Ostrava is the Czech Republic’s third city after Prague and Brno. Its population sits at just under 300,000.
Its leaders regularly speak of the city’s “dark past” – not because of any atrocity or hidden secret but because of its economic role as a coal mining, iron ore and steel centre.
The steel industry remains but there has otherwise been a massive transformation of this city nestled in the north east corner of the country not far from the Polish border.
When the time for re-generation came not only were projects undertaken like the conversion of the massive Dolni Vitkovice steel factory into a convention and entertainment centre but a conscious decision made to embrace sport and culture as an integral part of the plan.
The week-long Colours of Ostrava modern music festival draws huge crowds every July.
Soccer, ice hockey and athletics are the permanent beneficiaries in terms of a sport presence. But there’s also a desire to host one-off competitions.
The city’s leaders play it smart, targetting events they can host within the existing infrastructure.
So they staged the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships and this weekend they will proudly present the Continental Cup in Athletics.
In a year without an Olympic Games or Athletics World Championship, the cup with its unusual configuration of teams and quaint variations from the traditional rules of the sport, is arguably track and field’s drawcard event of 2018.
But with no more the 400 athletes it’s more than manageable for this sports-mad, can-do city.
The Mestsky Stadium reflects the practical approach taken by Ostrava’s leadership to such matters. It’s intimate and immediately engaging with the participants on the field of play.
Its capacity of 15,000 is fully seated – and importantly for this weekend it’s sold out on both days.
This is a region and city that gets events and sees them as an integral and continuing part of its future.
This weekend, despite the Cup’s placement at the end of a long season even for European athletes let alone those from our neck of the woods who have been going for nearly twelve months in preparation for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, has many drawcards.
But the attention is focussed as much on the experimental nature of the format for this year’s edition as on the individual stars taking part.
While the sprints, hurdles, high jump and pole vault will be conducted in familiar circumstances there is improvisation elsewhere.
The 3000m flat and steeplechase events will see half the field eliminated one by one before the bell lap – in much the same style as the cycling elimination races at the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals.
In the throwing events, long and triple jumps, the field will be gradually whittled down until only two athletes of the eight who start out will contest the final round.
And in the mixed 4x400m relay which makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo in two years’ time there’s also a twist – with team coaches able to switch the order of the runners after the first leg depending on how the race is panning out for them.
In many ways the experiment is not unlike the Nitro concept that was launched in Australia in February 2017 and that will reappear as a national schools competition over the next few months.
The Continental Cup started out in 1977 as the World Cup – the first real attempt by the IAAF to stage its own competitions and leverage the commercial opportunities that were opening up for Olympic sports if they dared to modernise.
It was even staged in Canberra in 1985 where despite its calendar position at the beginning of October, many high quality performances were achieved – including two world records.
Who knows what this weekend will bring. But it’s already provided another well-earned line on Ostrava’s curriculum vitae as a master events city.