Jolanda Neff won gold in the women's mountain bike event (ATR)
(ATR) European Olympic Committees president Pat Hickey and UCI chief Brian Cookson hail the first gold medalist of the European Games.
In hot and windy conditions, Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff won the women’s mountain bike event on Saturday. The 22-year-old world no.1 was in dominant form at the velopark, finishing in one hour 31 minutes and five seconds. She crossed the line over two minutes ahead of compatriot Kathrin Stirnemann and Poland's Maja Wloszczowska.
EOC president Hickey, Cookson and Azerbaijan sports minister Azad Rahimov watched Neff take the honours on the first full day of competition at Baku 2015. A number of IOC members were present including Poland’s Irena Szewińska.
“Huge,” was Hickey’s first reaction to ATR soon after presenting the gold to Neff. Rahimov and Cookson were also involved in the medal ceremony.
“It was very fitting that I did it with the minister because he and I worked as two amigos over the last five years to put all this together,” the EOC chief said. “I was very proud that he was able to be there with me.”
Hickey said he “very impressed” that the world champion had now become European champion. “It shows the quality of the athletes,” he said.
“She’s making history, big time.”
In the wake of the Netherlands withdrawing from hosting the 2019 European Games this week, Hickey was keen to pour scorn on fresh rumours of the event’s demise.
“Despite media reports I saw this morning, there will be a 2019 edition. It’s not a collector’s item,” Hickey said.
Hickey, Rahimov and Cookson presented medals at the velopark (ATR)
have already put in place and there will be an announcement later this year. It is for definite.”
Great Start for European Games
UCI president Cookson was thrilled with the mountain bike venue and the presence of the world’s top riders in Baku.
“The UCI is very happy to support these European Games. It’s great to see world-class riders winning medals and getting on the podium,” he told ATR.
“So we can say this is a truly world-class event. I am delighted with the level of organisation and the quality of the race we have seen was of the highest calibre. So we are all happy.”
Neff was ecstatic after winning the race. "To win the first gold medal at the first European Games feels amazing,” she told reporters, a broad smile on her face.
Cookson said Neff’s evident hunger to win at the first European Games and the enthusiasm displayed by her fellow riders had contributed to an good start for cycling at the multisports event.
“For decades we have not had a European Games equivalent to the other continental games. Now we have got it we can only go and get better,” he said.
“But this is an absolutely brilliant start with a really high level of organisation, great commitment from the national federation, national Olympic committee and organising committee, and the government here have done a great job,” he added.
Neff described the course as “tricky” but said it was an “amazing” event.
Cookson agreed: “It looked to me pretty difficult. The weather conditions are quite hard because of the heat and wind.
“It’s comparable in difficulty with the London Olympic mountain bike course.”
He added: “It’s what we expect for a major Games. It has to be televisual as well as challenging for the riders and I think we have achieved a good balance here.”
Reported by Mark Bisson in Baku
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