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Games of the Small States of Europe

Malta with high hopes as it hosts the Games of the Small States of Europe

Maltese athletes in line to secure best-ever result in Games

Athletes from nine European countries will compete across ten sporting disciplines as Malta prepares to host the 2023 edition of the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE).

Between tomorrow’s opening ceremony and June 3, 1,000 athletes from Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro and San Marino, will be vying for athletic glory.

Malta played a pivotal role in the creation of the GSSE, with the idea originating from Maltese delegates present at the 1981 General Assembly of the Olympic Committees of Europe.

The Maltese Olympic Committee (MOC) had for some time “felt the need to compete against countries which were at the same level playing field,” said former general secretary Bertie Muscat.

The GSSE is only open to European countries with a population below one million, aiming to better match countries in terms of demographics and available resources.

Despite some initial scepticism at the idea, according to Muscat, after four years of preparation, the first opening ceremony of the games took place at the Serravalle stadium in San Marino, with athletes travelling from Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Monaco to take part.

Montenegro joined the group in 2009, competing in its first GSSE in Liechtenstein two years later.

Since 1985, the event has taken place biannually with only 2021 skipped due to the pandemic. Each country takes turns hosting the games with Malta having previously hosted the competition in 1993 and 2003.    

Muscat believes its success has improved the standards of sports in the country and inspired new generations of Maltese athletes.

Since 1985, when Malta won just a bronze medal in basketball, the number of medals won has continued to increase.

“Added to that, these games helped our country to invest more in sports infrastructure as, when the GSSE started, there were very few sporting venues in Malta,” he said.

The games feature eight core sports, including two team activities and eight which are competed individually. Each hosting country may add a further two, consisting of either one Olympic and one non-Olympic sport or two of the former.

This year’s sports programme will feature athletics, table tennis, sailing, basketball, rugby sevens, judo, shooting, squash, swimming and tennis.

Past successes and looking ahead

To date, Malta has won 410 medals, of which 73 were gold.

In 2003, the country celebrated its most successful competition year, while eight years later it achieved its highest tally of medals in a foreign edition of the event in Liechtenstein. The countries to have won the most medals are Iceland, Cyprus and Luxembourg.

With the country having enjoyed its most successful year when similarly hosting the event 20 years ago, expectations are running high for this year.

“Preparations have been ongoing since 2017, when the Maltese Olympic Committee won the bid to host these biennial games,” said MOC director of sport Charlene Attard.

“During the last three years, we focused on the athletes’ technical preparation and through the record amount of funds received, we created different projects for the 10 disciplines,” she said.

Lisa Marie Bezzina celebrates after winning gold in the 10,000m at the Montenegro GSSE in 2019. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Tomorrow night, the opening ceremony for the GSSE will be broadcast live from the Granaries in Floriana.

Each delegation will be led by a flag bearer, a symbolic role bestowed upon athletes for their leadership role and sporting prowess.

This year, the Maltese Olympic Committee has chosen to honour two athletes, one male and one female, following a widely accepted call from the International Olympic Committee to promote gender equality.

Malta’s delegation will be led by tennis player Elaine Genovese and Matthew Galea Soler, of athletics.

Malta’s leading GSSE medal contenders

Team Malta have their eyes firmly set on securing their best-ever result in a GSSE during the 2023 edition in Malta.

So far, Malta has recorded its best result at the games in the 2003 edition when athletes brought home a total of 44 medals – 11 gold, 18 silver and 15 bronze.

This time around, given the huge financial backing received by the MOC for the athletes’ technical preparation, there are high hopes that this record tally will be broken.

Here under are five of Malta’s leading contenders for a gold medal in these games…

Katryna Esposito will be in action in the -48kg category at the judo competitions.

Katryna Esposito (Judo)

Katryna Esposito has emerged as one of Malta’s top judokas.

The 22-year-old has achieved some excellent results on the international scene, particularly a bronze medal at last year’s Mediterranean Games, as well as two third-place finishes in the World Open tournaments held earlier this year.

Hopes are high that Esposito can end Malta’s wait for a gold medal in judo when she competes in the -48kg category.

Jordan Gusman is eyeing the gold medal in both the 5,000m and 10,000m races.

Jordan Gusman (athletics)

Jordan Gusman is expected to be one of the protagonists in Team Malta’s athletics squad. The US-based runner already made a name for himself in the last edition of the games after winning a golden double in the 5,000m and 10,000m. This time around, Gusman is again being tipped to dominate the long-distance races at the 2023 Games.

Elaine Genovese (left) and Francesca Curmi will be keen to leave their mark in the women’s doubles tournament at the 2023 GSSE.

Francesca Curmi/Elaine Genovese (tennis doubles)

Francesca Curmi and Elaine Genovese have emerged as a highly-competitive pair in women’s doubles.

Last year, they achieved their best-ever result after winning an historic silver medal at the Mediterranean Games in Algeria.

A gold medal at a GSSE has so far eluded them, but no doubt that this time around they will be one of the favourites for victory.

Lijana Sultana will part of the Malta squash teams vying for medals at the 2023 GSSE.

Malta Squash Teams

Malta has been a dominant force in squash at the GSSE. The last time this sport was included at the GSSE was in Liechtenstein 2011 and in Vaduz, when the men’s and women’s selections returned home with four gold medals. Twelve years later, the Maltese squash players are vying for more gold medals and will fancy their chances to add their tally at the Marsa SC courts.

Janet Richard will be in action in the 400m and the 4x400m relay at the GSSE.

Janet Richard (athletics)

Janet Richard has been one of Malta’s leading sprinters for several years now and in the last 12 months seemed to reach her peak performances when winning a gold medal at the Championship for Small States held in Malta last June.

Richard’s talent has put her among the favourites for gold in both the 400m and the 4x400m relay.

CAPTION 1: Team Malta for this year’s Games of the Small States of Europe. Photo: DOI

CAPTION 2: Double gold medallist at the Montenegro GSSE in 2019, Lisa Marie Bezzina. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

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