The Combined Events Challenge competitions are coming at us faster than women’s 10,000m world records. Just 2 weeks after Damian Warner’s skirmish with 9000 points in Götzis, it’s onto Arona in Tenerife for the 10th Combined Events meeting on 12-13 June.
As well as Warner’s history-making performance, Götzis also gave us another Olympic auto-qualifier in the shape of Thomas Van der Plaetsen. Sixteen men in total are NOW qualified automatically via the 8350-point standard – although Ilya Shkurenyev is not yet named among the ANAs – which leaves only 8 places up for grabs. If the qualification window were to close tomorrow, the 8 men sitting in the final 8 places would be Pieter Braun (NED), Solomon Simmons (USA), Vitaly Zhuk (BLR) – who scored just short of the Q with 8331 in Götzis – Martin Roe (NOR), Jan Doležal (CZE), Jorge Ureña (ESP), Tim Duckworth (GBR) and Paweł Wiesiołek (POL).
Simmons and Duckworth are aiming for their respective national champs in a few weeks’ time, but Roe, Ureña and Wiesiołek will be starting in Arona this weekend to try and get themselves onto safer ground for qualifying. Roe won the opening Combined Events meeting of the season in Lana in April with 8055, and Wiesiołek is still riding high from his bronze at home at the European Indoors in Toruń in March, finishing 8th with 8161 in Götzis. The European Indoor silver medallist, Jorge Ureña, has already started to convert his indoor form outdoors, with a lifetime best of 8209 a few weeks ago.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he told Decathletes of Europe earlier this week. “When I scored 8209, I realised that I could get a good mark, and I am going to try to achieve it in Arona. I feel very good in training, and I hope a good result will come to qualify for Tokyo.”
Sitting in 28th and 30th place in the “Road to Tokyo” lists – the WA tool that attempts to integrate qualifying scores and rankings – are the Japanese legend Keisuke Ushiro and the 2019 South American champion Georni Jaramillo. Although neither has reached 8000 in recent years, their status as area champions secured them a spot at the World Championships in Doha. Both have made the long, long trip to Tenerife in search of good placings points to boost their chances of Olympic qualification – Ushiro skipping the Japanese championships this weekend to do so.
Behind them, Czechs Adam Sebastian Helcelet and Jiři Sykora, Réunion runner-up Taavi Tšernjavski (currently the 7th Estonian in the rankings), and the new Italian heptathlon record holder Dario Dester are clustered between 31st and 35th place in the qualifying lists. Helcelet is finally getting on top of his injury problems and posted 8025 in April to finish second in Lana.
The French power duo of Romain Martin and Ruben Gado have their second decathlons of the year, Martin bringing his big 68+ javelin PB with him from Lana, and Gado bringing a more tentative debut of 7412 from the Defi’athlon in Montpelier at the end of May. As ever there is a healthy Spanish contingent, with Pablo Trescoli, Bruno Comin and Pablo Gamez joining Ureña in the field. Sander Maes from Belgium and Marek Lukas from the Czech Republic also line up.
One famous face was missing from the Götzis field was the competition’s poster boy, Dominik Distelberger who unusually opens his season in Arona. It’s been a long slog back from injury for DD, so what has he got this weekend?
And finally…the Arona field brings together the best of all-time of Dutch decathlon, and one of the stars of the country’s multi-event future. The big name is highly decorated Dutch national record holder Eelco Sintnicolaas, and he’s brought with him the European U20 silver medallist Leon Mak. There’s an almighty race on in Dutch decathlon to join Rik Taam, Braun and Sintnicolaas in the 8000 club…will Mak be next?
The age group competitions are led by the World U20 heptathlon record holder Jente Hauttekeete from Belgium, who seems likely to relieve countryman Niels Pittomvills of the U20 decathlon meeting record of 7292 points.
In the heptathlon, it looks like the Boras 2019 squad – Maria Vicente, Kate O’Connor and Holly Mills – will pick up where they left off in Lana in April. Vicente won in Italy with a Spanish record of 6304 and O’Connor was second in 6297, an Irish national record. Holly Mills (GBR) had a brilliant first day too, finishing in 4th place overall in a PB of 6180.
Maria and Kate are currently inside the quota for Tokyo, in 19th and 22nd respectively with Holly a little further behind in 30th. Ahead of the meeting, Kate said:
“For this competition, I’m hoping to produce another strong score which will help me in my bid to get to the Olympics. Lana was an excellent opener for me, so trying to replicate or better the performance would be amazing. I’ve heard lots of good things about this meet in Arona so hopefully I can put together a good heptathlon this weekend.”
After her superb performance in Toruń to take European indoor silver in March, Belgium’s Noor Vidts starts her first heptathlon of the year, currently the highest qualified for the Olympics of the Arona field in 13th place (ten women have the auto Q of 6420 already). But the unknown quantity is Switzerland’s Géraldine Ruckstuhl, sidelined with injury for much of the 2020-21 winter season and as yet unable to return to her form of 2019 where she won the European U23 title. Will this be her big return? Teammate Caroline Agnou joins her, with a solid heptathlon of 5850 already under her belt from Landquart in May.
Two Austrians have already qualified automatically for the heptathlon – Verena Preiner and Ivona Dadic – and the third of the illustrious trio Sarah Lagger goes in Arona, following up her 6111 season opener in Lana. Daryna Sloboda is the highest ranked of the Ukrainian heptathletes so far this year, and may well leap up into Olympic qualification contention if she can get a good performance in. The French squad will keep it interesting, including Esther Turpin, happy to be back competing after her ankle injury; Diane Marie-Hardy, who has been keeping busy with some 400mh races, Annaelle Nyabeu Djapa (whose U23 meeting record of 5817 seems unlikely to survive the weekend) and of course the magnificent multiple European champion Nana Djimou.
Claudie Conte and Carmen Ramos round off the Spanish contingent – Conte getting very close to breaking 6000 points in May – and Marijke Esselink of the Netherlands and Poland’s Paulina Ligarska also line up. Mari Klaup of Estonia is overdue some good luck and hopefully everything will come together at the right time for her this weekend. And finally, two familiar names, both entering new chapters of their lives: Allison Halverson, in transition towards competing for Armenia, and 2018 Commonwealth silver medallist for Canada Nina Schultz, now competing for China. Her Chinese name is Zheng Ninali (so you may see and hear both references over the weekend) and she is in super form, setting a lifetime best of 6153 in Xi’an in April.
All photos by Athletic Timestamp