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.
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 predicted 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-GBR) in Cardiff next weekend.
Mesdames et Messieurs, I absolutely loved this 3-way battle between France, Italy and Spain as much as I enjoyed the competition in Gotzis or Berlin. Well done to X-Athletics for promoting the event so well, and thank you so much to the organisers who were kind enough to present with some gifts to express their appreciation, 100%, for my support.
Thank you, Clermont-Ferrand, for a wonderful weekend. With a welcome like that, I’ll be back next year! For me, next stop on the #decathletesofeurope 2019 tour: International Combined Events Meeting, Tallinn, 2-3 February 2019.
This post was first published on 19 January 2019 on Trackcastic.com.
Photos: Michel Fisquet, X-Athletics, James Rhodes and me.