By Mike Rowbottom at the Zurich Stadthaus

Patrick Magyar (left) addresses the official press conference on the eve of the European Championships in Zurich ©Getty ImagesAthletes competing at the European Championships which get underway here tomorrow will benefit significantly from a unique re-laid track at the Letzigrund Stadium, according to Patrick Magyar, the Organising Committee's chief executive.

Magyar - meeting director of the annual Weltklasse which has earned the nickname of the "Three-Hour Olympics" – explained on the eve of the Championships how athletes "should in theory be able to run faster" on the track, which has had a further eight millimetres of new material laid on the original 14 millimetres depth.

"It is now probably the thickest track surface in the world," Magyar told a press conference at the City Hall.

"It is now a really special track and we hope that it will show its abilities and capacities in the course of the next week.

"Currently most tracks have one full layer of the same material.

"When the Letzigrund was re-built in 205 there was a little space left on the track to resurface without having to take away the first layer of synthetic material.

"Were able to place a new topping on existing layers.

"We folded the first half of the new surface, which allowed us to make the upper part of the surface even more dense and compact.

"Overall the absorption of athlete's energy going back in vertical momentum is roughly 10 per cent better than before.

"This doesn't mean athletes will run 10 per cent faster!

"But the Biomechanical Institute in Cologne has done a study and says the new surface allows athletes to keep their limbs more open – ankle, knee, hip have larger angles than they normally would have, which allows us to elevate the centre of gravity a bit more.

"Once athlete's ligaments and muscles are able to cope – the higher you are, the more pressure you put on them – then athletes should in theory be able to run faster. What this means in terms of times we simply don't yet know. But you only benefit from it if you are in a very high state of fitness. Tests with club athletes show no difference."

A Greek athlete practising today on the newly laid track at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich©Getty ImagesA Greek athlete practising today on the newly laid track at the Letzigrund Stadium
©Getty Images

Among the athletes who were able to get the feel of the new surface today in official practice were Bulgaria's defending 100 metres champion Ivet Lalova and the Dutch heptathlete currently top of the season's European lists for 100 and 200m, Dafne Schippers.

"It feels kind of hard," said Lalova.

"I think it's going to be a very fast track," Schippers agreed. 

"The facility is amazing.

"It feels like a very good track.

"We will see."

Magyar said that 66 per cent of the Stadium would be used for the Championships, for which two thirds of the tickets had been sold so far for evening sessions.

A total of 1,439 athletes will take part, including nine Olympic gold medallists and 11 world champions.

Sixty years on from the last European Championships to have been held in Switzerland - Berne played host to both athletics and the World Cup finals in 1954 - the latest version will be watched by an expected worldwide television audience of 370 million, according to Christian Milz, director general of European Athletics.

"We have 39 broadcasters all over Europe, and in addition we have Eurosport with its 59 territories which is covering all the whole of Europe," said Milz. 

"In addition, outside of Europe, we have coverage in Asia, in South Africa, in central America, in Brazil and in Dublin."

He added that there will be a live screening on the European Athletics website, with a choice of nine different feeds.

"We want to reach a wider audience, a new generation," he said.

A general view of the Stadium Letzigrund ahead of the 22nd European Athletics Championships which start tomorrow ©Getty ImagesA general view of the Stadium Letzigrund ahead of the 22nd European Athletics Championships which start tomorrow ©Getty Images

European Athletics President Hansjörg Wirz said the overall level of competition in Zurich would be superior to that in the last Championships, held in Helsinki a month before the London 2012 Olympics.

"In Helsinki it's true that was in preparation for the Olympics for some athletes, and some experienced athletes have been a bit reluctant to take part," he said.

"Here, it's better."

Asked whether he feared for the future of the Championships, given the heavy losses which the Finnish Federation incurred in the wake of the Helsinki Games, Wirz responded:

"That is why we say Championships are not ending at the gate.

"If that is done properly it creates marketing values for cities and areas.

"Sport cannot finance itself – we need partners for the sport to survive.

"That's why we go in that direction.

"We know that is existing.

"What athletics is delivering to society is not only the high performance competition we have at championships.

"We are delivering to society in the way of health. We offer the possibility to be active despite all problems society has. That's a great value we are giving to society."

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