.”
Janet Richard, Athletics Malta athlete of the year for 2020, said that she is looking forward to the championships.
“The opportunity to represent Malta is one which I never take for granted,” she said.
“It is such an honour and a privilege to form part of this team. The European Team championships has always been my favorite international competition on the athletics calendar since we are generally a large contingent covering most if not all track and field events.
“The vibe at these games is like no other since you can feel everyone come together as a team with one common goal, to get as many points as possible for Malta. I’m super excited to get to Cyprus and fight alongside the rest of the team.
“My goal for Cyprus is to improve my time in the 400m and possibly even dip under 55 seconds for the first time this year.
“More importantly, I hope to bring in as many points for team Malta as possible both in my individual event as well as in the 4x400m relay.”