There’s no humour like niche athletics humour. There’s no meme like an athletics meme. And no country does athletics memes like Estonia does athletics memes.
On the Number 35 bus last weekend from Tallinn city centre to the Estonian Athletics Combined Events meeting at Lasnamäe Sport Stadium, the site of Ashton Eaton’s then world heptathlon record of 6568 in 2011, I discovered Estonian Athletics Memes. I fear I alarmed a few good bus-riding Tallinn citizens with my uncontrolled snorts of laughter.
I comment this excellent Estonian humour to you, which you can find at Eesti Kergejõustiku Meemid on Instagram.
Home favourites Janek Õiglane and Karl-Robert Saluri are the perfect, sparkling duo for memes. Throw in German Tasmanian Devil-like Manuel Eitel and every event was like the aftermath of the uncorking of a bottle of champagne, with personal bests showering the Lasnamäe stadium like effervescent bubbles. Celebrations for crazy PBs. Errant corks breaking pole vault bars. Wobbly and unsteady landings in the box.
Watched over by the fragrant Erki Nool and with coach Andrei Nazarov prowling around the infield – some niche British athletics humour for you – a large field of primarily Estonian and Finnish athletes lined up for the seven events. They were joined by Latvian Reinis Krēgers (whose team-mate Laura Ikauniece had a wonderful comeback pentathlon), the mighty Germans Eitel and Tim Nowak, and a trio of Poles.
When your speedwork pays off and suddenly you’re Usain Bolt
Saluri is the speedster of Estonian multievents: he’s compact, cool, sharp and polished, and NCAA multievent results are littered with his marks. In contrast Manuel Eitel bristles with palpable energy, seemingly battling to keep his explosive power under control. He is part of the magnificent swathe of German multieventers jostling for position behind Kazmirek, Abele and Freimuth.
In a surprise to no-one, Saluri and Eitel were first and second in the 60m with 6.77 and 6.82 respectively. But Õiglane has been working on his speed over the last few months, so while he would normally be some way behind the fastest 60m performers, would the speedwork pay off and could he bank some extra points in the 60m? Yes, he could! A blistering PB of 7.07, down from his previous best of 7.15. Saluri also shaved a hundredth off his previous best time. The corks had popped, and the party was well and truly started.
When you think you’re French and nearly XXX in the Long Jump
Õiglane landed another big PB in his first jump – 7.34 to his previous 7.18. Perhaps mindful of the fragility of the injury that that had kept him out of action for much of 2018, he passed on his two further jumps. Meanwhile, Saluri gently cranked up the pressure, from 7.32 to 7.59 and then a best mark of 7.61. But at the other end of the scoreboard, Estonians Kristjan Rosenberg and Risto Lillemets (more of him later) both sat on two no jumps, dangerously close to mirroring the notorious three French no jumps in Berlin. But no. Rosenberg pulled a lovely 7.29 PB out of the bag in his third jump, and Lillemets a solid 6.79 to avoid an early bath.
When you whisper sweet nothings to My Precious and throw the shot all the way to Mordor
The dense “THUMP!” of the shot landing in the Lasnamäe arena was in danger of dislodging drifts of snow from the roof onto unsuspecting passers-by. Thump after thump after thump signalled PB after PB after PB. 14.23 for Rosenberg. 14.76 for Eitel. 14.82 for Saluri. 13.92 for Hausenberg. 13.59 for Lillemets. 12.30 for Nazarov (Karl Erik, not Andrei). A massive 15.16 for Õiglane, one cm further than his indoor PB, and three cm further than his outdoor equivalent, but importantly over 30cm further than Saluri’s mark in second.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a Blaydon Harrier
Onto the high jump, and let’s pause for a moment to talk about Hans-Christian Hausenberg. He had been having a strong competition: 4th in the 60m, 3rd in the long jump, 6th in the shot, each time just behind the more experienced names of the competition. He has a good high jump, with a PB of 2.04 set at this meeting in 2018, but something was amiss. After each jump, he clutched the back of his left thigh. He kept going, clearing 1.98 at the third attempt and taking all three attempts at 2.01, but something was clearly wrong. His competition was essentially done as he left the high jump – but a very exciting name to watch over the next few years. As is Risto Lillemets, who won the high jump with an excellent 2.07, closely followed by Kristjan Rosenberg at 2.04.
But let’s also talk about Liam Reveley. When I arrived at the arena and explained that I was from Scotland, a new colleague joked that it was usually just Estonians and Finns who attended. And similarly, in a rummage through the results of the Tallinn combined events results back to 2010, I could not find a Brit in the heptathlon.
So, counting four or five Brits in the stadium (myself and Team Reveley), Liam did us proud, and no more so than in the high jump, where he finished on the same height as Rosenberg on 2.04, and just one behind Lillemets, all in vibrant black and gold. He floated like a butterfly, stung like a Blaydon Harrier, over 2.04. He would go onto set 4 individual PBs over the two days, and a new overall heptathlon PB.
Overnight, the scores were Saluri 3386, Eitel 3368, Õiglane 3367 and my prediction for the final order was Õiglane – Nowak – Saluri – Eitel.
Sunday morning, and onto the 60 hurdles. Hausenberg’s injury from the previous day had not receded, and he sadly pulled up during the race, his competition over. But at the top of the hurdle performances, interestingly Saluri’s superior speed does not – yet – quite translate into superior hurdle times. Eitel exploded into the best time of the morning in 8.09 and – surprise! – another PB for Õiglane behind him in 8.13. Pleasingly, Eitel continues the long tradition of German decathletes with lustrous hair, following most recently in the footsteps of Pascal Behrenbruch and Rico Freimuth.
When you break all the furniture in the house, but your parents don’t ground you
I have never heard an athletics crowd scream before, and the heptathlon pole vault should have come with a PG Rating: some viewers may find these scenes disturbing. Rosenberg had the cleanest of the series among the leaders, with only one early failure at his opening height of 4.59. Likewise, Reinis Krēgers had a good series with only one failure until he went out at 4.59. Saluri cleared a sole height, his opener at 4.69 on the first attempt. And Eitel had a relatively straight path through to 4.79.
But in contrast, Õiglane’s pole vault was like when your parents are away, and you throw a house party that gets out of hand. Screams, crashes, broken bars, running around like a bam. He attempted three heights. At 4.79 and 4.99 something wasn’t right in his take off and he came down almost flat on his back in the pit – hence the squeals of horror from the crowd. And then in his second attempt at 4.79 he came down on the bar, breaking it into smithereens. This would not end well, we thought. But then 5.19. 4cm above his PB. Two failed attempts. And then, on the third attempt, Janek flies over like Mondo Duplantis, landing safely and taking off in delight as if the police were in hot pursuit.
Into the final event, the 1000m. The leaderboard had been elastic, stretching between the early strengths of Saluri, the explosive performances of Eitel, and the inspired improvements of Õiglane. But someone was missing from the picture.
Tim Nowak had been my prediction for 2nd place and had some good results, but seemed a little out of sorts throughout the competition, especially after his excellent PBs recently in Halle. Tim explained later that, with other commitments, he hadn’t intended having a full indoor season, and so hadn’t been preparing fully.
But after coming close to his lifetime best with 5903 in Halle, he decided to see whether 6000 was within his grasp this season. In the end, the limited preparation meant that things didn’t come together properly for Tim, and so he encountered a few problems in Tallinn. But the good news – nothing serious and onto training camps and the first competition of the outdoor season.
The gun went in the 1000m and the pack was relatively close. But then Saluri – with a PB some eight seconds faster than Õiglane and fifteen seconds faster than Eitel – took off like a rabbit. Õiglane went after him. Who would win the tussle between the Estonian favourites?
But this was Õiglane’s weekend, and as Statman Jon Mulkeen later confirmed, with a score of 6085 he became the eighth Estonian man over 6000 points, and importantly in the mix for Glasgow European Indoors selection. To paraphrase the original lolcat I Can Has Cheezburger meme: I Can Has 6000 points?
Saluri finished in second with 5950 and Eitel third with 5906. Full results available here.
Thank you Eesti Athletics and Lasnamäe for a wonderful meeting: and don’t forget to check out the genius of @Eestikergejoustikumeemid. Next step on the #decathletesofeurope 2019 tour: the European Indoors in my home city of Glasgow, 1-3 March 2019.
Thank you to Olavi Kaljunen (event photos: Trackpic), Kristella Jurkatamm, Taavi Tšernjavski and Tim Nowak for their help with this article.