Glasgow 2019: A Game of Fire, Ice and Blood

From the Balkan lands in 2017, the European Indoor Championships moved west, to the frozen (well, wet) fringes of the continent. Beyond Hadrian’s Wall, Europe’s fearless decathletes arrived in Caledonia and the City of Glasgow, 200 miles south of Wester Ross.  Who would become the King of Heptathlon in the North? And would they find dragons and other dangers on the way?  

Glasgow was a tale of four parts. The indestructible men of decathlon who would simply not give up. The fiery Spaniard who emerged unscathed from the drama and worked his way through the field to gold. The young home favourite, experiencing his first major championships on home soil and with the weight of the nation on his shoulders. And the stars of the future, leaping at the opportunity of a last minute call-up to chase medals and new experiences. The great houses of athletics were all represented, in a field of skilled experience and exciting youth.

The contenders would encounter the White Walkers, the indestructible men of decathlon. During the course of the competition Roe the Glasgow Kisser, of House Ingebrigtsen, declared war on the high jump uprights, resulting in a hole in the head and a blood-soaked bed.  Õiglane The Impaler, of House Nool, hobbled through the first day of his journey with an injured leg, limping after every jump.  And Sykora The Immortal, of House Šebrle, lay immobile for ten minutes after his first attempt in the pole vault. Surely these three were vanquished?

The indestructible men of decathlon

But no. The White Walkers of Decathlon cannot be destroyed.  Roe returned to the hurdles on Day 2 and ran faster than he had ever run before. A limping Õiglane came within a whisper of his hurdles best before impaling himself in the pole vault. And Sykora rose from the ground to embark on the final thousand metres towards glory.

But eleven courageous warriors could not defeat the magnificent beast from the South. Drogon Ureña blistered the ground with his 60m speed, and the hurdles melted before him. Even with two red crosses and on the brink of disaster in the shot put, he heaved the cannonball to a new record distance, thwarting the White Walkers and all others in the path of his fiery golden breath.

Drogon Urena

But what of young Tim Snow, of House Thompson, charged with the hopes of the country and striving to prove himself as a man of seven – not six – events? He encountered many challenges on his two-day journey, before emerging with the glittering silver prize.

Tim Snow

SPOILER ALERT: any resemblance to the plot of Game of Thrones is entirely coincidental, and mostly tenuous.  Rest assured, your favourite character is not about to meet a grisly end.

Chapter 1: The 60m

The first event held no surprises: the fast men were fastest.  Karl-Robert Saluri, the second of House Nool, is getting faster every month, setting a PB of 6.75.

Andreas Bechmann of House Hingsen equalled his PB of 7.05 from January, and Fredrik Samuelsson of House Dagård was close to his at 7.06.

Vitali Zhuk’s 60m was representative of his overall heptathlon, uneven but with flashes of impressive improvement – a false start and then a lifetime best of 7.13 for House Krauchanka.

After 1 event:

  1. Saluri 973
  2. Duckworth 936
  3. Ureña 897
  4. Roe 872
  5. Bechmann 865

Chapter 2: The Long Jump  

Roe, Saluri, and Thomas Van der Plaetsen of House Borlee jumped consistently, all around 7.50. But the Maester of the long jump was Fredrik who improved his indoor personal best by 19cm to 7.66.

Tim had a great horizontal event, with two jumps very close to his indoor best of 7.80, and Basile Rolnin, of House Mayer also having a good competition with 7.44.

Vitaliy again flirted with disaster with 2 no-jumps, then having to play safe in the final round with 6.55.  By contrast, Andreas set the first of several PBs over the weekend with a 10cm improvement to 7.39 in the last round.

After 2 events:

  1. Duckworth 1943
  2. Saluri 1905
  3. Samuelsson 1836
  4. Roe 1814
  5. Ureña 1805
An epic set of jumps for Samuelsson

Chapter 3: The Shot

The shot was the high point of the competition, with performance after performance raining down on the Emirates Arena, and half the field setting the best marks of their life.  Zhuk did not repeat the mistakes of his false start from the 60 and his two red flags in the long jump, and threw like the Mountain to produce a 70cm personal best to 16.32 in the first round. 

More huge throws and personal bests followed in quick succession: Jiri 15.09, Janek a 30cm improvement to 15.50, Basile a 46cm jump to 15.17 and Fredrik a marginal 2cm record with 14.69.

But Jorge experienced a little more pressures: two no- throws, before launching an 18cm personal best of 14.68.

Tim didn’t have a great experience, under 13m when he would have been expecting to be well over.  And the first signs appeared that perhaps Thomas Van der Plaetsen was not in the form from his February world lead. While he had come within a few centimetres of his shot best of 14.32 a few weeks earlier, on this occasion he was unable to get near 14m.

After 3 events:

  1. Roe 2641
  2. Saluri 2624
  3. Duckworth 2608
  4. Samuelsson 2607
  5. Ureña 2575

Chapter 4: Roe’s Head versus the High Jump

The biggest competition in the high jump came at 1.95, where Martin Roe declared war on the upright, head first, and came off worst.  Stunned, he knelt on the mat, holding his head. And then we saw blood. Lots of blood. He was quickly patched up and helped off the mat, while the competition paused as officials mopped up the bloodstains. Surely that was the end of Martin, we all thought, sadly. 

But in the other group Bechmann was having a belter. Only 5 weeks after setting a world lead in Halle, he scored his second exhilarating PB of the day, clearing 2.07. Fredrik’s HJ at 2.07, just 1cm below his best, also had him jumping for joy, rounding off a very good day for him.

Tim and Thomas led the field, clearing 2.13 and 2.10 respectively.  While Roe departed the high jump in dramatic style, a lower key casualty was Karl Robert Saluri, who didn’t start the event, but nevertheless joined his competitors on the field to cheer them on.  Limping between every jump, Õiglane got within a centimetre of his personal best with 2.01.

After 4 events:

  1. Duckworth 3533
  2. Samuelsson 3475
  3. Ureña 3443
  4. Rolnin 3397
  5. Shkurenyov 3381
Bechmann: the breakthrough athlete of the season

Chapter 5: The 60m hurdles

Day 2 started without Basile Rolnin, who did not line up for the 60mH. The hurdle wins belonged to Ureña and Ilya Shkurenyov of House Lobodin, but somehow Janek managed to get his battered frame within 5 hundredths of his best from Tallinn in February.  

Tim was striving to go under 8 seconds, and while he got a great start in the first heat, after a recall he could not replicate it a second time. 

But look who had turned up in Lane 4! Recovered from his altercation with the high jump, Martin Roe not only lined up for the hurdles, but recorded a personal best.  Who would have thought a bang on the head could have such a positive effect?

After 5 events:

  1. Ureña 4481
  2. Duckworth 4475
  3. Samuelsson 4407
  4. Shkurenyov 4358
  5. Õiglane 4269

Chapter 6: The Red Wedding   

Carnage. Blood. Bones. Tendons. Stretchers. Disastrous warm-ups. Frustrations and gambles.  Like the Red Wedding, the pole vault was bloody, and shocking, and dramatic.

The problems started in warm up for Tim Duckworth, where several hasty adjustments were required.  Well below his best of 5.26, he nevertheless kept his composure through several first-time failures and ended up with 5.00.  

But the major drama occurred during the first vault of the competition at 4.40, when Jiri Sykora came down awkwardly, apparently hurting his arm. Suddenly things got more serious. Half a dozen officials immobilised Jiri – who has had problems with his back – and a meticulous and slow operation ensued to remove him, with the minimum of movement, from the pole vault bed onto a gurney and off the field.  That must be the end of Sykora, we thought, sending our best wishes with him.   

For a few heights the mood of the competition was sombre, but the mood lifted as Vitaliy cleared a PB of 4.80 and Roe continued his 2019 march towards 5 metres, just dislodging the bar at that height.  The earlier drama was over, and we were into competition.

But then drama struck again. Õiglane, who in Tallinn had the crowd squealing in the pole vault before reaching 5.19, once again came down onto the bar at his first attempt at 5.00m.  He hit the edge of the mat and seemed to take a little time to recover. But then we saw the wound. After coming down on the edge of the box, he had gashed his leg and – in his own words – saw his bone and tendons through the hole.  Please don’t do what I did and relay this story and show the photos to your colleagues over lunch.  The fact that Janek had performed at this level at all while clearly carrying an injury was nothing short of superhuman.  But that was the end of this competition for him.

While the Wedding was Red for Jiri and Janek, it was a happier occasion for Fredrik and Andreas and Ilya.  Fredrik described his jumps over the weekend as awesome, and that included equalling his PV best of 5m.  Andreas, who had set a huge improvement to 5.20 in the last few weeks, sailed over that height easily, and was close to clearing 5.30. And Ilya was strong, failing only at his PB height of 5.30. 

After all else were out, the floor belonged to the regal Thomas Van Der Plaetsen. But he had to gamble with the number of jumps he took, protecting an injury. He cleared 5.20, passed at 5.30, but could not clear 5.40 – 10cm short of his magnificent 5.50 in January.

After 6 events:

  1. Ureña 5391
  2. Duckworth 5385
  3. Shkurenyov 5330
  4. Samuelsson 5317
  5. Van der Plaetsen 5206
“I can see the bone”

Chapter 7: You Know Nothing, Tim Snow

Well, dear reader, Tim Snow knows plenty.  Tired of being described as “the guy who always fades”, he had put in the work to improve his middle-distance performance.  He used the long rest between the morning and evening sessions to put a difficult shot and pole vault behind him, and get into the right mindset for the 1000m.  And what a show he put on for his home crowd.  He stayed with the pack, and the Glasgow Roar reverberated around the arena, heaving him around the last 100m to improve his time by seven seconds, and fighting off everyone to take the silver medal. 

But ahead of the pack, Jorge Ureña was not willing to give up his gold medal spot, and injected a phenomenal burst of speed to ensure that he finished at the front of the field. 

Behind him Fredrik Samuelsson delivered a heroic performance to try and catch the top three, just falling short of the medals and the Swedish record by 17 points, but setting an overall 6125 PB in the process. While acknowledging the many reasons to be proud of his performance, Fredrik was devastated to miss a medal and the national record by such a small margin.

Andreas Bechmann, one of a horde of talented Germans, is the breakthrough star of the championships, finishing in 5th place after only making the top 12 following the loss of Kai and Arthur. His love of his sport was apparent throughout the competition, and Andreas was an absolute joy to watch.

Martin Roe set a national record for Norway with 5951 in 6th. Not bad with the world’s worst headache.

But perhaps most impressive of all was the fact that nine men lined up in the 1000m. Not eight. After being stretchered off during the pole vault, Sykora the Immortal had risen from the ground and completed the heptathlon. Decathletes, they never stay down.         

My prediction for the Championships, based on intuition rather than statistics, had been Duckworth – Van der Plaetsen – Õiglane.  That didn’t play out, although I wonder how things might have unfolded differently without false starts and exposed bones.  But recall-guns and Red Weddings happen – that is decathlon.  And I made the grave error of underestimating the form of House Lobodin and the new King of Glasgow, Jorge Ureña. Long live The King!

After 7 events:

  1. Ureña 6218
  2. Duckworth 6156
  3. Shkurenyov 6145
  4. Samuelsson 6125
  5. Bechmann 6001

The full results can be found here.

Next stop on the Decathletes of Europe Tour: Multistars in Lana on 27-28 April 2019.

El Rey de Glasgow

Photos: James Rhodes

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