(ATR) On his 70th birthday, European Olympic Committees president Pat Hickey was presented with the Sharaf Order by Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev.
Hickey was bestowed the award for his work, dedication and effort in launching the inaugural European Games in cooperation with the Baku European Games Organizing Committee (BEGOC).
“I am honored to have received this award, and honored to have played a small part in this young country’s rapid development," Hickey said. "But the greatest gift I could have received from Azerbaijan is this fantastic stage for Europe’s finest athletes at Baku 2015. I am thrilled at the success of this inaugural edition so far and the future looks very bright for the European Games.”
“Mr. President has awarded him with the highest and most respected award,” the country's sports minister Azad Rahimov told a press conference in Baku Wednesday. “I would like to extend our congratulations on behalf of the people of Azerbaijan.”
“Mr. Hickey was the initiator of these Games and he has been an instrumental supporter,” Rahimov said.
Plans for a European Games have been discussed for decades, but it was Hickey who put the multi-sport continental event into action. Baku was awarded the first Games at the 41st EOC General Assembly in Rome in December 2012. The inaugural edition in Baku feature more than 6,000 athletes from 50 nations competing in 20 sports.
“He trusted us and I would like to send our deepest appreciation to him,” Rahimov said of Hickey.
European Games Benchmark
After much hard work, Rahimov said that Baku is finally seeing the fruits of its labor in the opening days of the Games. “This road was two years long – we spent two years on this organization and we’ve achieved it,” Rahimov said.
“I’m very satisfied with what’s going on. To be honest I didn’t expect the level would be this high," he said, noting the excellent atmosphere around competitions and applauding the work of volunteers. "There have been no big complaints."
Azerbaijan’s sport minister believes that Baku’s success will contribute to the lasting legacy of the new multi-sport
Roads will be closed for road cycling events on Thursday (ATR)
event: “It’s very important to deliver a new project to the world at a high level and raise the interest."
Rahimov suggested Baku has a set a benchmark for the event that future hosts will find hard to match. "I don’t think the second or third European Games will be at the same high level,” Rahimov said. “Our ultimate goal is to increase interest with European athletes.
“To create this opportunity for them we need to make a high level of games, to reach the peaks,” he said. “They sleep well, they are fed well, they’ve been arriving on time at the venues that have all the necessary infrastructure."
Downtown Closes for Road Races
With two mountain bike races complete, organizers shift their attention to road racing. UCI general secretary Enrico Della Casa said that two cycling time trial races on Thursday will shut down Baku’s downtown streets.
“It is very difficult to organize this concept in the center of Baku, but they’ve achieved this well with all the crossings,” said the Italian UCI leader. “Can you imagine, we are closing the town for the race?
Della Casa also said that the course was better than expected for Saturday’s mountain bike races at the Mountain Bike Velopark. Swiss riders claimed five of six medals. “The mountain bike races were very well organized,” he said. "I can tell you that it was very difficult for them to build such a tough course."
Home Nation Success
After four days of competition , Russia leads the medal count with 22, including 12 gold. Somewhat surprisingly, Azerbaijan has fared extremely well collecting 19 medals, including eight gold. The host nation is second to Russia in both medal totals.
Rahimov said the nation’s performance thus far bodes well for the Rio Olympics. “I’m confident that these Games will pave a very good way for our athletes to perform well in Rio,” he said.
He touched upon some of the sports in which the country’s athletes are making gains: “In triathlon, we were getting more results and as well as in gymnastics. There have been more achievements which means the preparation has gone well.”
“These achievements are important because kids and adults are watching and we can ignite more passion for some of these sports.”
Reported in Baku by Brian Pinelli
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