On a crisp, clear afternoon in the shadow of the Puy-de-Dôme, the invigorating smell of burning wood wafted through the picturesque town of Clermont-Ferrand. But it wasn’t the good people of Aubière stoking their bonfires. Rather, it was the arrival of Manuel Eitel on 11-12 January 2020 to burn up the boards at the X-Athletics meeting in the Jean-Pellez Stadium.
The first heat ended up actually being the last heat, following a false start and a late call back. And so, the first mark in the heptathlon was recorded in the second heat, won by Simon Rey in 7.20 (more on him later), and which included Belgian guest Benjamin Hougardy, with 7.29 only a few hundredths short of his best of 7.25. In the third heat, German Luca Dieckmann (replacing injured Florian Obst) and the second Belgian Jean Baptiste Nutte also skimmed their lifetime bests, Luca 7.16 to finish first in the heat and Jean Baptiste close behind him. The speed picked up further in the fourth heat as Anilha-Edinho Dermont ran 7.13, Jules Couzin 7.16 and Spain’s Jonay Jordan Schafer 7.18, a decent start for the Spaniards in a weekend that ultimately did not go their way.
The sub-7 second men arrived in the fifth heat, and predictions were made ahead of the race as to just how fast Manuel Eitel would hit his 2019-20 indoor season.
He finished the race in 6.81, followed by local favourite (followed everywhere in the stadium by small children) Ruben Gado 7.96 and Jérémy Lelièvre and Yann Besson both in 7.06. And so, after one event, Eitel led from Gado, Lelièvre, Besson, and the 2019 runner up, Simone Cairoli (7.09) who.
Heats 2-5 are available on the Decathletes of Europe Facebook page.
Eitel carried his momentum into the long jump where he improved round by round: 7.11, 7.20 and then a huge 7.41. While closer on his final jump, he took off from behind the board each time. His 7.41 was the longest jump of the day, and the next best jumps were 7.26 by Simone Cairoli, 7.17 Romain Martin, and 7.13 Tim Nowak. Both Jean Baptiste Nutte and Ruben Gado jumped 7.10 in the first round, but their series were very different – Nutte backed up his first jump with a consistent set all within 20cm (6.89 and 6.98) while Gado had two no jumps.
After 2 events:
- Eitel 1864
- Gado 1735
- Cairoli 1727
- Martin 1673
- Lelièvre 1653
After the first two speed events, we would expect the dynamic to change and it did with the arrival of the 15m puts. Darko Pešić set a championship record with 15.02m, modest by his standards (he’s capable of over 16m) and moved into the top ten for the first time. Of the two French 15m men, Jérémy Lelièvre had by far the better event with 15.01, while Bastien Auzeil, capable of well over 16m, threw 14.84. It was a frustrating weekend all round for the 2019 French decathlon champion, clearly not yet in his best form. Significantly, Tim Nowak started to make his mark, throwing an outright PB of 14.96, adding 10cm to the 14.86 he threw in Götzis in 2019 when qualifying for the World Championships. Jonay Jordan’s woes continued – his comeback from injury still a little further to go – with only 14.06, almost 1.5m down on the 15.42 he threw at the X-Athletics meeting in 2019. Further down the field, Luca Dieckmann was continuing his good competition, throwing 13.16 for 10th place after 3 events, and poised to move further up the leader board. And the leader, Manuel Eitel, extended his lead with a second round throw of 14.64.
After 3 events:
- Eitel 2632
- Lelièvre 2443
- Martin 2407
- Nowak 2401
- Nutte 2394
The significant jumps in the heptathlon came at 1.98 and above. For Eitel, 1.98 was an indoor PB, one cm more than his previous PB and bringing his indoor mark to within a few cm of his outdoor 2m best. He topped out at that height, along with Romain Martin and Maxime Bernier. Simone Cairoli went on to clear 2.01 and moved back into the top 5, where he would stay for the rest of the competition, and Benjamin Hougardy also cleared 2.01. Significantly, in the group with the lower heights Luca Dieckmann secured a massive indoor PB, improving his 1.87 to 2.01. But Tim Nowak and Jean Baptiste Nutte both sprang onto 2.04 for the highest clearances of the day.
After 4 events and overnight:
- Eitel 3417
- Nowak 3241
- Nutte 3234
- Martin 3192
- Cairoli 3190
As he packed up after the high jump, overnight leader Manuel Eitel reflected on the first 4 events:
“I’m pretty satisfied about Day 1. I had some goals and was very close to those goals, especially the long jump. I’m really happy with that, because I had some trouble these last 2 years. And I wanted to go over 2.01 – it was so close – but still 1.98, it’s perfect for this time in January.”
And are you feeling fast, Manuel?
“I feel regular fast. I had to take a break for 2 months with a stomach injury, and I’m now 1 and a half months back in training, so I’m missing some basic work. So that’s gonna get better through summer. For now, I’m pretty satisfied.”
And his team-mate Tim Nowak was pretty satisfied too. “I’m really happy with the height and very happy so far”, he said as he accepted his medal for the individual performance.
Day 2 of the heptathlon opened with a 2-man heat in the hurdles between Theo Bouget and Samuel Pavan. And it was a close one, Bouget 8.57 to Pavan’s 8.58 and PBs for both. The heats clicked through, Luca Dieckmann taking the second in 8.47, Simone Cairoli the third and equalling his PB of 8.27 set when he won the Italian indoor title in 2019, and Pierre Joseph-Parfaite first in the fourth heat in 8.26. The fastest heat was won by Romain Martin who, notwithstanding his troubles to come later in the competition, looked in very promising form over both days. Martin’s time was 8.19, ahead of Eitel 8.22 and Darko Pešić 8.28.
After 5 events:
- Eitel 4344
- Nowak 4139
- Nutte 4137
- Martin 4127
- Cairoli 4105
At this point in the competition you might expect Nutte and Cairoli to fall back a little, and Martin, Gado and Auzeil to come through with their 5m plus vaults. And equally, with Eitel’s best events done, you would expect the momentum to be with Tim Nowak, to making inroads into Eitel’s 200 point lead. But things didn’t quite turn out that way. Nutte certainly fell back as he could manage only 4.12, well short of his usual 4.40 vaults (but with good reason – keep reading). Cairoli performed a little closer to capability, with 4.42. But the star of the pool with the lower heights was again Luca Dieckmann, who came into the competition with an indoor and outdoor vault PB of 4.40 and left with an outright lifetime best of 4.52.
But at the business end of the competition, things weren’t quite going as expected. Tim Nowak and Pierre Joseph-Parfaite were the last to enter the competition at 4.72, both clearing on their second attempt. Nowak went onto clear 4.82 at his third attempt, his best of the day. But while we might have anticipated Eitel to be 10-20cm behind Nowak in the pole vault, in the end he matched him at 4.82 and indeed went over 4.82 at his first attempt. Romain Martin’s competition was, however, stopped dead in his tracks after a problem with his warmup and no height. Gado withdrew from competition after the hurdles as a precaution following some pain, and Auzeil managed only 4.62. On the other hand, 4.62 represented a decent result for Lelièvre and it took him back into the top 5 as Nutte, Cairoli and Martin slid down. But the star of the pole vault was Simon Rey, clearing 4.92 and 5.02, his first time over 5m.
After 6 events:
- Eitel 5200
- Nowak 4995
- Lelièvre 4854
- Cairoli 4842
- Nutte 4788
After some persuasion, the 1000m was streamed live for “Decathletes of Europe” fans via Instagram Live. Bastien Fouilhoux paced the race with Gaël Querin and they finished in that order, straddling 2:34. Tim Nowak delivered his typically gutsy final event and was rewarded with a PB of 2:38.68. But Eitel ran just as hard, almost 2 seconds faster than ever before, finishing in a PB of 2:50.27 to finish 80 points ahead of Nowak overall and win the competition. Lelièvre and Cairoli maintained their positions in third and fourth, and Luca Dieckmann won the battle of the U23 athletes and overtook Jean Baptiste Nutte on the leader board with yet another individual PB in the 1000m (although Nutte also ran a 1000m PB) and finished 5th. Darko Pešić finished 6th in his first heptathlon for 3 years almost in one piece, save for a finger injury in hurdles warm up and minus his poles, which enjoyed an impromptu weekend in Vienna. Nutte finished 7th and Gael Querin 8th.
Supporting the German trio – who all compete for the same club SSV Ulm –throughout the competition was German national decathlon coach Christopher Hallman. I asked him about the performance of his athletes:
“I’m happy, a very, very good performance – two personal records (for Manuel Eitel and Luca Dieckmann) and a good performance from Tim Nowak, so I’m happy. Luca is in very good shape today, and I think he can go further and hopefully close to 8000 points (in decathlon). As German national coach I’m happy about our decathletes and our team who are working every day around the athletes.
The German Olympic qualification is going to be hard…
“I think if you are a German decathlete and you qualify for the Olympics, you can go for a medal. The three Germans can go for the medals at Tokyo.”
For a number of athletes, including Jean Baptiste Nutte, the competition was an opportunity to test out their form after a period of injury.
“My coach said I didn’t need to do a heptathlon this indoor season, but I really wanted to do one to have the feeling of competing in the combined events again. All the energy from the crowd and the other athletes at this level is very good. So, my results this weekend are from the crowd and the other athletes – it’s a pleasure to compete here.”
“It was a nice heptathlon – we didn’t prepare for it, because we plan to focus on outdoor season, so it is my only heptathlon this indoor season. I just did 2 weeks of hard training, and I had 5 days of rest, but my legs are heavy. It was a good start in the 60; I was very tired after the long jump so shot put was good and the high jump… I really didn’t expect that. I ‘ve been jumping on 2 steps and it’s the first time I did 6, so 2.04 is very nice. On the second day it was very difficult to put the speed into the 60m hurdles so that was a good race. In the pole vault I was a little bit disappointed with that, but I had a little problem with my shoulders 2 weeks ago, so I wasn’t sure if I would jump today. I tried in the warmup to have some confidence and it came with the jumps, but I lost a lot of energy with this strategy. I’m happy that I can jump again, and the 1000m was a PB, so that was nice, and it was a good feeling during the race.”
After 7 events
- Eitel 5963 PB
- Nowak 5883
- Lelièvre 5707
- Cairoli 5656
- Dieckmann 5559
- Pešić 5530
- Nutte 5520
- Querin 5505
- Hougardy 5478
- Joseph-Parfaite 5377
The full results can be found on the X-Athletics Facebook page.
The pentathlon started at lunchtime on Sunday and the events passed in the blink of an eye. But the biggest surprise came in the very first event, as the poster girl for the event, European Indoor bronze medallist Solene Ndama was beaten in the final heat of the hurdles by Esther Turpin. Turpin ran 8.27 (very close to her lifetime best) to Ndama’s 8.36. Potentially a competition too soon for Ndama, she took no further part in the competition. Behind Ndama, Annaelle Nyabeu Djapa and Cassandre Aguessy Thomas ran 8.47 and 8.66 respectively.
Onto the high jump and Germany’s Vanessa Grimm and Nyabeu Djapa shared the highest jumps across the two pools, as both cleared 1.74. That moved Nyabeu Djapa ahead of Turpin, who cleared 1.68, overall and Grimm leaped over Aguessy Thomas (1.71) to sit in third.
After 2 events
- Nyabeu Djapa 1927
- Turpin 1898
- Grimm 1859
- Aguessy Thomas 1849
- Temines 1802
Grimm then went into the lead after the shot with a massive 14.40, going beyond the outdoor 14.37 she set during the Thorpe Cup in Bernhausen in September 2019. Annaelle threw 13.35, Esther 12.44 and Cassandre 11.71, and in that order those four starting pulling away from the rest of the field. Closest behind in 5th was Auriana Lazraq with a huge PB of 13.62.
Going past the midway point:
- Grimm 2680
- Nyabeu Djapa 2678
- Turpin 2588
- Aguessy Thomas 2491
- Lazraq 2386
The only 6m jump of the day came from Annaelle, opening her series with 6.03m in the first round. Lea Verdier was closest to her in 5.94, and Cassandre and Esther each a further 10cm behind, Aguessy Thomas with 5.85 and Turpin 5.74. In the second group Vanessa went out to 5.85.
That took Nyabeu Djapa ahead of Grimm going into the last event, with Turpin and Aguessy Thomas still close in the fight to land on the podium.
The 800 was won in a wonderful piece of front running in a very crowded race by Agathe Guillemot in 2:11, but behind her the competition was still fierce. Nyabeu Djapa ran 2:23 to Grimm’s 2:24 to win the competition from Grimm by just 67 points, and Aguessy Thomas’ 2:26 took her 46 points ahead of Esther Turpin (2:35) to finish in 3rd. Guillemot’s run took her into 5th place.
- Nyabeu Djapa 4309
- Grimm 4242
- Aguessy Thomas 4036
- Turpin 3990
- Guillemot 3882
As for the heptathletes, the event was a good test of early season fitness for the pentathletes. There is one very famous British female combined-eventer based in France, but there’s another one, and she was here in Clermont Ferrand this weekend (and her French is better!) Scot Emma Canning (12th place in 3736) trains at INSEP (the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance) in Paris alongside winner Annaelle Nyabeu Djapa and third-placed Cassandre Aguessy Thomas and she did everything she could to make sure she made it to the start line at the weekend.
Emma explains “In the middle of December, I tore my hamstring, and thanks to the amazing staff at INSEP I managed to get myself on the start line. I was really pleased to even be here, because it’s an amazing event. I worked really hard on my rehab and I did everything that I was told to make sure I got here today!”
“It’s the first one of the season, so some events were good, some events not so good. The hurdles were really good, and I was happy with that because it was a PB. High jump – it’s there but it was a little rusty, so there’s definitely more to come from that one. The shot has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I’ve suffered from really bad nerves in the past, so it was a really good step forward and I was really pleased, albeit that it wasn’t a great distance. For me, I was happy, we’re going the right way. Long jump is usually one of my better events, so I know there’s a lot of points there. And the 800 was interesting because there was a lot of girls in one race, so the pacing was a bit bizarre! Usually it’s a strong event for me so I know there’s definitely a lot more points to come. I’m based in Paris now, and I’m familiar with a lot of the girls, I go on a lot of training camps with them and I can speak French now! It’s a completely different environment from back home, but I’m really happy, I see things progressing in the right way, so it’s a really nice environment to be in.”
The full results of the pentathlon are on the X-Athletics Facebook page.
Photos by Team Photo Marseille.
Next stop on the Decathletes of Europe 2020 World Tour:
- Glasgow 1-2 February (Scottish Combined Events champs)
- Tallinn 8-9 February