Sun. Jul 3rd, 2022

In March this year, hundreds of combined eventers came together as one voice to express their concerns at the downward trend in field sizes at major outdoor championships; from over 40 athletes at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, to 32 in Rio in 2016 and most recently just 24 at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The maximum field size for major indoor championships is currently only 12, which in some cases must also accommodate a protected space for the host nation.

With support from Decathletes of Europe and the Athletics Association, Swedish decathlete Fredrik Samuelsson wrote to World Athletics and European Athletics in March 2021. He set out combined events athletes’ concerns, asking for a commitment from the governing bodies to review the arrangements and to work with athletes to find solutions to the challenges.

Samuelsson’s efforts were picked up around the world. At the timing of writing to World Athletics, over 250 athletes from over 40 countries – including World and Olympic medallists – had indicated their support, and in the weeks and months afterwards, that number grew to 300. The call to revisit the size of fields for combined eventers was also subsequently supported by decathlon world record holder Kevin Mayer and new Olympic Champion Damian Warner. As reported by The London Free Press, had the cap been in place in 2012 Warner’s score would not have been enough to qualify for his first Olympics.

The issue of field sizes and the opportunity to compete at the highest level is also of concern to young athletes. Five of the six combined event medallists at the European U23 Championships in Tallinn in July had supported Samuelsson’s original letter back in March, as did three quarters of the European U23 decathlon field, and both the European U20 and World U20 decathlon champions expressed their support. The cause also received support from coaches, fans and athletes from other disciplines.

The initial response from World Athletics was constructive: referencing the emphasis on engagement in the Global Conversation launched in March, looking forward to listening to athletes, and committing to pursue further opportunities for combined eventers to compete. At the time of writing, European Athletics has not yet responded to the original letter.

Two substantive offerings followed from World Athletics: an invitation from the Chair of the WA Athletes’ Commission for the group to meet with combined eventers to understand more fully their concerns; and a parallel invitation from the competition section of WA to explore the challenges and limiting factors. Given the coincidence of timing with the final few months of the Olympic qualification, the discussions were deferred until later in the year.

Fredrik said:

“We worked hard to raise the profile of this issue and got so many great names in support. Thank you to everybody who signed the letter and the many, many people who also showed support at competitions and on social media. Our hope was to have an online meeting with WA earlier in the year, but of course Olympic season was running in the spring and summer. So now it’s time to start the discussions – the work will be ongoing and hopefully there will be a good outcome in the end.”

Christian Taylor, President of the Athletics Association said:

“The issue of field sizes in the multi-events is one that is incredibly important to athletes all over the world. We look forward to working with Fredrik, with World Athletics and the commission to try and make some genuine progress on this matter.”

Photo: Bjorn Parée