Playas Castellon champions of Clash of the Clubs II
28 September 2023
After two days of action-packed athletics, filled with boundless energy and brilliant enthusiasm, it all came down to a head-to-head duel. The battle for European glory at this year’s Dynamic New Athletics (DNA) U20 Clubs Competition proved one to remember, and one the legions of teenagers who made the trip to Rome will never forget.
The event took place on 16-17 September at Centro Sportivo Olimpico Esercito, with local organisers working wonders in the weeks before to rearrange the venue at short notice due to the unavailability of the original host site in Rieti.
The top U20 clubs travelled from across Europe: 12 teams from 11 countries, with over 200 athletes taking to the track and field across the 12 events that make up the DNA format.
In the end, Playas Castellon claimed ultimate glory, the Spanish club winning the A final, with Irish club Ratoath AC taking victory in the B final.
DNA is a format that has its fans and detractors, an inevitable occurrence when something comes along that shakes up the established order, the traditional approach, of how athletics is run. In Dynamic New Athletics, it truly is not about the individual, but the collective, with every effort – each run, each jump, each throw – across the events contributing something to the cause.
In the 10 individual events, six athletes take to the track or field to represent their team, with 12 points on offer for first place down to two points for sixth. In the field events, the format is a little different to the track, with head-to-heads determining everything, the athlete’s performance in the group stages qualifying them for a head-to-head match-up in the final, where they take on one opponent and compete for first, third or fifth place (depending on their group stage result).
Once tallied with the results of the mixed 4x400m relay, the team’s points total is then converted to a time differential, based on the Gundersen method, ahead of the final event: The Hunt, a mixed-gender relay over 600m, 400m, 200m and 800m.
The beauty of DNA lies in its unpredictability, the premise that even when it appears one team is in firm command, it can all come undone in the last event. Assemble a strong enough team for The Hunt and large deficits are easily overcome, allowing for some captivating finales, with the teams setting off in the order of their standings, meaning the first across the line is the overall winner.
The first match saw six clubs competing on a beautiful morning in the Italian capital, with Ratoath AC of Ireland, Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica of Italy, AK Skoda Plzen of Czech Republic, Sparta Atletik of Denmark, CS Bourgoin-Jallieu of France and SK Elite Sport of Estonia all trying to snare one of the three qualifying spots in Sunday’s A final. After a strong showing in the individual disciplines, Sparta Atletik set off in front for The Hunt, holding a two-second advantage over AK Skoda Plzen and just under three seconds clear of Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica.
As so often happens in this format, though, the tables were soon turned, with the Czech club powering to the front and taking victory, just one second clear of Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica, with Sparta Atletik holding on for third and securing a spot in the A final.
The second match saw Playas Castellon of Spain take on the Hordaland Region of Norway, Atletica Studentesca Andrea Milardi of Italy, Blackheath & Bromley AC of Britain, Team Young German Eagles and Jyvaskylan Kenttaurheilijat of Finland.
Blackheath & Bromley were many people’s favourites, given their strength on the track, and they lived up to that billing, with rising sprint star Faith Akinbileje particularly impressive in the women’s 100m, clocking 11.59 and netting maximum points. The British club went into The Hunt with a 1.3-second lead over Playas Castellon and just under two seconds clear of Hordaland Region. That, it proved, was not enough, their anchor athlete getting the baton in front but fading to fourth, with rising star Ronaldo Olivo looking composed and classy as he carried Playas Castellon to victory in 4:47.5 – the exact same winning time as AK Skoda Plzen in the first match. Hordaland Region came through for second, with Atletica Studentesca Andrea Milardi taking third and the final spot in the A final.
Sunday was finals day, and action began at 9:30am with the B final. Blackheath & Bromley were again outstanding through the first 11 disciplines, taking a slew of victories on the track, allowing them to begin The Hunt with a three-second lead over Ratoath AC. However, the Irish club came back to secure victory, with Jack O’Donnell running a supreme anchor leg to carry them to glory.
A half-hour later, the six teams were out on track for the A final, and there was precious little to choose between them for much of the competition. Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica got the Italians off to a dream start with victory in the mixed relay, with their 100m hurdler Celeste Polzonetti showing her class with victory in 13.68, while Damiano Dentato of Atletica Studentesca Andrea Milardi did likewise for the rival Italian team in the 110m hurdles, winning in 13.62.
Playas Castellon kept themselves in contention with a victory in the 400m hurdles from Gerard Rodriguez (54.47), while Sparta Atletik were helped to the top of the standings by Betty Ramsgaard Jensen, who finished third in the hurdles and then claimed long jump victory. The Danish club began The Hunt with a lead of 2.64 seconds over Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica, with Playas Castellon 3.30 seconds in arrears.
That lead was not enough, given the presence of Playas Castellon’s Ronaldo Olivo, a 1:45 800m runner whose turn of speed on the anchor leg of The Hunt proved too much for Luis Felipe Maillet, with the Spanish club taking glory, Sparta Atletik in second and Fiamme Gialle-Bracco Atletica in third.
The scenes after the finish were more reminiscent of a major football tournament than a traditional athletics meeting, with teammates hoisting their star performers in the air, dancing and singing and congratulating each other on their collective efforts.
Many of them had taken to social media over the weekend to share their experience, and the event proved a big hit online. The live stream had just under 20,000 views over the weekend, with several thousand more on a parallel Facebook feed.
But perhaps the biggest impact came through social media. In the two-week event window on Instagram, European Athletics and Dynamic New Athletics accounts collaborated on a wide range of posts and reels, delivering a reach of 922,000 and close to a million reel plays of event action. Dynamic New Athletics’ Instagram account alone delivered 574,000 impressions of DNA content, and there was a terrific response from connected cities – Dublin, Prague, Plzen, Rome and Madrid among the most engaged.
Crucially, the event made its way into the younger audience strands that DNA was conceived to attract: 53% of engagers were aged 13-24 on DNA Instagram, and 49% were under 24 on TikTok.
The numbers were proof of something that seemed obvious to those present in Rome over the weekend: that DNA has a strong ability to engage and entertain, providing a format where the result remains in doubt until the final moments, and where individuals pull together with a kind of collective spirit that’s rarely found elsewhere in the sport.