IPC Athletics Europeans: GB set sights on success

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
'My leg came off playing football'

The IPC Athletics European Championships get under way in the Italian city of Grosseto this weekend, with the opening ceremony on Friday and the first medals to be won on Saturday.

It is the fifth European Championships and, according to organisers, will be the biggest one to date, with more than 600 athletes competing from 35 countries.

Why is this event so important?

With 171 medals up for grabs, this is the last major competition before the Rio Paralympics and is also a key opportunity for athletes to earn qualification standards for the Games.

Great Britain finished third in the medal table at the last Europeans in Swansea in 2014external-link - behind Russia and Ukraine - with 52 medals, including 16 golds.

A 48-strong team will represent GB at the event, with a mix of experienced campaigners and newcomers hoping to force their way into contention for Rio.

The GB athletics team for the Paralympics will be announced in two phases - the first later this month and the remainder next month.

Who will be in action in Grosseto?

Eight world champions have been included in the British team, including Richard Whitehead, Aled Davies, Georgie Hermitage, Jo Butterfield and dual sporting star Kadeena Cox, who is aiming to compete in both cycling and athletics at the Rio Games.

Jonnie Peacock and Mickey Bushell are among those to return to the fold after missing out on selection for last year's IPC World Championships in Doha.

Jo Butterfield
Club thrower Jo Butterfield won her first major title at the last Europeans and is now also world champion

Although Peacock's main T44 100m rivals, American duo Richard Browne and Jarryd Wallace will not be there, he will face Germany's Felix Streng, who missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in the event in Doha.

"I won't be happy with anything less than gold," said the Paralympic champion, who has returned to his former coach Dan Pfaff after working with Steve Fudge for the last two years.

"I know as a competitor I bring out the big performances on the big stage and if you can win there, it is a real confidence booster for the rest of the season."

London gold medallist Bushell is back in action in the T53 100m after recovering from a serious infection, while fellow wheelchair racer David Weir is entered in the 800, 1500 and 5000m as he finalises his plans for Rio.

Of the overseas athletes, 'Blade Jumper' Markus Rehm, who is hoping to compete in the able-bodied long jump at the Olympics, is the favourite in his T44 category.

Who will not be competing?

The timing of the competition, with the Paralympics on the horizon and the lack of strength in depth in some categories in Europe, means some British names will not be taking part.

Hannah Cockroft
Hannah Cockroft will not be adding to her European titles in Italy

Wheelchair racers Hannah Cockroft, Sammi Kinghorn, Kare Adenegan and Mel Nicholls, who all won medals in Doha, are not competing as they focus on their preparations for Rio.

World championship T36 800m gold medallist Paul Blake has also opted not to compete in the event and will instead concentrate training at his training base in Bath.

And as in Swansea two years ago, two-time world F46 javelin champion Hollie Arnold finds herself on the sidelines because of a lack of Europeans in her event.

What would be a successful meeting for the British team?

Paralympic head coach Paula Dunn knows that this is an important event for the squad but the main focus is on Rio in September.

"We are using this as a dual competition," she explained to BBC Sport.

"The most experienced guys are going to use it to go through their competition rehearsals and do the fine tuning they need ahead of Rio, try out what works and what doesn't work so they can come up with their final plans.

"For the newcomers, it is about competing at a senior level to see how they perform.

"We haven't set a medal target - we are just looking at how things are ahead of Rio. We still have a long way to go, so we don't want athletes to peak too soon."

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