By Gabby Pieraccini @smokymozzarella #decathletesofeurope
Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been X days since my last decathlon.
X, in this case, equals 211 and Good God those 211 days without any decathletes of Europe have been purgatory. A jaunt to the European Cross Country Championship in Tilburg in December kept me going on the live athletics front, but even the Holy Trinity of Ingebrigtsens couldn’t fill the multi-event gap in my soul.
So last weekend I made my way to the delightful town of Clermont-Ferrand, a few hours west of Lyon, for the wonderfully-marketed X-Athletics combined events meeting. The meeting was organised by the Clermont Athletics Auvergne club, including Aurelien Preteseille, himself a former decathlete, and also coach to Ruben Gado. Who better to help organise a multi-event than a former multi-eventer?
I knew I was onto a winner when I encountered pâtisserie after pâtisserie in Clermont-Ferrand with Galette des Rois on display, clearly celebrating the gold medal-winning performance of Arthur Abele in Berlin during the summer of 2018.
A Galette des Rois
The Stadium Jean-Pellez is perfect. It’s tiny but deceptively spacious with plenty of opportunities to view events from various angles. Within an hour of the event beginning, I overheard a conversation behind me, dissecting Gael Querin’s curious long jump technique. While the conversation was in French, some subjects transcend language barriers. We were soon chatting away. And 24 hours later, I was being interviewed by the in-stadium host who posed 3 important questions to me.
Question 1: Why did I buy a plane ticket from Scotland to come to Clermont-Ferrand?
Well, I went to Decastar in Talence in September where I witnessed old Kéké la braise burn up the world record. The guys who finished 5th, 6th and 9th in Talence were here in Clermont-Ferrand today, and quite frankly, the depth in French decathlon is amazing right now.
Question 2: Did I know any of the athletes competing?
Why, of course! Gael Querin (and of course Antoinette Nana Djimou competing in the pentathlon) are très célèbre in the multi-eventing world.
Jeremy Lelievre pacing Kevin Mayer in the 1500m in Talence will forever be one of my iconic decathlon moments. I get the shivers just thinking about it. You can’t miss the gigantic 6-foot 5 frame of Romain Martin, and his footage from the after-party in Talence deserves an Oscar. If you’re within 16m of Bastien Auzeil when he throws the shot you’re in trouble, and he is so good that American decathlete Stephen Bastien is clearly named after him (confusing many a commentator). And, of course, Ruben Gado has a wonderful pole vault, no more than we would expect from the land of the zippered-one, Renaud Lavillenie. So I didn’t just recognise the athletes competing, I’d enjoyed their performances for years.
Question 3: Who was my favourite to win?
One of the benefits of being half Scottish and half Italian is that when there is no Scot in a competition – such as the final stages of any football World Cup tournament – I can support the other half of my heritage. So naturally I was cheering on Simone Cairoli. But having no wish to be chased out of town by an angry crowd, of course I agreed that it would be wonderful if local hero Ruben Gado won the event.
I attempted to predict the result of the competition. I guessed Ruben-Simone-Gael. And I turned out be correct! But not before there was an almighty tussle between these 3 guys, and more.
This was a very different type of event from Talence. This was the type of multi-event where there is no clear favourite, a range of athletes all capable of winning, and an unusual combination of strengths and weaknesses. If Talence was The Kevin Show, then Clermont-Ferrand was a display of France’s strength in depth.
The 60m was won by speedy youngster Marc Perrin, and in fact 3 of the first 4 60m marks were made by athletes transitioning into the senior rankings, with Karly Maisonneuve and Makenson Gletty sharing the third fastest mark. But it was a strong start for Ruben, with 6.93s and second place in the first event.
The pendulum then swung back the other way, with Simone Cairoli going furthest in the long jump, and man was he pleased about it! It was enormously close behind Simone in the long jump with Ruben, Jeremy, Gael, Makenson and Spaniard Javier Perez all leaping within 12cm of each other.
Simone was second overall, and so it was clearly going to be a France v Italy match. Or was it? Onto the shot, and while Romain Martin and Bastien Auzeil came storming back with their giant puts, it was Jonay Jordan Schäfer who had the longest mark by a mile (or at least by 50cm).
As an aside, Spanish decathlon is also looking really perky right now. Jonay Jordan is definitely one to watch, and Jorge Ureña has the best heptathlon score of the year thus far. Together with Pau Tonneson’s return from a year out to focus on pole vault (Pau was the hero of the famous London 2017 decathlon lock-in), the squad is looking good.
We finished Day 1 with the high jump, won easily by Simone, and so the overnight scores were
1. Simone 3256
2. Makenson 3205
3. Jonay 3167.
One must admire the bravery of an Italian and a Spaniard occupying two of the podium spots overnight. But behind Makenson, the quintet of Ruben, Romain, Jeremy, Gael and Bastien were lurking, menacingly, in 4th-8th place. That’s not actually true, they weren’t menacing at all, they were all really lovely and charming. But stick with me.
Next morning, we were up bright and early (noon) for the 60m hurdles, won easily by Jonay. But when in France, expect sparks in the pole vault. Jonay and Simone’s indoor PBs are 4.50 and 4.60 respectively, so the balance was about to tip. The pole vault was won by another youngster, Julian Olivas in a 5.20PB with Ruben just behind him. But after 6 events only 12 points separated the top 3. Romain Martin was in first place, Simone second and Ruben third. Douze points!
Going into the final event, the 1000m, Ruben and Simone have pretty similar times, but they were going to have to watch out for the experienced Gael. When it comes to the middle-distance element of a multi-event, Gael is usually way out in front. What a showdown.
As expected, Gael took it out, closely followed by Jeremy Lelievre. Throughout the duration of the event, Jeremy seemed to be a one-man occasional series of gauze bandages.
Simone’s hamstring seemed to be cramping, but Ruben ran like a man possessed to run 2:39 to Simone’s 2:43. First and second place were secured and Gael came back to take third.
Is there anything better than a closely-fought battle with half a dozen guys in the mix to win? And when those guys have unusual combinations of strengths, that makes for an even more fascinating contest.
But how wonderful to see Gael Querin get third. After what feels like a few years being lost in the crowd of French talent, the beanie-wearing Querin (it was pretty cold in the stadium) banked a really solid set of marks in Clermont-Ferrand. I’ve not mentioned him yet, but Max Maugein had his first competition back for a few years, and will join the others seeking to complete the field in Glasgow.
There are 6 places up for grabs in Glasgow. Arthur Abele, Pieter Braun, Tim Duckworth, Kai Kazmirek, Vitali Zhuk and Martin Roe (and we assume Ilya too) have already been invited on the basis of their results in 2018. Away from Clermont-Ferrand, Fredrik Samuelsson logged some good marks in Stockholm last weekend. So who will be in Glasgow? And will they enjoy the Irn Bru?
The beauty of a smaller event is the chance for a range of people to shine, and here are some names with which you might not be too familiar. Makenson Gletty is cut from the same sturdy cloth as King Arthur, and was rarely far from the top of the scoreboard over the two days. He is surely poised for a breakthrough in the senior event. And for those who remember the great days of JJK, decathlon now has a JJS, in the shape of Jonay Jordan Schafer. Julian Olivas excelled at the pole vault, and likely has scope to improve in the other events. And I like the look of Karly Maisonneuve.
French decathlon is just so flipping good at the moment. Think about this: all 3 French athletes scored 3 no-jumps in the long jump in Berlin – a fact clearly destined to be the subject of a TV quiz question in future – yet both Ruben and Romain went on to perform really well in the rest of the competition. Performance, determination and depth.
Ruben, Gael, Karly, Julien and Jonay will be joining Jorge Ureña, John Lane, Ben Gregory, Scot Howard Bell and others in the combined events match in Cardiff (CZE-ESP-FRA-POL) next weekend.
Mesdames et Messieurs, I absolutely loved this 3-way battle between France, Italy and Spain as much I enjoyed the competition in Gotzis or Berlin. Well done to X-athletics for promoting the event so wonderfully, and thank you so much to the organisers who were kind enough to present me with some gifts to express their appreciation, 100%, for my support.
Are you ready for the Trackcastic panto and end of year awards?
Of course you are!! Join the Trackcastic crew in our magical festive panto “Kat-derella” and friends. Will Kat-derella thwart the dastardly plans of the evil Countess von Cakir? Will Pozzi Patrol save the day? With a twirl of a glittery baton and a brandish of a festive rake, all your dreams can come true too!
And who will win the Trackcastic Festive Panto awards? Enjoy the final podcast of 2018, athleticos.
KAT-DERELLA: CHAPTER 1
Once upon a time there was a young girl called Katarina. She had travelled a long, long way from home and arrived in a magical place called Mont Pelly Air. She had left her family behind to seek her fortune, but now lived with her great step-aunt and her two step-cousins. And Katarina loved nothing more than to run, jump and – if she absolutely had to – throw things in the forest outside her house.
But Katarina’s step aunt wasn’t a very nice person. No-one knew what her real name was, but instead everyone knew her by the very grand name she had given herself, Countess Marta Nadezhda Fani-Thanou Von Cakir. Countess Von Cakir was notorious throughout the villages around the forest. She would shoplift from the boulangerie and patisserie, terrorise children on her moped, and had even been caught swapping the offal in the charcuterie for suspicious looking substances in plastic bags. Indeed, she was so jealous of Katarina’s lovely name that she insisted that she be called Kat-derella
Countess Von Cakir was never seen without her ratty, bad-tempered lap dog Lupu, who would yap and bite at anyone who came to visit. But worst of all were her two daughters, Blonska and Chernova. With their misshapen teeth and trapezoidal shoulders, they were constantly slapping themselves, and each other, on the face and thighs, screeching and roaring.
Kat-derella – as she came to be known – didn’t like to spend too much time with her step-cousins, so most days she went to the forest. Kat-derella loved to play among the trees with her friends Nana and Kevin. Together they would gallop over logs as fast as they could, leap over tumbling streams, and throw apples to each other when they became tired and hungry.
One day, when Nana was visiting her Uncle Bertrand, Kat-derella and Kevin were strolling through the forest.
“No, Kevin” said Kat-derella , “You’re not saying it right. It’s “Liver-pooooooool”.
“Leev er pou? What ees thees words? What ees thees language?” replied Kevin, scuffing along in the warm grass.
Kat-derella sighed. She had been trying to teach Kevin Liverpudlian for over a year, but it wasn’t going so well. More often than not it ended up with Kevin sobbing at his inability to express himself in Scouse. She heard a stumble behind her, and turned round to find Kevin on his knees, weeping.
“C’mon Kevin, we need to get back for our lessons, do you have to express yourself right now?”
“Non, non” replied Kevin, blowing his nose loudly. “I am not expresseeng myself, I stubbed my toe on ze rock and it hurts”.
“Well you should wear shoes then, Kevin” said Kat-derella in an exasperated tone. “Walking around in your bare feet all the time, no-one wants to see your corns and bunions and blisters.” Helping Kevin back to his feet, the friends returned along the forest path to their afternoon lessons.
The sun was beating down on the garden as Kat-derella returned home. As she entered the house, her eyes adjusted to the dingy darkness within. Suddenly a mangy ball of fur threw itself at her, teeth bared and yelping. “Lupu!” came a deep voice from the shadows. “What have I told you about keeping my useless step-niece from her chores!”
“Chores?” asked Kat-derella
“Yes,” replied the haughty Countess Von Cakir, “I would like you to strain my yogurt until all the fat is removed. Until no fat is left. No fat. At all.”
“Fat-free?” said Kat-derella.
“Completely fat free” replied the Countess. “King Kipchoge is planning six months of celebrations to mark the retirement, and then the return, and then the retirement, and then the return again of his brother Prince Mo. The grand finale will be a magnificent ball, and I will need to lose weight to squeeze myself into my ballgown.
And you, my girl, you will be spending no more time in the forest with those good-for-nothings Kevin and Nana. You will be making ballgowns for my darlings Blonska and Chernova, and you won’t see the light of day again until you do!”
And with that, the evil Countess Von Cakir pushed Kat-derella into the cellar, threw a pile of fabric down the stairs after her, and locked the door with a wicked cackle.
For almost 6 months, Kat-derella toiled away in the cellar. It had only taken her a few weeks to make the dresses, but nothing pleased Blonska or Chernova. They would seize the dresses and, flying into a hormonal rage, rip them to shreds. Kat-derella saved some of the rags to wear herself, but most of them were collected by the local rag and bone business, Rupp’s Holey Rag Rickshaw.
The cellar was cold and draughty, and Kat-derella only had the embers in the fireplace to keep her warm. From time to time, Blonska or Chernova would bang a mug of watery soup on the floor for Kat-derella, often laced with what she suspected was Lupu’s drool. Kat-derella thought fondly of her friends Nana and Kevin playing in the forest, and a tear fell from her eye.
The tear landed on the sooty mug, and created a little rivulet of white among the dust. Kat-derella wiped away the soot with her raggedy skirt, and slowly some words began to appear on the mug. “Po-zzi Pa-trol” she mouthed. She continued wiping the mug, and slowly, a handsome face appeared. He had kind eyes and a winning smile. “Why, who is this?” she wondered. She placed the mug carefully on the hearth and returned to her dressmaking, pausing from time to time to smile shyly at the eyes watching over her.
The day of the grand ball approached. King Kipchoge was a benevolent ruler, and ensured all his subjects had access to the very best healthcare. So that his people would be fit and healthy to attend the ball, he arranged for a doctor to visit every household, unannounced, and to take urine and blood samples. Completely unrelated to this, and in no way a coincidence, Blonska and Chernova’s hormonal mood swings seemed to improve, and they ceased raging at Kat-derella long enough for her to finish their dresses.
The evening of the ball arrived. Blonska and Chernova piled into the sidecar of Countess Von Cakir’s moped, and disappeared to the castle in a stream of fumes. Kat-derella gave a deep sigh, and resigned herself to a night with the cinders. She sat down by the hearth, and picked up the mug she had looked after so carefully.
“Pozzi Patrol, Pozzi Patrol, Pozzi Patrol” she whispered to herself.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a dazzling figure with a magnificent smile appeared before her. She wore a tiara that sparkled like the stars, and had a pair of wings that twinkled like the moonlight.
“I am your Fairy Godmother Dina” said the glorious figure in a kind voice, “and you shall go to the ball!”
“Oh, I didn’t know I had a godmother,” said Kat-derella , startled, “but I’m so glad you’re here. Only, how will I get to the ball, locked in this cellar?”
Fairy Godmother Dina smiled her dazzling smile, and took from her pocket a glittery baton. She waved it in the air and chanted
“CJ, Danny, Zharnel, Harry,
In this cellar no longer tarry!”
There was a crash at the top of the stairs and a giant German man charged through the heavy wooden door, blasting it off its hinges.
“Arthur, you total Unit” cried Kat-derella. “you’ve saved me from this cellar!” She turned to her other visitor, who was picking splinters of wood out of her chiffon. “Fairy Godmother Dina, thank you for sending Arthur, but I really think I need my other friends to help me get ready for the ball”.
“The glittery baton says it shall be so!” declared Fairy Godmother Dina.
“Lovely Adam’s Lovely Bends,
Send me forth my girl’s dear friends!”
A shower of glitter appeared in the hearth, and out from the embers stepped Nana and Kevin.
“We’ve brought reinforcements”, announced Nana, as a stream of people followed her out from the hearth into the now crowded cellar. “Michelle Carter is here to do your makeup, Michelle Sammet is here to do your braids. Queen Val has brought you a corsage and Katharine Merry has brought her spangly IAAF Awards dress for you to wear.
Kat-derella quickly changed. The transformation was amazing. She glowed like a shining star.
“Oh Kat-derella”, sobbed Kevin, tracing a pattern in the sooty floor with his bare foot “I can’t express how happy I am for you.”
Fairy Godmother Dina rolled her eyes. “Yes, Kevin, that’s lovely but we have a party to get to!” The group dashed up the stairs and outside to the garden. The garden was deserted, except for a tall hooded figure raking the soil in the vegetable patch.
“Oh, but how will I get there?” cried Kat-derella. “The castle is too far to walk and there will be no carriages at this late hour.”
The hooded figure straightened up from her raking and the cape fell from her head. “I am your other Fairy Godmother Heike and I have taken care of all your transportation needs!” She waved her rake in the air and sparks flew into the night sky.
“Arthur, the carriage!”
The giant German man transformed in a flash of light into a sturdy unit of a carriage.
“Borlees, Ingebrigtsens, Dibabas, Kambundjis! The horses!”
Several dozen people emerged from the vegetable patch and with a wave of Heike’s Rake turned into beautiful white stallions, with feathered plumes in their manes.
“Yuki, the reins!” A small Japanese man jogged into the garden, checked his watch, and leapt onto the carriage”
She waved her magic rake and both Kat-derella and Kevin felt a tingling in their feet.
The soot on Kevin’s bare feet rose into the air, spinning, and turned from black particles into a thousand tiny crystals. The crystals settled onto Kat-derella’s feet and turned into a beautiful pair of glass vaporfly slippers.
“Let’s go!” cried Yuki Kawauchi from the top of the carriage. And Kat-derella sprung lightly into the carriage and with the whinny of an Ingebrigtsen, the entourage disappeared out of the village and onto the castle.
“Wait!” Shouted Fairy Godmother Heike, “you need to leave by midnight!” But the carriage was out of sight.
The castle was lit with hundreds of fairy lights, and was a spectacular sight to behold. At the grand portcullis, every person going in was stopped by two people, a man and a woman, brandishing microphones.
“What’s your name?” The blond woman asked a stocky gent who was strolling over the drawbridge, with two smartly dressed friends
“Christian Coleman” he replied.
“Are you the new Bolt?” asked the man with the microphone, who was wearing a lovely scarf.
“No”, Christian replied wearily.
“What about you?” asked the blond woman
“My name’s Noah Lyles and no I’m not the new Bolt” replied his friend.
“What about you? Are you the new Bolt?” The scarf-wearing gentleman probed, crossing 2 names off his list.
“No, I’m Ronnie Baker. Just Ronnie, not Bolt.”
From the shadow of the castle walls, a handsome prince watched his friends join the ball-goers. He was grateful to his father King Kipchoge for arranging the ball and providing a distraction for him. Prince Pozzi had been very lonely since his best friend Sir Lawrence had inherited a far away kingdom. He missed him very much and his father was always telling him to get out and mingle.
Prince Pozzi returned to the grand ballroom in the castle. As he entered the room, a woman dressed in green and gold leapt in front of him and started bouncing up and down and from side to side, desperately trying to get his attention. He smiled politely and side-stepped the jiggling Antipodean.
In the middle of the floor, a lean man with a flash of silver through his dark hair was energetically directing a game of Musical Chairs, alongside a round of Pin the Tail on The Donkey. As people clattered to the floor, squeals erupted as pins pierced posteriors, and a suave Ukrainian man whispered to Prince Pozzi. “Seb is trying out new formats for the Continental Cup. They really should have made me President.”
The Ukrainian man suddenly dashed away “Mondo, you come down from that chandelier this second! What have I told you about hiding Renaud’s walking stick up there where he can’t reach it?
Prince Pozzi laughed and leaned against a pillar. Suddenly, the festivities paused as the Diamond League theme tune blasted across the ballroom. The doors opened and a vision, the likes of which the prince had never seen before, entered the room.
“Who is she?!” the prince gasped.
Slowly, the vision in glass slippers walked down the grand staircase. King Kipchoge rushed forward to give her his arm. “How lovely your shoes are, my dear. I enjoy a nice Vaporfly myself” the King said. “Have you met my son, Prince Pozzi?”
Kat-derella – for it was she – took King Kipchoge’s arm and looked around to see the King’s son. And all at once, her eyes fell on Prince Pozzi – it was the handsome man from the mug on her hearth.
“I know you,” she whispered “from the mug”.
“Yes” Prince Pozzi replied, “I have the best and most devoted servants a Prince could wish for, and they, my Pozzi Patrol, have travelled all around the land sharing their love for me by way of crockery and kitchen utensils. But enough of me – we must dance!”
And so Kat-derella and Prince Pozzi danced the night away, oblivious to the gasps and stares from the edges of the floor. Even Blonska and Chernova looked up from their cocktails and shots to wonder, jealously, who this dazzling figure was who had so captured the attention of the Prince.
The hours passed like minutes. Kat-derella had lost all track of time, dancing with the Prince, and paid no attention when the chimes of a grand clock sounded in the ballroom. A wiry man sprinted down the staircase towards Kat-derella and the Prince. Kat-derella recognised him at once. It was her school friend Bram Som. She would have been late to all her classes if it wasn’t for him. “Fairy Godmother Heike sent me. You need to leave by midnight” he whispered to her “or the magic will disappear!”
Kat-derella dropped Prince Pozzi’s hand and dashed up the staircase after Bram. She paused to look back at the Prince, who looked confused and sad at her sudden departure. “Hurry!” cried Bram.
The pair sprinted out of the castle and through the portcullis, ignoring the cries of “Wait, are you the new Bolt?” that followed them. The carriage and horses were just a few metres away as the penultimate chime of the clock sounded in the castle grounds. “Jump!” shouted Bram. And Kat-derella hoicked up her gown and leapt the 7m into the open door of the carriage. Yuki whistled to the horses and they set off at a gallop, as the last chime sounded.
“Wait, I’ve lost my shoe!” cried Kat-derella but before her eyes the carriage began to dissipate and she found herself sitting on Arthur’s shoulders. In front of her, the beautiful horses had turned into a giant pile of Borlees and Ingebrigtsens and the rest, limbs flailing. And Yuki Kawauchi turned to Kat-derella. “I’m sorry, dear friend, but it’s midnight and that means I have a marathon to run in Doha. farewell!” And he ran off into the darkness.
“What a night”, sighed Kat-derella. “Give us a piggy back home, will you Arthur.”
The Prince ran out of the castle after Kat-derella, hurdling passed out revellers on the way “No, I’m not the new Bolt!” he shouted to the man and woman with the microphones.
As he saw the dazzling figure leap into the carriage, and the carriage disappear into the darkness he cried after her “I don’t know your name!” A twinkle caught his eye on the ground. It was a glass slipper.
“I will not rest until I return this shoe to its owner” he said.
“Oh, that’s a good idea, I might throw that into the qualifying for the Continental Cup!” came a voice from behind him.
“Now is not the time for your harebrained ideas Seb”, came a second voice. And King Kipchoge put his arm around his heartbroken son and led him back to the castle.
For weeks, Prince Pozzi scoured the land searching for the owner of the shoe. He travelled to Liverpool, to Loughborough, to Lee Valley. He even tried to get to Birmingham, but all the transport options were cancelled due to the weather and he had to give up. He returned back to Mont Pelly Air, and wondered what to do next. As he wandered along the road, he saw a flyer on a telegraph pole.
“Have you lost something? Found something that doesn’t belong to you. Try Uibo’s Lost and Found Emporium. Ten times better than the rest. 200m on the right, then 400m on the left.”
“I suppose it’s worth a try” thought the Prince. He followed the directions on the flyer, and soon arrived at a small shop, with a Bahamian and an Estonian flag flying outside. “Welcome!” a tall elegant woman greeted him from behind the counter. “Welcome to Uibo’s Lost and Found Emporium. How may we help you?”
“I’m looking for something I’ve lost” said Prince Pozzi. “I’ve lost the owner of this shoe”.
“What an unusual shoe” the woman said. Let me check with my husband. Maicel!”
A tall man emerged from the back of the shop. He was wearing an Estonian scarf, although it was clear from his sheepish demeanour that the scarf didn’t actually belong to him. “Missing shoes?” he said. “There’s a pair of spikes that have been here a while. Initials RK on them. That any good to you?”
“No, it’s the person I’ve lost, rather than the shoe. What’s that over there?” The prince pointed at a shady corner, with a dark fireplace. Above the mantelpiece was a plaque. It read:
“I broke Pauline’s record and Shaunae broke mine. Records were meant to be broken so stop the shade, Statman Jon”
“Ah, that’s Debbie Ferguson’s shady corner. Nothing in there but some chipped mugs.”
Prince Pozzi crouched down and peered into the hearth. He lifted out three sooty mug. He wiped away the dust on each one and read the words “Pozzi Patrol. Pozzi Patrol. Pozzi Patrol”.
And with a bang and a flash of light he found himself sitting in a vegetable patch outside a house on the edge of the forest. By his feet lay a rake and a glittery baton. Prince Pozzi dusted himself down and knocked on the front door.
The door was flung open and he was grabbed by four clawed hands, and dragged inside the house. “Blonska, Chernova PUT THE PRINCE DOWN!”
“You must forgive my daughters, Prince Pozzi” the Countess Von Cakir simpered. “I heard that you have been searching for a girl you met at the ball. I’m sure that she must be one of my darling daughters, and they are just so excited to see you again.”
Prince Pozzi was far too polite to show what he thought of that proposition. Instead he looked around the room. “I was sent here by the spirit of Debbie Ferguson” he said. “I feel that I will find my true love in the shade with a fireplace. Do you have such a thing?”
“Only our stupid step-cousin in the cellar” Blonska cackled to Chernova, slapping herself at her clever jibe.
“In the cellar, you say?” And Prince Pozzi darted around the three women and disappeared through the door to the cellar.
“You PED-addled idiots!” screeched Countess Von Cakir, charging down the stairs after the Prince.
In the cellar, Kat-derella was doing her exercises with Nana and Kevin. She was wearing a pair of plastic socks while Kevin, as usual, was barefoot. She was doing chin-ups on an old drying pulley, and missed her days in the forest.
Kat-derella dropped from the bar and turned round. It was Prince Pozzi! She had not stopped thinking about him since the night of the ball, but knew that her evil step-aunt would not let her leave the cellar to return to the castle.
“It’s me! Oh, you have my shoe” she said, spotting the twinkling glass slipper in his hand.
“Why do you still have my shoe when everything else turned back into its original form? For example, Arthur isn’t a carriage any more. Why is my shoe still a shoe?”
“Kat-derella!” hissed Nana, gesticulating at the Prince. “NOT THE TIME”.
Prince Pozzi smiled at Kat-derella. “I don’t know what magic happened, or how I got here, but will you try on this shoe? I think it belongs to you. Will you take off your socks and we’ll see if it fits?”
“Oh, but I can’t!” wailed Kat-derella. “I told Kevin not to go around in his bare feet so much, and now I’ve caught a verruca from him”.
Kevin looked sheepishly at his bare feet as Nana cuffed him round the ear.
“I think I can help”, said Prince Pozzi, with a twinkle in his eye. He reached into his pocket and took out a small tube.
“Ooooh, is that some stanozolol?!” Blonska and Chernova lunged for the tube, flailing at the Prince with their grabby hands. Prince Pozzi ducked out of the way, and Nana and Kevin pulled the pair off him, each sitting firmly on one of the wriggling step cousins.
“No it’s not,” said Prince Pozzi.
“It’s Bazuka gel, and I’m going to Bazuka that Verruca. Kat-derella, will you let me Bazuka your verruca, come and live in my castle and be my princess?
“I will!” said Kat-derella, as Nana and Kevin cheered and a rabid Lupu bit Countess Von Cakir on the ankles. “and my name is Katarina”.
And Katarina and Prince Pozzi joined King Kipchoge at the castle where they all lived happily ever after and EXPRESSED THEMSELVES 100%
In the 19th century, young ladies used to partake in a European tour of culture. Following in these footsteps in 2018 I embarked on my own Diamond League tour of triple jump, street meets and all things athletics. This is a whistle stop overview of my thoughts on the meets I have attended, some of the highlights at each and other odd ramblings of an athletics fan.
There were originally 3 stops on my tour Lausanne, Monaco and Brussels, but as you will see in Part 2, a 4th meet was added after a chance conversation in Monaco. So why those 3? Well I had already visited each of these in previous years and enjoyed them, but more importantly all three meets include the men’s triple jump. (A spoiler here – I am the biggest TJ fan – or more accurately the biggest Christian Taylor fan around) so yes I planned my tour solely on the basis of:
a. is there a men’s TJ event?
b. has CT confirmed that he will be attending?
Once both boxes are ticked then I’m going
So the first leg of the tour this year was Lausanne. Now if you have never visited I can highly recommend. The lake is lovely, the beer reasonable, the Olympic museum a must and most importantly a meet that never fails to impress. This year the men’s PV was held the evening before on the edge of the lake – I do think to make it even more interesting, Mr. Coe, you could have had them vaulting on a floating platform on the lake- that would be a novel concept worthy of the best IAAF brainstorming committee meeting.
However even without the addition of water, this was an incredibly exciting event. You were centimetres away from the action and let’s be honest who amongst us wouldn’t want to be that close to some full on “Sam love” and Zippy action? The atmosphere was great, a real buzz, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, although the large pieces of cheese given as prizes did seem to freak Renaud out!
So onto the main event. The logistics of getting to the stadium are easy and access to the warm up track is also good. It was here that I found out the Tianna Bartoletta was injured. So now one of the few LJ competitions this season would be poorer for her lack of participation. I did invite her to sit with me in the stands to watch but she politely declined (this may have something to do with my full on CT outfit that may make others slightly nervous about being around me!) In a small field it was great to see Queen Cat taking on Spanovic & Lorraine. In the end however Mihambo showed the commitment and form that was to continue into the Euros and beyond to take the win.
Before I move on to the track events (in my reviews field events are always top billing) I of course have to mention the TJ. Now I’m not saying that an English women going completely mad as Laura Muir raced down the back straight put Triple P off but CT took the win by 1 cm so, hey, if that helped I’ll take the credit.
On the track 2 races really stood out for me, firstly the men’s 400H. My first chance to watch this season’s brilliant head to head with Warholm and Samba. I love the way Warholm races; he seems to know no other way than to give it everything from the ‘B’ of the bang and also how elegant and relaxed Samba is. On this occasion as so often Qatar overcame Norway. The last race of the evening was the men’s 200. The field was 3 Americans, 1 Brazilian, 1 Swiss and 3 others. Clearly top billing and this race didn’t disappoint – 19.69 an equal WL and a PB for Noah Lyles with a, now typical, Lyles celebration.
Overall Lausanne I’ll give you 10/10 – the fireworks were spectacular, my flowers were amazing and for the 200m alone I’d say the entrance fee was well spent.
So stop two on the grand tour was Monaco. Again another DL venue I can highly recommend. Clearly it’s not cheap to stay here but at 10€ for a ticket anywhere in the back straight it’s another must for the TJ fans. In previous years I’ve been lucky enough to sit with the coaches but this year I found myself mobbed by young children. I have to confess that I may have lightly ‘encouraged’ a few out of the way in my bid to watch the women PV and even the triple jumpers seemed overwhelmed by their screams.
On a warm July evening this year’s meet was set up to be a cracker and boy oh boy it did not disappoint. There were:
1 World Record, 6 World Leads, 4 Meeting Record and 1 Diamond League Record. so overall not a bad night!
Everywhere you looked there was a highlight, clearly for me the 17.86 in the TJ by one Mr. Taylor, however Lysenko =WL =MR PB of 2.40 in HJ was fabulous and seeing half beard back competing was great. This however was the night that the track outshone the field. For me Semenya in the 800 was a fabulous display of controlled dominance 1:54:60 MR in a field that had 4 PBs, 3 SBs, and 2 NRs the race of the night. But then what about Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s 400 race, 48:97 and an alphabet soup of WL, DLR, MR, NR & PB? My friend Noah continued his great form from Lausanne with 19:65 in the 200m – just a WL, MR, PB triple, not a bad day at the office. The men’s 1500m produced another WL & PB for Timothy Cheruiyot 3:28:41 and the men’s 3000SC gave El Bakkali a WL & PB with 7:58:15.
I have witnessed some amazing nights of athletics and have been in the stadium for previous world records but Chepkoech’s WR 8:44:32 and Frerichs AR/PB 9:00:85 was a master class in running and jumping.
This year Monaco also got in on the act with street meets. The men’s and women shot put took place on the previous evening at the harbour. What a venue, millionaires yachts, the Prince of Monaco, Sandi Morris’s chicken gate security issue and the elite of the Shot Put world. Now previously I’ve loved Dame Val but have to admit that SP would not have figured on my must see events, but my night in Monaco changed that. Now it could be due in part to a new found girl crush on Raven Saunders (19:67 SB) or the fact that Kevin Mayer (14:94) decided to have a go with the big boys or just the fact that the camaraderie between all of the competitors was on par with the PV love I’m not sure, but I’m definitely a convert. Gong won the women’s comp with a huge 20:31 with Dame Val’s 19:31 a SB, whilst Ryan Crouser won the men’s comp with 22:05.
So Monaco its 11/10 for you, the alphabet soup of records and leads make this a meet not to forget.
There’s an episode of Sex and The City – bear with me – where Carrie learns that Big is moving to Paris for a year. After an initial hissy fit, Carrie stocks up on French miscellany (mostly a beret and French fries) and decides to accompany Big to Paris, only to find that he is entirely ambivalent as to whether she comes to France or not. She realises that their future will never be, and she describes the pain she feels as “Le Douleur Exquise”.
For those who don’t obtain their cultural references from 90s TV boxsets, “le douleur exquise” is the French expression that describes the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have. And those who have watched Kevin Mayer’s tears in 2018 as he sought to express himself 100% might have thought his pursuit of greatness would lead him to le douleur exquise.
Our reactions to Kevin’s experience at the European Championships in Berlin spanned confusion, frustration and heartbreak. But as I write this, exactly one week after I sat in sunny Talence watching Kevin’s sensational world record unfold in front of me, joy replaces all of those emotions.
To live through a Kevin Mayer decathlon is to live a thousand decathlons.
I learned this week of Kevin’s nickname “Kéké La Braise” and I asked my French-speaking athletico chums what it meant. Twitter pal @Monkeycat57 explained that he is “like an ember” – la braise – bursting into flame and bringing his best in big competitions. And we know that a Mayer decathlon, or indeed heptathlon, is full of fire and emotion and pain and so much drama.
But, the curious thing about Kevin’s performance in Talence is that – relatively speaking – there was very little drama.
100m, a wee 10.55 PB, no biggie.
Long Jump, another PB, but this one at 7.80 was a long time coming.
Shot put, the usual bam out to 16m.
High jump, a solid 2.05.
400m, steady 48.42.
110mH, just outside his 2018 PB with 13.75.
Discus, quality 50.54
Pole Vault, Twitter athletico Robyn Brailey put it best: “Over 5 metres first time #phew #nodrama”
Javelin: nearly 72m and my only individual FFS moment of the weekend (which you can enjoy here).
1500m: a perfectly acceptable 4:36, when you’ve already scored 8421 from 9 events.
What was so jawdropping about this world record was how it was so…effortless. Not for a minute am I minimising the monumental physical and mental effort that goes into the decathlon, or this performance in particular. But remember Ashton Eaton in Beijing.
Remember Ashton reaching so deep for every one of those 6 points that took him past his previous score, and how utterly shattered he was physically in that 1500m, and emotionally at the end. Remember every rueful grin from Roman Sebrle in 2001 as he heaved himself to his 9026 world record in Gotzis, not quite believing that he was breaking new boundaries. In comparison, Kevin’s performance seemed so easy.
Unremarkable, if it were not so utterly remarkable. And while I’ll leave the stats for another day, he scored exactly 4563 points on each day. EVEN POINTS. Trey Hardee summed it up:
“9126, in what was beyond the most balanced decathlon in history. First time in history there were no flaws”.
No drama, but still so much drama. This moment feels like it has been coming forever. But Kevin is only 26. It’s only been 4 years since he entered this territory, as Hans Van Alphen remembers:
“In 2012 I remember Kevin Mayer shaking like a leaf entering the London Olympic Stadium and not performing well because of this. In 2016 I saw you excel scoring a huge PB, finishing second just after the amazing Ashton Eaton at the Rio Olympics. And look at you now…world record holder with a dazzling 9126 points.”
This record was France’s as much as it was Kevin’s. And while I’m sure it would have come somewhere else if not Talence, what a privilege it was to join the home crowd to watch this extraordinary moment in history unfold. One of the first on the scene to hug Kevin was Nicole Durand, who runs the Decastar event, and his brother made an emotional speech on the infield. Throughout the two days, coach Bertrand Valcin was never far from the track.
The other French decathletes set up the event for Kevin beautifully. Florian Geffrouais, ever the clown, warmed up the crowd with his antics. Jeremy Lelievre, with his brisk 4:21 1500 PB, stayed a pace or two ahead of Kevin all the way around in the last event, giving him someone to hang onto and roaring him on as he kicked on the final lap. Bastien Auzeil proudly carried Kevin aloft on his shoulders when the effort was over. Teenage girls ran after Kevin, screaming, as he was driven around the track, standing tall through the sunroof of a Renault. And yes, I got a Mayer high-five on his victory lap.
We talked about this moment coming on the Trackcastic podcast, like many others, but never could have imagined that Ashton’s 9045 would recede so far into the sunset, and so soon. As recently as May 2016, I commented that Kevin was really wee for a decathlete, compared to the likes of Karpov, Helcelet and those other decathletes whose shoulders can be seen from the moon. I was quickly put right by Michelle Sammet who, having interviewed Kevin in an ice bath in 2014 in Ratingen, confirmed that he was no weakling.
The exquisite pain that accompanies Kevin Mayer, and those watching him compete, is over for now. The next challenge, whether that be Olympic Gold in Tokyo or putting that world record out of reach for a decade or more (for, while Kevin expressed himself 100% in Talence, I don’t think that we have yet seen 100% Kevin) will no doubt bring more drama.
I’ll finish with an image taken by James Rhodes, who joined me in Talence after seeing the momentum build on Day 1. This was the exact moment Kevin later described “A ce moment, j’ai su”. At this moment, I knew. An exquisite moment, indeed.