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Weltklasse is last event at Letzigrund

Kenyan Moses Kiptanui set a new world record in the 3,000m steeplechase clocking 7min 59 sec in 1995 Keystone

Friday's 78th Weltklasse international athletics meeting is set to be the last-ever sporting event to be held at Zurich's famous old Letzigrund stadium.

After 81 years, the facilities are to be renovated and upgraded as the city prepares to host matches during the next European football championships.

The last Weltklasse athletics meeting at the Letzigrund on Friday, is likely to be an occasion for nostalgia; many former stars of track and field are expected to attend and pay their homage to the stadium.

Three days later, fans will have the chance to say goodbye and pick up a souvenir, such as a piece of the turf or part of the famous south stand.

A small farewell celebration will then be followed by the beginning of demolition and renovation work. According to the building schedule, the revamped stadium will open its doors in September 2007, in time for the next Weltklasse.

Local teams FC Zurich and Grasshoppers will play their home games there, testing the new facilities ahead of the 2008 European football championships; three tournament matches are to be held in Zurich.

The archrivals’ intimate relationship with the football ground goes back a long way: the teams played each other at the opening of the Letzigrund on November 22, 1925.

Because the city authorities did not want to get involved financially, FC Zurich built the stadium using its own funds. However, after financial difficulties ownership was transferred from the club to the municipality in 1935.

Track and field

Sporting history was made at the Letzigrund, both on the pitch and on the track.

The Weltklasse athletics meeting, which first began in 1928, has developed into one of the world’s most highly rated athletics events. Over the years, 23 world records and 58 Swiss records in track and field have been set in Zurich.

German hurdle champion Martin Lauer set the first two world records in 1959, when he won the 110-metre and 200-metre hurdles on July 7. One year later his compatriot Armin Hary became the first man to run the 100 metres in ten seconds.

The last world records were all set at the 1997 meeting: Kenyan Wilson Boit Kipketer in the 3,000-metre steeplechase, Wilson Kipketer from Denmark in the 800 metres and Haile Gebreselassie from Ethiopia in the 5,000 metres.

But in many people’s minds the Letzigrund is one thing only: the home of FC Zurich, the city’s favourite football club.

FC Zurich have been Swiss champions ten times and winners of the Swiss cup seven times. The club has also produced a series of talents who made a name for themselves, including the current coach of the national team, Köbi Kuhn.

Zurich’s performances in European competitions will go down as some of the biggest moments in the Letzigrund’s history. The team played semi-finals of the European Cup there twice: in 1964, when they played Real Madrid and in 1977, against Liverpool.

In 1978 Italian side AC Milan played Zurich in Köbi Kuhn’s testimonial match at the ground. And many other football greats have graced the pitch, such as Maradona with Naples in 1989 and Pelé with Brazil’s FC Santos in 1968.

The stadium has also been a venue for music fans, starting with brass band festivals, and more recently pop and rock concerts.

The city council held out against the rock’n’roll juggernaut for a long time. American group Bon Jovi was the first to stage a rock concert at the Letzigrund in 1996, and in 2003 the Rolling Stones played to a sell-out crowd.

swissinfo, Jean-Michel Berthoud

The new Letzigrund will be a multi-purpose stadium with a maximum capacity of 25,000 spectators for football matches, 30,000 for athletics meetings and up to 50,000 for open-air concerts.

The new stadium was designed by Eraldo Consolascio.

The revamped Letzigrund stadium is expected to cost SFr110 million ($89.5 million). An additional SFr5.9 million are needed to make sure it meets requirements for Euro 2008.

The Zurich people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed plans for the stadium.

The decision was taken to rebuild the Letzigrund after it became clear that the planned new Hardturm stadium was not going to be ready in time for Euro 2008.

The 78th Weltklasse international athletics meeting will take place on August 18, 2006.
The following athletes are expected to take part:
Sanya Richards (women’s 400 metres), Marion Jones (women’s 100 metres), Maria Mutola (women’s 800 metres), Asafa Powell (men’s 100 metres), Kajsa Bergqvist (women’s high jump).
Swiss athletes will include:
Alex Martinez (men’s triple jump) and Christian Belz (men’s 5,000 metres).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR