mikepoloneckI've just been walking in a sporting wonderland.

It's called the Scandinavium, and tonight a part of this vast complex of interlinked halls in Gothenburg's city centre has been given over to the athletics discipline which, other than perhaps the hammer throw and the 50 kilometres walk, can claim to be this sport's Most Deeply Unappreciated. Yes. We're talking about the shot put.

In common, I suspect, with many followers of athletics down the years - why is it we never go up the years, by the way? And come to that, why is it we always go by the way and not along the way? But I digress – so yes, in common with them, I have been guilty of neglecting, and often ignoring, the mighty battles which have taken place in that sector which always seems to be in the most distant corner of any arena. I'm sure that for the spectators down by the shot put circle it seems closer – but that is a relative term, given that it is always separated from even those in the front row of seating by eight lanes of tartan track and a selection of milling officials.

But it is surprising how a change of viewpoint can alter one's perception.

shotoverviewAn overview of the action at the Scandinavium arena shot put qualifying

The decision to stage the men's and women's shot put qualifying rounds - opening events in the 2013 European Indoor Championships - on the evening before the main action gets underway, and in their own specially constructed arena, has provoked just the kind of intense curiousity the organisers had been hoping for.

Although their scheme was characterised earlier in the day by the European Athletics Director General  Christian Milz as "a new concept", it is an idea which has been tested on a few occasions within the context of the Samsung Diamond League, which has staged the shot put final in the concluding meeting at Zurich in the echoing space of the Hauptbahnhof concourse.

But this is a championship first. And compared to the attention levels the shot put qualifying round would have attained in any previous championships, the upshot, as it were, was a massively positive one.

By the halfway point in the first round of three throws for the men, the specially laid shot put circle, with its sector of thick blue matting, was surrounded by craning spectators four or five deep. The first action I was aware of as I approached was a roar of effort and a thudding impact, shortly before a shot reared up into the fine black netting separating onlookers from the action at the back of the target area.

ralfshotRalf Bartels of Germany gets into his stride in shot put qualifying

Even though those present knew the netting was there, and it had happened similarly on a number of previous occasions, there were those among them who could not stifle the instinct to rear back their heads as the rogue cannonball thrashed briefly in the rigging in front of them. There could have been no more graphic representation of the weight and power of this event.

A grandstand to the left of the throwers was packed. Every space. And the long glass gallery above was filled with the intrigued faces of athletes, in every colour of national uniform, who had wandered along from their hotel within the complex. These competitors will be able to go from their room to the warm-up track to the arena without ever having to put themselves at the mercy of the great outdoors. Not that the Gothenburg weather is that problematic right now, the snow and fog of earlier in the week having given way to milder temperatures.

The action itself was well explained by two presenters, one of whom was the Sydney 2000 Olympic 400 metres bronze medallist Katharine Merry.

"Some of these throwers glide over the circle, some of them spin over the circle," she explains as the next thrower lumbers into position in the circle, just feet away from the faces of spectators and the lenses of covering photographers. "So here comes Ralf Bartels, definitely in with a chance of qualifying for tomorrow night's final with a first round effort of 19.61." Bartels roars, releases. The weight thuds into the blue matting, rears up into the black netting. "Right in the middle of those two solid white lines," says Merry, crouching down with her microphone to get a better view of the measuring. "19.80. That's impressive." There is a rumble of appreciation. "So Bartels goes into third place overall..."

Up steps a figure in yellow and blue, Sweden's Niklas Arrhenius, to huge acclaim. It's a wave of noise, and now the spectators are supporters, picking up with a growing, rhythmic clapping. Arrhenius spins and sends the shot arcing up into the air – but overbalances in his effort. Red flag. The perils of too much goodwill...

nikshotHome thrower Niklas Arrhenius rises to the challenge

While the sequence of activity in the circle is compelling, so is the spectacle alongside it as the muscle men pace and weave amongst each other, waiting their turn. They are like mighty molecules, closely packed, but separate.

Occasionally a thrower nearest the edge will register the impact of a shot, swiftly assessing its power to impact upon their own prospects. But for the large part, these men are operating on remote, avoiding eye contact, practising throws either physically or mentally.

Ten metres away, their backs to the action, a line of spectators sit against the outside hoardings, viewing the competition on the giant screen in front of them. Perhaps the confirming power of TV seems more real to them.

By and large, however, the real activity grips the gathering. That said, the grunts and heaves, taking place with the pumping of music in the background, find another accompaniment of splashing water from a giant paddling pool further down the hall which offers children the opportunity of floating in their own giant plastic spheres, of the kind which used to hunt down Patrick McGoohan, "I am not a number, I am a free man" in the cult TV show The Prisoner as he made yet another fruitless attempt to escape over the waves.

Alongside the pool, 20 youngsters wait patiently for their turn. Still some way to go to convert them to the joys of athletics, then. Unless of course the European organisers are considering introducing sphere racing as a new event...

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. To follow him on Twitter click here.