To the discerning Decathletes of Europe fan, the Berlin European Championships were all about whether Kevin Mayer would pull out a big score, after teasing us with individual PBs throughout the season so far. A 13.71 hurdles and a 16.51 shot in Paris, and a jaunty 52.38 discus in Germany. He didn’t do Gotzis and engaged in no more than a cheeky wee “triathlon” in Ratingen. It all pointed to some Prime Kevin in Berlin.
The Enigma of Kevin
Was he going to have a pop at 9000? Roman’s European record? Ashton’s World Record? Prime Kevin certainly showed up for the 100m with a 10.64 PB. He wasn’t messing about! Onto the long jump. The first round, a foul for Kevin. Second round, a second foul. Suddenly, we were back at the London World Champs where Kevin took 3 attempts to clear his opening vault of 5.10. Or at the World Indoors in Birmingham where he cleared 5m, passed at 5.10 and then failed to clear 5.20.
Then the unthinkable happened. In the third and final round, a third foul. European Championships Kevin had done a Commonwealth Games Damian.
Whenever anyone asks me if I think Kevin will break Ashton’s world record, I always answer along the same lines. Yes, he has the talent to do so. Contrary to the composure and consistency of Ashton Eaton and Roman Sebrle, Kevin is all drama and flair. And – in my humble opinion – we’ll only see the big decathlon mark once he channels that drama and flair all in the same direction, either through design or by luck. That’s not a criticism – just an observation of the very different ways in which athletes reach greatness. And I am totally here for it, even if my blood pressure says differently.
We have questions, Kevin
In his post-race interview, Kevin was, as we might have anticipated, in tears. He said that he wanted to take risks, wanted to express himself 100% and he had done that. But also that he paid the price – and that he has no regrets.
“I expressed myself and it was very strong. I can’t say that I wanted to do 7.30 just to continue the decathlon. I have big ambition and I need to take risks.”
Ok Kevin, we feel your pain, and weep with you. But we also have questions.
If winning the gold medal wasn’t the aim, why was Kevin here?
If getting a big score was the aim, why was Kevin undermining that by risking a no-mark?
If Kevin wanted to throw caution to the wind in the long jump and beat his 4-year-old 7.65 PB, why not do that in Gotzis or Ratingen, as suggested to me by Trackcastic pal Ceri? Or at a Diamond League? Why risk a title and a big score?
What does it MEAN Kevin? What is this enigmatic expression of which you speak?
Were Ruben Gado and Romain Martin’s three fouls in the Long Jump also part of this French team expression?
Is Gael Querin’s interesting long jump technique also his way of expressing himself?
Was Salim Sdiri’s skewering by Tero Pitkamaki’s javelin in 2007 in Rome actually a modern art installation?
Where does Bosse’s cat fit into this? And Renaud’s zip?
Dear reader, do not mistake my wry presentation for disinterest or criticism. My ticket is booked for Talence and – armed with a selection of the finest French existentialism – I am there for Kevin expressing himself in September.
The resilience of Niki, Tim, Mathias, Ruben and Romain
Once Kevin was gone, however, the nature of the competition changed with eyes naturally turning to the Germans. The Germans had started the 2018 season with World silver and bronze medallists Rico Freimuth and Kai Kazmirek at the forefront as usual, but Rico decided to take a break from the event after Gotzis. That made for a German team of Kai, Arthur Abele and Mathias Brugger, until Kai got injured on 1 August and 20-year-old Niklas Kaul was drafted in at the last minute.
And thus the display of guts and resilience began. After that 11th hour call up, Niklas Kaul finished 4th, setting a PB in the discus and pulling out multiple season’s bests. Mathias Brugger also no-marked in the jinxed long jump, but he subsequently set a massive 60cm PB of 15.92 in the shot. He said after the long jump “It is an honour for me to be here, and this is why I will finish this decathlon”.
Indeed, Kevin’s thrice-fouling compatriots Ruben and Romain also went on to set PBs in the 400 and Pole Vault respectively, and several SBs. How on earth do you find the resilience to go onto deliver PBs and SBs after such a crushing experience as no-marking on your second event? What mental strength are these guys drawing from? Ruben and Romain genuinely had a really good event overall aside from the long jump, and that warms the cockles of my heart.
But let’s talk about Tim Duckworth. His first senior championship vest for GB, at the end of a humongously long season – he opened his NCAA season in April by breaking 8100 for the first time, won the NCAA champs with 8336 in June, and won the LJ with yet another 8m jump at the British trials in June. Second only to Kevin after the 100m, and leading after the long jump, Tim mostly stayed in first or second place all the way through to the javelin.
While Tim’s decathlon profile has his weakest events clustered at the end of the competition, that maintenance at the top in your first senior international season is quite astonishing. His buffer from his best events (including a below par long jump) meant he only dropped to fifth. And after that season, imagine setting a spectacular new PB in your high jump, and setting a PB in the last, most draining of events the 1500. What guts and resilience and stamina and determination.
The Unit of Arthur
While the headlines tended to favour the fresh new face of Tim, the solid work was being done by Arthur Abele behind the scenes. Six season’s bests over 2 days and a giant javelin set him up beautifully for the 1500m, where he has the fastest PB in the field. “How can a unit like Abele have run a 4:15 1500m?” asked my good friend Jim. What a unit Arthur is. A unit who has had more injuries and illness in the last few years than seems fair. What heart he has shown by cementing his place on a massively competitive German team and dragging himself back to a European gold medal *pauses to wipe eyes*.
In his post-event interview he reminded us that he had been suffering from Bell’s palsy in the spring, as well as Achilles problems, and as late as March he didn’t know whether he would be out for the season. This gold meant so much, to Arthur and to every decathlon fan.
Resurgent and rising stars: Ilya, Vitaly, Martin, Simone and Jan
Behind Arthur, another set of decathletes were having a strong competition. Ilya Shkurenyev hasn’t been the same since Rio, but we saw flashes of his brilliance again in the pole vault, where he entertained us in getting near his 5.40PB. Ilya and Vitaly Zhuk paced each other in the 1500 to silver and bronze. If Janek Oiglane was the breakthrough talent of 2017 (unfortunately and unhappily injured this year), then Vitaliy Zhuk is the one to watch from 2018. I first saw him in Gotzis earlier this year, but he set 4 individual PBs here in Berlin and is still only 21. I’m very interested in where he goes next – I haven’t been impressed by any Belarus decathlete since the iconic Andrea Krauchanka.
Behind Vitaly, three other guys stand out with a great competition: Martin Roe in 6th, who won Florence Multistars earlier in the year and set PBs in all his jumps; Simone Cairoli in 10th also set 4 individual PBs, is closing in on 8000 points and is the most exciting Italian decathlete I’ve seen in years; and Jan Dolezal – the number one Czech in the absence of the injured Adam Sebastian Helcelet – finished 6th with 4 individual PBs and an overall decathlon PB.
And so, decathletes of Europe, to Talence, where we shall express ourselves again.
By Gabby Pieraccini @smokymozzarella #decathletesofeurope
A look ahead at the most likely British victories at the 24th European Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany.
By Reece Maycock
In 2012 the regularity of the European championships changed from every four years, to every two. In the three contests since then (including the 2012 Helsinki version) Great Britain and Northern Ireland have supplied wildly different teams, with dramatically varying levels of success. In Helsinki there were 4 golds,two years later in Zurich an astonishing 12 (5 more than the total number of medals won in the Finnish capital). In Amsterdam two years back 5 titles were won and 16 overall medals achieved. However before we get ahead of ourselves and declare this championship a British whitewash it’s worth noting that non-Olympic year Europeans have not always provided GBR with an abundance of gold (Barcelona 2010 – 6; Gothenburg 2006 – 1). So where should we pitch our hopes? Does sending our largest ever team mean the domination of Zurich will be repeated? Or will the retirements of Jess, Mo, Greg and Christine hold up a mirror to the cracks in British Athletics?
Let me take you through the 13 (yes, you read that correctly) golds I think are possible in the German capital:
Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes have both hit landmarks this year. Asher-Smith has broken her own British record and recorded two sub-11 clockings, in addition to edging out Olympic champion Elaine Thompson for commonwealth bronze in Australia. Hughes went under 10 seconds in Jamaica earlier this year with an equal European leading mark of 9.91. He has since run under 10 seconds twice, both at the London diamond league in his final races before this championship. Both will start as favourites in the 100m with Hughes looking to win his first individual senior title, following disqualification after initially having captured the commonwealth 200m title in April. Asher-Smith will also be contesting the 200m and will start as slight favourite over reigning double world champion Dafne Schippers. The Dutch superstar is yet to fire on all cylinders this year but it would be foolish and disrespectful to disregard her. Her 200m championship final times in each of the past four seasons are: 22.03 (2014 Euros); 21.63 (2015 Worlds); 21.88 (2016 Olympics) and 22:05 (2017 Worlds). All four of those times are faster than Asher-Smith has ever run. Beating Schippers to successfully defend her 200m title from 2016 would surely be the British record holder’s greatest achievement to date.
With a 44.63 clocking, Matthew Hudson-Smith heads the European rankings over 400m. A silver medalist four years ago, Hudson-Smith will go up against Spain’s Oscar Husillos and 400m hurdles World champion Karsten Warholm of Norway, in a bid to win a first senior title. It is feasible that all three national records may be broken in Berlin (GBR 44.36 – Iwan Thomas); (SPA 44.69 – Bruno Hortelano); (NOR 44.87 – Karsten Warholm). Hudson-Smith is getting better with every race and has identified the 21-year-old British record as a target for this season. Husillos has carried his outstanding indoor form (where he briefly became world indoor champion before disqualification) outdoors, and Warholm has broken his 400m hurdles NR in almost every race since that flat 400m run. The European record of 44.33 set way back in 1987 by (East) Germany’s Thomas Schonlebe might be living on borrowed time.
Up until a few weeks ago you’d have said that Lynsey Sharp was having an atrocious season. Out in the heats of the commonwealth games, outside of the top two at the British trials, an in poor-taste rant against Laura Muir and a series of below par runs well outside two minutes. However, two runs inside that benchmark in quick succession and a decent placing at the London diamond league and she finds herself heading to Berlin ranked 2nd in Europe. European champion six years ago in Helsinki, Sharp is presented with an outstanding opportunity to win a second title. With Muir eventually choosing not to double-up, Hassan opting for the 5000m and Selina Buchel and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke looking out of sorts, European leader Renelle Lamote is the only real threat (on paper). Despite having excellent personal bests, neither Lamote nor Sharp are particularly convincing competitors, but I expect the Brit to emerge victorious in Berlin.
Laura Muir and Laura Weightman will surely complete a British 1-2 in the 1500m, most likely joined on the podium by Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui. Muir would have started as overwhelming favourite for both the 800m and 1500m but a slight niggle after the London diamond league means she will only run the event she is most known for. Weightman hasn’t contested many 1500m’s in 2018, choosing to focus on the 5000m for the first part of the season, which resulted in the third major medal of her career. However, the races she has run indicate that a PB is on the cards and her excellent final 100m at last year’s World championships will give her belief that if she is close enough to Muir in the home straight then anything is possible. Muir admitted that she went too hard too early in the mile at the London diamond league so I expect her to wait until 300/250m to go before kicking, but in truth she can win this race in any which way she wants.
There are two possible field gold’s with all of our long jump women capable of winning their first career title and Nick Miller talented enough to beat anyone in the world. Jazmin Sawyers will start as the most unlikely of the three long jumpers to win gold, yet she edged Shara Proctor out of the top two at the British trials and has commonwealth and European medals already. Proctor, who in turn beat Sawyers and Ugen at the London diamond league looks to have finally recaptured the form that took her so close to becoming World champion in 2015. A crisis of confidence followed that magnificent national record in the Bird’s Nest Stadium but her recent 6.91m and continued improvement with every meet indicates that something special could be on the cards. World leader and newest member of the 7 metre club Lorrain Ugen won both the British trials and the Stockholm diamond league, but has also had some poor competitions in between. The bookies have her a slight favourite over reigning European champion, indoors and out, Ivana Spanovic (6.99m this season), an athlete with a plethora of medals and titles. Ugen may have a better jump to her credit this year, but Spanovic is the defending champion. All are extraordinary athletes but to suggest it will be Ivana vs. the Brits would be insulting to the stellar field. I believe a British 1-2-3 is possible, but with equal probability I also believe a British 4-5-6 is feasible. Malaika Mihambo and Sosthene Moguernara (both German) are world class and will not be beaten with anything less than 6.90m+ jumps. The women’s long jump is arguably the event with the highest standard at these championships, possibly slightly ahead of the men’s 1500m. Whoever becomes the European champion will surely have to produce the jump of their life.
Nick Miller won’t start as the bookies favourite for the men’s hammer, but he start as mine. His season’s best and British record are over a metre down on the European leading market of Wojciech Nowicki and almost a metre down on hammer superstar Pawel Fajdek’s best mark. However, he showed incredible focus and strength when becoming the first Brit ever to throw over 80m to win the commonwealth title in April and has spent most of the time since then in heavy training. If he has continued to build and tapered correctly there’s no reason to think that he could not improve on that 80.26m. It is likely it will take that to win but Nick seems to grow in confidence each season and he may well topple the traditional Polish powerhouses in the years to come. Sixth at the world’s last year, a medal will be the minimum expectation.
The final Brit with a realistic chance individual gold is everyone’s favourite hurdler: Eilidh Doyle. It’s quite remarkable that despite being injured and therefore not running between her 3rd successive commonwealth games silver medal and the London diamond league that Doyle will head to Berlin as the marginal favourite. Especially given that European leader (over both 400m flat and 400m hurdles) Lea Sprunger, and double World champion Zusanna Hejnova will be competing. Hejnova has not quite taken off this season, equal 4th on the European list with 55.16. Sprunger has had two excellent indoor seasons back-to-back, but on both occasions ended up without a medal. The lactic sniper got the better of her in the final of last year’s European indoors and she was disqualified in the semi’s of this year’s World indoors. The speed demonstrated on the boards has resulted in a fantastic outdoor 400m 50.52 PB but her 54.79 over the hurdles suggests the technical transition has not been quite so smooth. Doyle, on the other hand, picked up her first individual global medal with bronze at the world indoors, followed by silver at the commonwealth games in 54.80, just a fraction behind Sprunger’s European lead. The 2014 European champion’s two races since returning from injury (56.18 and 55.71) won’t worry the Swiss or Czech athletes, but what might be a cause for concern is her assertion that she has completed the training necessary whilst injured and has just been unable to race. Expect all three of them to run under 55 seconds in the final, should they navigate the semis.
All four of the British relay quartets will expect gold in Berlin. The men’s lineup will most probably feature 3/4 of the team that won World gold last year, with Hughes expected to come in for Danny Talbot, who is spending this season out injured. Likewise Desiree Henry will be missing from the women’s 4×100 team, silver medalists in London. Imani Lansiqout/Bianca Williams are likely to join Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Phillip and Daryll Neita. Neither team should be troubled too much by the speed of their competitors.
The 4x400m relays will be more difficult to win. Both men and women have taken their largest squads ever as a result of the novel decision by the organiser’s to have the relays in the middle of the athletics program, swinging the relay battles mightily in favour of the countries with the most depth, i.e. GBR.
The 4x400m heats take place the morning after the women’s 400m semi-finals and the men’s 400m hurdles final. That possibly rules out Anika Onoura, Amy Allcock and Laviai Nielsen, all of whom will expect to be competing in those semis and hoping to progress to the final. It will also probably rule out Jack Green, unless he does not make the hurdles last eight. The women’s 400m hurdles final and men’s 400m final also take place on the same day as the heats. Not only has that ended Lea Sprungers bid for a 400/400mh hurdle double, it also rules out at least Doyle and Hudson-Smith, possibly Meghan Beesley and Dwayne Cowan. The relay finals themselves occur just after the women’s 400m final, likely wiping out all three of the British women selected in the individual event (mentioned above). It really is bizarre. What this does mean however is that despite having the third best men’s squad (behind Belgium and Spain) GBR will probably win the men’s title. This is because the two other countries simply do not have the same depth. Their first four are probably better, man-for-man, than our team (with the exception of Hudson-Smith) but we have Cameron Chalmers, Sebastian Rodger, Owen Smith, Martyn Rooney, Delano Williams and Rabah Yousif all ready to run a leg each in any given combination. The Borlees are going to have to run the individual 400ms and both legs of the relay, and Hortelano (200m) and Husillos (400m) will have to do the same for Spain.
The British women’s team is good enough to win with or without this bizarre set-up, but their closest rivals, Poland and France, have been weakened by the timetabling. It does mean the final may be the unusual line-up of Doyle, Beesley, Zoey Clark and Mary Abici, with Emily Diamond, Kirsten McAslan and Finette Agyapong all possibly featuring in the heats.
We’ve reached double figures. If our podcast was a decathlon, this would be the (grueling, painful, potentially crap) 1500m! So, be warned.
On the show today:
We preview the European Indoor Championships. Note: Gabby will attend and aims to feedback vital behind the scenes information such as the name of Andrew Pozzi’s brand of cologne and the number of ciggies Venelina Veneva gets through in between jumps.
We also discuss recent indoor results from Birmingham & Sheffield
Before pondering if Usain Bolt’s Nitro Athletics was worth the watch.
You will also need to stay tuned for some tips on how to negotiate the ‘no alcohol’ rules in dry stadiums. You’re welcome.