29 June 2019
Ukraine’s athletes are celebrating their team gold medal after a spine-tingling final of the first-ever Dynamic New Athletics (DNA) competition in front of a sold-out crowd, which included the Belarusian President, at the 2nd European Games in Minsk, Belarus.
The Ukrainians edged out the host nation by just 0.67 sec in the final and deciding discipline – a mixed-gender medley relay with legs of 800, 600, 400, and 200 meters dubbed ‘The Hunt’. Team Germany finished third to take home the bronze medals ahead of the other finalists: Czech Republic (4th), France (5th) and Italy (6th).
Organisers and participants alike hailed the success of the event, which saw a total of 413 athletes on 24 national teams compete in a six-day, four-round tournament.
According to European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen, it was an auspicious start to the roll-out of the innovative DNA concept, which has been developed over three years by European Athletics as a part of the delivery of his “Leading Change” agenda for the sport.
“It was a great show today and there was a real buzz in the stadium, but what you’ve seen here in Minsk is just the tip of the DNA iceberg,” said Hansen. “We would very much like to see this format used in the future by athletes of all ages and abilities.”
Many of the participating athletes gave glowing reviews of the competition and the enthusiastic audiences that came to support them at the 22,000-capacity Dinamo Stadium each day.
“It’s something new, it’s something unique – I like it very much,” said Olga Lyakhova, who ran the 600-meter leg for Ukraine in The Hunt, helping her country to the gold medal. “Everyone on our team is so supportive, so that makes this really cool. I saw the expressions on their faces when I was running my leg and that was very inspiring.”
“There was crazy energy in the stadium,” said silver medallist long jumper Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova of Belarus. “I was bursting with happiness that we could fill a big stadium like that with sport spectators in our country.”
Unlike the traditional athletics format, a two-hour DNA match is a linear competition where each of the disciplines begins only after the previous one has finished, making the event easier for stadium audiences to follow and for television to broadcast.
The mixed-team concept aspect of DNA provides an additional layer of appeal by making tactics, coaching and team spirit key elements to success.
“I think it’s more interesting for spectators because they are watching a match, and it’s more exciting for us as well,” said Hungarian sprinter Klaudia Sorok.
“For a 45-year-old man like me, [DNA] was a bit difficult to understand at the beginning,” said Italian team coach Giulio Ciotti. “But seeing the competition live and living it myself was incredibly fun. All our athletes, so they said, thrived in the collaborative environment.”
While some argued the competition formats for the long jump and high jump were a little too complicated to be readily understood, the vast majority of people interviewed said they thoroughly enjoyed the DNA experience.
Italian high jumper Nicolas De Luca liked the head-to-head aspect: “It is pure adrenaline and I love this,” he said. “You have one attempt. You are in or out. That is amazing and I love it. I hope to compete again with this format in the high jump. For who I am, it is really cool. It’s like a fight for your life.”
Perhaps the biggest hit with the stadium crowds throughout the week in Minsk was The Hunt. The staggered start, based on the Gundersen Method borrowed from cross-country skiing, meant that the outcome of each match was in doubt until the final race and gave fans a clear idea of what was required for teams to win.
More than once The Hunt came down to the wire, providing an exciting conclusion to the matches that had the spectators on their feet.
Libor Varhaník, the European Athletics Council member tasked with leading the DNA project, said the experience at the European Games indicates that the new format has a bright future but there is still a lot of work to do.
“We have seen that it works well, both inside the stadium and on TV,” he said “but we are already thinking about gradually introducing more technology, tweaking some of the competition formats and adding a social media component to make the experience even more engaging and impactful for fans and participants.”
“As we evaluate the event and the feedback we will also be looking carefully at the other contexts where DNA can be used, for example, in indoor arenas, in club competitions and in schools. DNA was developed with young people in mind, so of course we would like to bring it to where they are.”