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  • Cheers For First European Games-On the Scene


    (ATR) Under a blaze of fireworks, Baku says farewell to the athletes who took part in this first-ever event.

    Dancers at the closing ceremonies (ATR)
    More than 6000 athletes came to Azerbaijan in the past 17 days, representing all 50 National Olympic Committees of Europe. Less than half that number remain in Baku and most of them paraded into the Olympic Stadium Sunday night for a two hour closing ceremony.

    The show featured hundreds of dancers and performers, traditional Azeri music and dance as well as 21st century pop. A giant Phoenix in flames rising in the center of the stadium was perhaps the most dramatic special effect. But with a reported $80 million spent on an opening ceremony show that included an appearance by Lady Ga Ga, this was a more modest presentation.

    It was an event without the fuss of dozens of IOC members (including president Thomas Bach) and heads of state, such as Vladimir Putin, who attended the June 12 opening ceremony. The only head of state this time was Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, who has been a fixture at the events in Baku, along with First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, handing out medals when Azeri athletes were on the podium.

    “You serve as a great example to the next generation of athletes said Aliyeva in her remarks at the ceremony.

    Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva at closing ceremony (ATR)
    Azerbaijan did well in the medals table, finishing third overall with 56 medals and second in golds, 21. Russia was supreme in Baku with 164 overall medals and 79 gold. Germany and Great Britain were third and fourth respectively in the overall count.

    Azerbaijan had help from foreign-born athletes to achieve its success. Seven gold medals were won by athletes born abroad, coming from the United States, Ethiopia, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Moldova.

    Out of the 50 NOCs represented in Baku, athletes from 40 of those countries won medals, a percentage that far exceeds the results in the Olympics where more than 204 NOCs are eligible to compete.

    The 17 day program included 20 sports, with two non-Olympic federations, karate and sambo. Of the Olympic federations, some tried disciplines not on the Olympic program such as 3 x 3 basketball, street athletics, beach soccer and acrobatic and aerobic gymnastics. Some sports notably athletics and swimming, were not able to bring top athletes nor a full schedule of events found in the Olympics.

    Still, innovations in sport will help set these games apart from others says Spyros Capralos, Hellenic Olympic Committee president and the chair of the European Olympic Committees Baku coordination commission. He spoke at a press conference on the final day of the games.

    Ukraine athletes enter the arena. (ATR)
    In addition to sports, Capralos says the European Games tried something new for the press, replacing the former mixed zone with what’s called the “I-Zone”, a well lit room furnished with comfortable seating for athletes to conduct their post competition interviews with reporters.

    Capralos also noted that the European Games stepped back from the clean venue policy of the Olympics that prohibits sponsor advertisements within the venue. Signage for all Baku sponsors was seen in the venues.

    “It was very discreet. You could see their names everywhere in the venues but in a very discreet and nice way,” he said.

    In his speech to the closing ceremony EOC president Patrick Hickey thanked Azerbaijan for its support of the project and ability to deliver just 30 months after being named host of 2015. It fell to Hickey to handle the only protocol moment of the evening, declaring the games closed.

    EOC president Pat Hickey (ATR)
    "These were the Games on which to build all future European Games. The foundations of an event that will endure and inspire."

    He was not able to preside over a flag handover from one host city to the next because the EOC has yet to find one for 2019. The EOC hopes to name one by the end of the year.

    Baku is given high marks for the way it’s managed to organize the event in such a short window of time. Hickey proclaims the preparations and execution “are of on Olympic standard”. In an interview with ATR just prior to the ceremony Hickey said he believes Baku is capable of delivering the venues needed for an Olympic Games. Azeri government leaders are expected to review the European Games experience in the coming weeks to decide whether a bid for the 2024 Summer Games is next. The IOC deadline is Sept. 15

    More on what’s next for Azerbaijan and Baku comes Monday afternoon when sports minister and Baku 2015 CEO Azad Rahimov holds a final press conference.

    Reported and written in Baku by Ed Hula.

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