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Record-breaking result in athletics reflects growth of sport – Bonello

Claire Azzopardi on her way to the gold medal in the women's triple jump. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Athletics was one of the disciplines in which Team Malta had plenty of optimism about tasting great success in track and field competitions at the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe.

Heading into these home Games, Athletics Malta was at the back of three hard-working years where they nurtured a competitive group of athletes that could deliver on this stage.

All that hard work behind the scenes paid dividends as Athletics Malta can be proud of what their athletes have achieved in the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe.

A record of 32 medals were won between track and field events with Team Malta finishing on top of podium on 15 occasions.

Two athletes won three gold medals each, Gina McNamara (800m, 1,500m, 5,000m) and Claire Azzopardi (long jump, triple jump, 4x100m relay), a first time for Malta in these Games.

Moreover, several new national records were set including major ones like Graham Pellegrini’s in the 400m, whose 46.83 was an improvement from Kevin Moore’s 47.26 set back in 2014, and Carla Scicluna’s 23.74 in the 200m, breaking Charlotte Wingfield’s time of 23.78.

Dominant long-distance runner Jordan Gusman was in an inspiring form as he topped both 5,000m (setting a new Games record) and the 10,000m races.

Athletics Malta Technical Director Mario Bonello, who is head of a technical committee set in 2020, explained how these results shed light on the improvement of this sport in Malta.

“First of all, we have been preparing for these Games for the past three years,” Bonello told the Times of Malta.

“The preparation was very intensive and thorough, and we were confident enough to do well in these Games because we have seen the level growing with these athletes who were continuously improving.

“An important factor that helped was that all coaches were united in this preparation, especially when we were on our training camps abroad and that filled us with optimism.”

Bonello, who was a sprinter himself, admitted that if athletes were provided with the same preparation in the past editions, such results would have already been achieved at least a decade ago.

He also explained how other federations came up to Athletics Malta, heaping praise on their philosophy and that is a testament to the development that this sport has gone through in recent years.

World-class consultants

During this preparation, Athletics Malta roped in world-class consultants – such as Antonio Laguardia, formerly part of the Italian athletics team in Beijing 2008 – to help them set up a strategy for the development and improvement of the whole programme.

The gold medals achieved by Peppijna Dalli in the pole vault – with Sana Grillo placing third – Claire Azzopardi’s golden brace in both in the long jump and triple jump (Rebecca Sare’ placed third), James Armani’s win in the triple jump (Ian Paul Grech won bronze in both the long jump and triple jump), Jeremy Zammit’s silver in the long jump and Mireya Cassar’s bronze in the hammer throw are also the benefits of consultants that have been brought to help in the field events.

Bonello also pointed out the improvement in the facilities which have also played a big part in the success during these Games.

Graham Pellegrini celebrates his win in the 200m. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

“Federations and athletes have told us they would like to hold camps in our facilities and that is something positive for us,” he said.

“Our facilities are up to scratch and there are other projects which will be completed soon as we aim to have the best facilities in the Mediterranean.

“I can already give a heads up to the government to build a new track to make sure to accommodate all these foreigners, or maybe just refurbish the University of Malta track.”

Asked about the importance of these Games and the athletics’ success for the image of the sport, Bonello underlined the fact that the young ones will look up even more to the Maltese athletes.

“The young ones will be now looking up to our athletes and see them as winners for what they have produced in these Games,” Bonello said. 

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