By Nick Butler

The new state-of-the-art National Stadium in Baku will host athletics during the European Games ©Baku 2015Athletics, a sport that is the bedrock of the Olympic programme, will play a key part in the inaugural European Games in Baku, although it has not been an easy ride to make the startline.

With the programme already packed, with a surfeit of European and global events building up to August's World Championships in Beijing, there were real fears that it would not appear at all, something which would have been unthinkable with a brand new National Stadium waiting to stage it. 

It is now set to feature in two ways, however, with International Association of Athletics Federations World Athlete of the Year Renaud Lavillenie among those expected to compete.

After some lengthy negotiations with the European Athletics Association, it was decided that the European Athletics Team Championships 3rd League would be held during the Games. Although this will not feature the top continental nations, such as Germany, Great Britain and Russia , who will be competing instead in the Super League in Cheboksary, 17 nations are scheduled to participate, meaning around 600 male and female athletes will take part.

These countries include hosts Azerbaijan, as well as Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Slovakia.

Azerbaijan are improving strongly in the sport and will try to utilise the opportunity of securing a podium placing. They should boast a well-balanced squad, including Hayle Ibrahimov, the 2013 European Indoor and Summer Universiade champion and Europe's fastest 5,000 metres runner last year with a best time of 13min 09.17sec, putting him ahead of Britain's Olympic and world champion Mo Farah. 

Hayle Ibrahimov, pictured celebrating a European 5,000m bronze in 2010, will be leading the home charge in Baku ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesHayle Ibrahimov, pictured celebrating a European 5,000m bronze in 2010, will be leading the home charge in Baku ©Bongarts/Getty Images

Among other top athletes hoping to compete in the brand new National Stadium on June 20 and 21 will be Slovakian male and female hammer thrower pairing Marcel Lomnický and Martina Hrašnová, as well as Albanian 1500m national record holder Luiza Gega.

As is customary at the European Team Championships, the programme will consist of 40 events blending sprints, distance, and relay races as well as all the jumps and throws. All of which are also on the Olympic programme, except for the men and women's 3,000m, while there will be no competition over 10,000m on the track, or in race-walking, marathon, decathlon and heptathlon events.

"We are pleased that we now have an agreement that the European Athletics Team Championships 3rd League will be part of the European Games, as Azerbaijan will be competing in this league and it gives a valuable opportunity for their athletes to compete on home soil," said Euoprean Athletics President Hansjörg Wirz when the deal was confirmed last May.

"We will now work with the relevant parties to ensure the smooth running of this event as well with the Azerbaijan Athletics Federation to finalise the details of the long-term strategy, taking into account our responsibility and duty to govern our sport on the continent and to successfully implement our strategic plan."

Meanwhile, after much deliberation, it has also been confirmed that a non-medal event exhibition street athletics event will be held. Spyros Capralos, chairman of the European Olympic Committees Baku 2015 Coordination Commission, has confirmed this will consist of three events: men's and women's pole vault and men's high jump.

Pole vault world record holder Renaud Lavillenie could be the major athletics star in Baku ©Getty ImagesPole vault world record holder Renaud Lavillenie could be the major athletics star in Baku ©Getty Images

The intention is to bring the top eight athletes from each event to a striking downtown venue on the shores of the Caspian Sea, on a yet-to-be-disclosed date during the Games, although the final turnout will depend on the agreement of contracts with the athletes in question.

But this means Lavillenie, who, last year broke Sergey Bubka's 21-year-old world record with a clearance of 6.16 metres in the Ukrainian's home city of Donetsk, should compete along with a plethora of other top jumping talent.

In the men's high jump, this should include Ukraine's Bogdan Bondarenko and Russia's Ivan Ukhov, while in the women's event, Ukhov's compatriot Anna Chicherova could take on the likes of Ruth Beitia of Span and Blanka Vlašić of Croatia.

So while the programme is not as extensive as it is hoped it will be by the time we get around to the next Games in 2019, it is a good start nonetheless, blending Azerbaijani medal hopes with, hopefully, some of the biggest names in the sport.

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