Team Europe and Team USA ready to clash in the first chapter of The Match

Team Europe and Team USA will clash over two days of competition in Minsk, Belarus on 9-10 September at the inaugural edition of The Match Europe v USA which will be streamed live through the European Athletics website courtesy of European Athletics’ International Partner Eurovision Sport.

The competition is redolent of the dual matches which formed a significant part of the athletics calendar in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The Dinamo National Olympic Stadium itself played host to such a competition in 1973 when teams from the Soviet Union and the United States clashed in the Belarusian capital with the overall victory going to the hosts.

While the Soviets took a comprehensive victory over the Americans – 216 to 163 points across the two days – that fixture sticks in the mind as future world 1500m and 3000m champion Mary Decker made her international debut for the United States, winning the 800m on a sodden track at the age of 14 ahead of Olympic silver medallist Nijole Sabaite.

Both teams are filled with winners from major championships but the US team in particular also includes some emerging talents such as 17-year-old Athing Mu who – like Decker some 36 years ago – will be toeing the start-line in the 800m against a European team headed by the very experienced European indoor and outdoor bronze medallist Olha Lyakhova from Ukraine.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, the US team also features the most bemedalled athlete in World Championships history Allyson Felix in the 400m up against European champion Justyna Swiety-Ersetic from Poland and 19-year-old European U20 champion Polina Miller from Russia who cites Felix as one of her idols.

Other standout names on the US team include reigning four-time world champion Brittney Reese who leads a strong overseas foursome against European silver medallist Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk from Ukraine and home favourite Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova while reigning Olympic champion Michelle Carter faces European champion Paulina Guba from Poland and world indoor champion Anita Marton from Hungary in a clash of the champions in the shot put.

The European team features no fewer than six reigning world champions and 15 reigning European champions from Berlin last summer. The Poles have contributed five reigning European champions to Team Europe with Swiety-Ersetic and Guba joined by Michal Haratyk in the men’s shot put, Adam Kszczot in the 800m and Wojciech Nowicki in the hammer.

The hammer is one of the first events on the programme and Team Europe is expected to make a sterling start to proceedings as their team features not only Nowicki but also three-time reigning world champion and teammate Pawel Fajdek, Commonwealth champion Nick Miller from Great Britain and Denis Lukyanov.

There is also an outstanding European presence in the women’s pole vault which features Ekaterini Stefanidi from Greece, one of the Team Europe ambassadors for The Match. Stefanidi arrives fresh from equalling her season’s best of 4.83m in the Brussels Diamond League where she took a notable win ahead of reigning European indoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova and Katie Nageotte from the United States – both of whom will be competing in Minsk.

Sandi Morris and Jenn Suhr might be missing from the US team but Nageotte is perhaps the most in-form of the US vaulters based on recent form. She has cleared 4.82m in Lausanne and Zurich on the Diamond League circuit in recent weeks – just one centimetre below Stefanidi’s season’s best – and has a 6-6 head-to-head record against the reigning world, European and Olympic champion in 2019.

Fellow Team Europe ambassadors Mariya Lasitskene and Ramil Guliyev also arrive in Minsk fresh from excellent performances in the Brussels Diamond League. Lasitskene extended her unbeaten outdoor streak in the high jump with a 1.99m clearance in the high jump while Guliyev has come back to some excellent form just in time for his title defence at the IAAF World Championships, finishing second over 200m in 19.86 – the second fastest time of his career.

While Guliyev is expected to secure maximum points for Team Europe in the 200m, the other sprint events should be decidedly more competitive between Team Europe and Team USA. In the 100m, the United States will be counting on prolific sub-10 performer Mike Rodgers to secure maximum points, although British champion Ojie Edoburun and Italian record-holder Filippo Tortu will certainly be competitive against the US quartet. US champion Dezerea Bryant also faces Brits Beth Dobbin and Ashleigh Nelson and Germany’s Tatjana Pinto in a high calibre field in the women’s 200m.

The focus of attention in the 100m hurdles will be squarely on reigning European champion and home favourite Elvira Herman who faces an accomplished US team which includes Olympic silver medallist Nia Ali and Sharika Nelvis while all three medallists from the European Championships in Berlin – Switzerland’s Lea Sprunger, Ukraine’s Hanna Ryzhykova and Great Britain’s Meghan Beesley – will face Olympic bronze medallist and 53.11 performer Ashley Spencer who leads the US team in the 400m hurdles.

Team Europe has also named a strong team in the 110m hurdles which features former world and European champion Sergey Shubenkov whose third place finish in the Brussels Diamond League on Friday night in 13.33 was by far his best race since returning to competition after a mid-season leg injury. The winner in Brussels Orlando Ortega is also representing Team Europe in Minsk along with reigning world indoor champion Andrew Pozzi who will cross paths with Jarret Eaton again. Pozzi beat Eaton by just 0.01 for the world indoor title in Birmingham last March.

The middle and long distance events will reward tactical savvy, good positioning and finishing speed in the absence of pacemakers. This sort of environment should play to the advantage of reigning world indoor champion and three-time European 800m champion Adam Kszczot who is known in Poland as the professor for his legendary tactical prowess while Spain’s Adel Mechaal and Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa demonstrated excellent finishing speed in winning the 3000m and 5000m respectively at the European Athletics Team Championships Super League.

The track events should be finely balanced between Team Europe and Team USA but the balance of power will be with the home contingent in the throws. A clean sweep is a strong possibility in the men’s javelin as reigning Olympic and European champion and event ambassador Thomas Rohler is joined by German teammate and reigning world champion Johannes Vetter, Lithuania’s Edis Matusevicius and Estonia’s Magnus Kirt – the only thrower to eclipse the 90 metre-barrier this year.

Not only is there a distinct possibility of a 90 metre-plus throw in Minsk, the six-metre barrier could also be surpassed in the pole vault by fellow Team Europe ambassadors Armand Duplantis from Sweden and Piotr Lisek from Poland. European champion Duplantis has cleared 6.00m twice this season although Lisek has since prised the European lead away from the Swede, first by clearing 6.01m in Lausanne and then 6.02m in Monaco. The US contingent is headed by Andrew Irwin and Cole Walsh, both of whom have season’s bests of 5.83m.

Full teams can be found here.

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