Ohuruogu leads GB into controversial championship

Perhaps the BBC ought to have sent Stuart Hall instead of Steve Cram to commentate on proceedings here in this west Portuguese town these next two days.

For one thing, the setting would have lent itself to the gushing bard of the lip-mike, the Estadio Dr Magalhaes Pessoa having been built in the middle of a forest which supplied the timbers for the caravels of the great Portuguese explorers.

More to the point, the inaugural European Team Championships of track and field today and tomorrow have more than an element of It's a Knockout about them. In their wisdom, the European Athletics Association have taken the European Cup, torn up its format, and replaced it with an event which is not so much Jeux Sans Frontieres as Jeux avec too many frontieres. The TV contest of the 1970s allowed teams to bombard the opposition with custard pies. The new track and field version has devil-take-the hindmost rules in the 3,000m, 5,000m and 5,000m steeplechase, with the elimination of the back marker at three stages of the races. The field events have eliminations after the first two rounds. Then there is the expansion of competing countries from eight to 12, necessitating two races instead of one in most track events.

"Most athletes are very negative about the rules and set-up," Charles van Commenee, head coach of the Great Britain team, acknowledged. "My view is we have to give it a chance. High jumpers would like there to be no gravity. We have to deal with reality."

The British cause has not been helped by the withdrawal of the hamstrung Jenny Meadows, though there are still a clutch of potential winners, among them Dwain Chambers (100m), Rikki Fifton (200m), Tim Benjamin (400m), Mo Farah (5,000m), Andy Turner (110m hurdles), Dai Greene (400m hurdles) and Steph Twell (3,000m). Team captain Christine Ohuruogu drops down in distance to the 200m while Phillips Idowu faces the man who beat him to Olympic triple jump gold, Nelson Evora of Portugal.

With the men's and women's points to be combined into one tally, Russia start favourites – despite confirmation of doping bans for six of their athletes.