As Europe’s best athletes arrive in Amsterdam for this week’s 2016 European Championships, history beckons in a city with a reputation for the remarkable.

Amsterdam is a forward thinking place. For generations it has been a centre of “innovations regarding trade, finance, technology, sustainability, and also with sport,” according to Christian Milz, CEO of European Athletics.

He’s not wrong. The 1928 Amsterdam Olympics gave the world a lot of firsts. It was the first time a symbolic fire was lit during the Games. Its opening ceremony was the first to see the Parade of Nations led out by the Greek team and brought home by the host’s. It was the first Games where women were allowed to compete in athletics events.

There were other, less iconic, firsts. Hungary won the first of seven consecutive gold medals in team sabre fencing, while town planning was added as a second category in the architectural competition.

Happily for the organisers there was a home winner in the latter event. One of the two architecture gold medals was awarded to Jan Wils for his deign of… Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium. Though this might smack of an inside job, credit should be given to Wils, not least because the stadium has healthily outlived its projected 50 year lifespan.

Wils’ stadium design included the iconic Marathon Tower (main image). Incorporated to contrast with the “dominant horizontal lines of the stadium”, this architectural balancing act led to another Olympic tradition. On top of that tower sits “the ashtray of KLM pilots”: a metal dish where the Olympic flame was kept on display throughout those 1928 Games.

Museumplein, Amsterdam ()

Amsterdam's Museumplein will host javelin and discus qualifers on Wednesday and Thursday

This week sees the grand old stadium host the 2016 European Championships. Cue more firsts, the most obvious being that it is the first time the Euros have been held on Dutch soil. As in 1928 (when the Olympics was held in Holland for the first time), the organisers haven’t held back in thinking laterally.

“We have two official venues,” Milz points out. Javelin and discus qualifiers will be held at the Museumplein, a huge square bang in the middle of the city. Curiously, it was on roughly the same spot in October 1886 that the first ever athletics events were held in the Netherlands. This time round will be the first ever occassion that European champs events other than road races have been staged outside the main stadium setting.

“We’re bringing the athletics to the people,” European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen proclaims. Events from the square will be broadcast in the stadium, and vice versa. “They are in direct conversation,” Hansen insists. Like at the Portland World Indoors, medals will be presented in a special medal plaza.

Despite the Olympics being just five weeks away, the entry lists for the Amsterdam Euros are strong. More athletes are competing this year than four years ago in Helsinki, the last time the Olympics and European champs were held in the same year.

Renaud Lavillenie, pole vault world record holder and gold medallist at London 2012, is just one of the stellar names who couldn’t resist the lure of competition. “The medal is better in my pocket than in another pocket,” smirked the Frenchman at the pre-competition press conference. He’ll be going for his fourth consecutive European title – if he succeeds he’ll become the first man ever to achieve that in any jumping event. 

Dafne Schippers European champion Zurich ()

Will Dafne go Double Dutch in the Dam?

The home crowd will not be short of home hopes. Two years ago in Zurich, Sifan Hassan became the first athlete from the Netherlands to win the European 1500m title. Three months on from picking up her first world indoor gold, the 23-year-old will aim to become the first ever woman to defend a European title over 1500m.

It was in Zurich’s Letzigrund that Dutch powerhouse Dafne Schippers came of age as a sprinter. The former heptathlete became the first athlete from Holland to win a European sprint double since Fanny Blankers-Koen in 1950. This week the 24-year-old will aim to become the first woman ever to retain the dual sprint crowns.

Schippers has skirted the limelight ahead of this week’s championships. She may struggle to avoid the limelight should she make history by defending her double in the Dam. Do so, and all talk will turn to the prospect of Rio delivering one of the most mouth-watering women’s sprint showdowns in the recent Olympic history. That’s the sort of forward thinking SPIKES loves.

Additional photography: Thomas Byrne