Preview: X-Athletics Clermont Ferrand

In January 2019 the competitors at the X-Athletics meeting in Clermont Ferrand were vying for places at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow. This year, the prize at stake during the season is participation at the World Indoor Championships in Nanjing in March, where there are 6 places – 5 based on top scores, and one discretionary – waiting for the athletes competing indoors in 2020.

The fiery” X” of the 2020 X-Athletics meeting taking place on 11-12 January is everywhere you look this year, and if the competition is half as good as last year’s, it will be a scorcher.

The 2019 heptathlon competition was a crescendo over 2 days, reaching a climax going into the 1000m. Only 12 points separated the top 3 men. Local hero Ruben Gado went from 3rd to first to win the overall competition, Italy’s Simone Cairoli held onto 2nd place despite a cramping hamstring, and middle distance maestro Gaël Querin leapfrogged his competitors to snatch third place.  And all three are back in action this weekend.

Ruben Gado, 2019 competition (Photo: Michel Fisquet)

One would be forgiven for thinking that the meeting in Aubière was the French championships. Aside from the world record holder and the current French No 1 Basile Rolnin, pretty much everyone who’s anyone in French decathlon is at the meeting. Over and above Gado (who lost much of 2019 to injury) and Querin, the team includes the French decathlon champion Bastien Auzeil, Romain Martin, and Jérémy Lelièvre.  And the French pentathlon field is also strong, including Esther Turpin, Anaelle Nyabeu Djapa and Diane Marie-Hardy.

But there’s a new threat to the French this year, and it’s a big one.  A powerhouse of Germans will be bringing their challenge to France, led by Doha 10th placer Tim Nowak – remember he was only a few points away from finishing 8th in the world – and including Luca Dieckmann, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Saturday in Clermont Ferrand.

Tim Nowak in Doha (Picture: Bjorn Paree)

The Spanish duo of Jonay Jordan Schäfer and Javier Pérez Rasines return for a rematch in the heptathlon (remember Jonay’s hurdles last year?), along with Paula Sarabia and Patricia Ortega in the pentathlon.  But the Belgians have also brought their game, in the shape of Benjamin Hougardy who had a breakthrough performance in Talence in 2019 and won the French Championships, and the new Belgian decathlon record holder, 18-year old Cassandre Evans.   

And to complete the international line up in the heptathlon, Montenegrin star Darko Pešic participates in the meeting for the first time, his first competition since injury in the opening event of the Mehrkampf meeting in Ratingen in June 2019.

We could stop there, and we’d all agree that the line-up would be excellent, yes? But there’s more.

The cream of the 2019 Under 23 cohort also graces the field in France. Germany’s Manuel Eitel, who took the bronze medal behind Niklas Kaul and Johannes Erm at the European Under 23 Championships in Gävle, and finished second behind Damian Warner in that record-breaking 100m in Götzis is participating in the event, alongside Vanessa Grimm who finished 10th in Gavle and 4th in the annual Germany v USA Thorpe Cup in September. Makenson Gletty, going so well before his no throws in the shot in Sweden, returns again to Clermont Ferrand. And then there’s Jean-Baptiste Nutte, who excelled early in 2019 at Multistars in Lana and was performing strongly in Sweden before losing out to injury. The field also includes Cassandre Aguessy Thomas, who finished 14th in Sweden, and perhaps the biggest and most exciting potential prospect of them all, the 2019 European Indoors bronze medallist and star hurdler, Solène Ndama.

The fields are completed by a great depth of emerging French combined events talent (and French-based Scot Emma Canning) and as ever, some amazing graphics.

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