2021 Arona review, Ratingen and US trials preview

Last weekend was the 3rd leg of the World Athletics Combined Events Challenge: hot sun, palm trees and big points in the south of Tenerife, just off the coast of Morocco.

Some athletes in Arona leapt up the placings and into – or near – contention for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Others will have to wait and see whether their performances are enough, while a few will try again in Ratingen this coming weekend.  It’s also the weekend of the US Champs and Olympic trials in Hayward Field, Oregon so one thing is certain –by next week, everything is going to change.

DECATHLON – ARONA

There have been no new Olympic auto-qualifiers since Thomas Van der Plaetsen became the 16th man (although Ilya Shkurenyev has not yet been cleared to compete) with his super 8430 in Götzis, so all the focus is on the last 8 places in the quota, based on ranking points. We’re now into the phase where athletes have to consider where to have their final attempts, as well as how much they have to score.

The final 8 places are currently held by – in this order – Pieter Braun (17th with 1270), Solomon Simmons, Vitaly Zhuk, Martin Roe, Jan Doležal, Adam Sebastian Helcelet, Jorge Ureña and Jiři Sykora (24th with 1221).

The field size remains at 24, reflecting that it was a long shot that the bid to World Athletics to increase the field sizes would have any effect before the Olympics. There is, however, some positive news to report on that front from World Athletics – more on that next week.

Back to Arona, and ahead of the competition, the favourites were the trio of Martin Roe, Paweł Wiesiołek and Jorge Ureña, all sitting in qualification spots and all in fine form.

Martin Roe put in a strong, solid performance to finish 4th in 8016, consolidating his place in the top 24 for now, but potentially still a little vulnerable to performances yet to come in the final few weeks before qualification closes on 29 June.  However, Pawel and Jorge had worse luck. After a minor injury in the long jump, Jorge withdrew ahead of the high jump, slipping down one place to 23rd in the quota, but will go again in the Spanish Championships. And Paweł, after leading the field overnight, had a catastrophe with three no throws in the discus, and dropped out of the top 24 into 26th position. He is just one point behind Sykora, and so while Wiesiołek is on the entry lists for Ratingen, he may also start at the Inter Europol meeting in Warsaw.

Of the 19 who started the decathlon in Arona, only 10 finished. Belgium’s Sander Maes had 3 fouls in the long jump, although continued in a few events over the two days. The Dutch duo Leon Mak and Eelco Sintnicolaas both failed to clear their opening heights in the high jump, with various injuries. Bruno Comin, in his first senior decathlon, withdrew with injury after his first attempt at 1.92 and Dominik Distelberger did not start Day 2. Georni Jaramillo injured himself in the pole vault and Keisuke Ushiro, who had come to Arona rather than compete at the Japanese championships, no-heighted at his opening attempt. Keisuke will also go on to Ratingen.

But among the 10 who finished, there were some great performances. Dario Dester, the only Italian in history over 6000 points indoors, continues his march towards 8000 points. He scored a PB of 7825, with lifetime bests in the 100m, long jump, hurdles and 1500m. Pablo Trescoli also set a new lifetime best of 7819, after struggling with injury in the pole vault.

“I limped away with no jumps at 4.60 wondering if I had gone past the point of no return, but a couple of hours of ice, anti-inflammatories and painkillers later much of the pain went away, and now it just hurts like I’m used to!”

Pablo Trescoli

The Czechs enjoyed a good performance. Adam Sebastian Helcelet surprised himself with a strong two days to deliver his second 8000-point score of the year, 8058 for in second place – not quite back to his form of old but promising given his inability to train for 5 weeks after his 8025 in Lana in April.

And Jiři Sykora had the best performance of the weekend, scoring a PB of 8122 to win the competition. But Sykora was despondent after the 1500m – he wanted more and that was unlikely to be enough to qualify. His win elevates him to 24th place in the quota, and Helcelet’s performance similarly elevates him to 22nd – but with some big decathlons to come, it is going to be close. Sykora has been accepted to the Ratingen field, and will decide whether to take up his place.

Jiri Sykora

But the best performances of the weekend came from Ruben Gado and Jente Hauttekeete. After several years of injuries and comebacks truncated by more injury, Ruben Gado was finally over 8000 points again – scoring 8038 for 3rd, including a superb 5.30 pole vault and a nail-biting 1500 where he overtook Martin Roe to make it onto the podium. Ruben said afterwards:

“I am feeling very good – I didn’t think I can do that but, I did. I’m very happy and I enjoyed the two days. It’s long time since I’ve jumped that high, and it was a great feeling.”

Ruben Gado

And Jente Hauttekeete added his first 8000-point U20 decathlon score to his indoor world record, as well as beating Thomas Van der Plaetsen’s Belgian U20 record of 7769. He won the U20 event in 8034 points with PBs in his 100m, long jump, high jump, 400, discus and javelin. There were a number of other strong U20 performances, and we’ll pick those up as we look forward to the European U20 Championships in Tallinn in a few weeks’ time.

Jente Hauttekeete

DECATHLON – RATINGEN

Onto Germany and Ratingen, which is the final opportunity for the German multi-eventers to convince their federation to take them to Tokyo.

World champion Niklas Kaul and 2017 World bronze medallist Kai Kazmirek have already qualified several times over for the Olympics: both scoring 8350+ in 2019 and exceeding the German selection minimum of 8150 in Götzis a few weeks ago. But neither are giving the German federation any excuse to not select them and both starting again in Ratingen. Kaul said a few weeks ago that he may withdraw during the competition if it seems that no other German is on course for 8350.

And that’s where it gets interesting. Tim Nowak is sitting in 27th place in the quota, Matthias Brugger a little further behind in 33rd and Andreas Bechmann in 34th. All 3 have the potential to get near 8350 at their best – and certainly are capable of getting into the top 24.

German Olympic places at stake (Foto Manuel Eitel)

The German field also includes the 2020 German champion Malik Diakite, 2020 U23 champion Jannis Wolff – “I am feeling ready to perform at this year’s Ratingen party!” – 2019 Euro U23s representative Jan Ruhrmann, Fynn Zenker back from Texas Tech for the summer, the third of the SSV Ulm trio Luca Dieckmann and Nico Beckers.

As well as Ushiro and potentially Sykora on the entry list, the field also includes Oleksiy Kasyanov (46th in quota), who recently had his 26th decathlon over 8000; the revitalised Niels Pittomvils (34th), and teammate Benjamin Hougardy, Fredrik Samuelsson (29th) a few weeks on from his Covid episode, Basile Rolnin (28th) who was a superb second in 2019 but aborted in Götzis recently, and Taavi Tšernjavski (32nd), looking to improve on his 7722 from Arona.  

DECATHLON – US TRIALS

And so, the craziest weekend of the year is upon us – the US trials. The sudden-death qualification which without fail produces drama, joy and heartbreak every year. As we go into the trials, two Americans have outright qualifying scores – Garrett Scantling and Harrison Williams.  But they will need to finish in the top 3 to rest easy on Sunday night. Solomon Simmons is also currently qualified by way of the rankings, sitting in 18th place.

The only way that any of these three can be displaced from selection for the US team is if other athletes can get themselves into the top 24 of the quota (either by scoring 8350+ or securing a ranking improvement) and finish in the top 3. Finishing in the top 3 without either the qualifying score, or a combined ranking score above Sykora’s (at the time of writing), will not be enough.

However, the US trials is the occasion when athletes bring their best and there are several who may well rise to the occasion. Devon Williams has the experience, and Zach Ziemek and Kyle Garland have already had very strong performances this season. Hunter Price and Jack Flood also joined the 8000-point club for the first time this year.

Jack, with a super-fresh mullet for the weekend, told Decathletes of Europe:

“I can already tell there are going to be some phenomenal performances this weekend. Everyone has been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. I am very excited to compete with the guys – it’s going to be fun, but hyper competitive. I live for these competitions, and I am just thankful to be a part of it.”

Steven Bastien posted the first 8000-point score of the year in March, and Tim Ehrhardt and Scott Filip are also in the mix. Ziemek is the highest place of the athletes not currently qualified in 27th; Garland is 32nd, Devon Williams 33rd, Bastien and Filip 40th and Tim Ehrhardt 44th.

So come Sunday night, will Braun, Simmons, Zhuk, Roe, Doležal, Helcelet, Ureña and Sykora still be in Olympic contention? Or will it all change?

HEPTATHLON – ARONA

Qualification for the Olympic heptathlon is rather different to the decathlon, in that only 9 women have the automatic qualification of 6420 so far. So, there is much more room for manoeuvre via qualification through the rankings.

The big stories of the heptathlon in Arona were the breakthrough of the Commonwealth silver medallist Nina Li Schultz (now eligible to compete for China, and we’re familiarising ourselves with her Chinese name Zheng Ninali), the further improvement of the exciting Spanish heptathlon team, and another super improvement by European Indoor silver medallist Noor Vidts.

On Day 1, as at Multistars, GB’s Holly Mills led overnight from Nina and European U20 champion Maria Vicente and finished in 4th overall with a PB of 6211.  But Zheng looked strong and improved across the board over two days, taking her best from to 6153 to 6358 and catapulting herself into Olympic contention and 21st place in the Tokyo quota. After her 800m, she said:

“Before this season, I didn’t compete for 3 years, so to make the comeback I did this year I’m very proud of myself. For the majority of the season I’ve coached myself and trained by myself – and so it’s really great to be back on the international circuit. It’s my first season back so I don’t want to put pressure on myself. But today’s result was really good so, if I can fit in one more heptathlon before the qualifying period ends that might be enough to make the Olympics; if not I have National Games in September back in China.”

Nina Li Schultz

Maria Vicente is looking pretty safe for Olympic qualification– short of the outright qualifying mark but currently sitting in 11th place. She was just 30 points short of her own Spanish record of 6304 from Lana to finish second, a score which included a 200m PB of 23.33 and 100mh PB of 13.51. But Claudia Conte also had a terrific competition, scoring over 6000 points for the first time in 6029 for 5th behind Holly Mills.

Noor Vidts is relatively safe in 13th place in Olympic quota, but she fought Holly Mills hard for 3rd place – and won. She set a lifetime best of 13.41 in the hurdles, and 38.80 in the javelin. Going into the final event only a few points separated the two, and they had similar 800m PBs of 2:10, but Noor pulled out a splendid 2:09.34 PB to score 6240. That takes her past Tia Hellebaut for 3rd in the Belgian all-time list, behind Nafi Thiam and Hanne Maudens (who has now moved to 400/800).

Noor Vidts

Others weren’t so lucky in Tenerife: Geraldine Ruckstuhl continued to struggle with her high jump, managing no more than 1.55 and withdrawing before the end of the competition, but her javelin was one highlight to take from the competition, with all 3 throws over 50m. Kate O’Connor withdrew after Day 1, and Carmen Ramos, Sarah Lagger and Mari Klaup (after the world’s most stressful journey to Arona) all had three fouls in the long jump.

HEPTATHLON – RATINGEN

The big German name in the Ratingen heptathlon Carolin Schäfer has withdrawn, still suffering side effects from her Covid vaccination. But there is a fascinating domestic competition in store nonetheless, with Sophie Weissenberg (32nd), Vanessa Grimm (36th), Louisa Grauvogel and Anna Maiwald (30th) all in contention to get nearer automatic qualification of 6420, surpass the German selection minimum of 6250, and leap into the qualification quota.  The German field is completed by Mareike Arndt, Janina Lange, Anna-Lena Obermeier, Isabel Mayer, Laura Voss, Paula de Boer and young Lilian Tösmann.

The big Austrian names Ivona Dadic and recently married Verena Mayr (formerly Preiner) are competing, both already qualified automatically and so able to use the competition as preparation for Tokyo. Maria Huntington, Marthe Koala, Odile Ahouanwanhou and Noor Vidts are all on the entry list and within the rankings qualification quota; Georgia Ellenwood – who stayed on in Austria following her Götzis competition – also lines up and is within striking distance at 37th in the quota. The other half of the Kasyanov duo, Hanna, also lines up for her 2nd heptathlon of the season, as does the Götzis Rookie of the Year, Henriette Jaeger of Norway.

HEPTATHLON – US TRIALS

Similar to the decathlon, there are 2 US athletes with auto-qualification – Kendell Williams and Erica Bougard – and a few very, very close to being within the rankings quota. Annie Kunz is best placed at 27th, and surely would have been within qualification had she not had 3 fouls in the long jump in Götzis in May. Chari Hawkins sits in 32nd place, and Ashtin Mahler is close behind in 34th place. Anna Hall and Michelle Atherley have an NCAA season behind them but are capable of being in the mix, as is Riley Cooks (who unfortunately had to withdraw on the day in Götzis), Taliyah Brooks (who fouled out in the HJ in Austria) and Juanita Webster-Freeman.

Annie Kunz fouls out after a superb Day 1 in Goetzis (Photo: Bjorn Paree)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *