Two years have passed since the last edition of Multistars in April 2019, when the biggest problem in our lives was how many thermal layers to wear to keep out the bracing wind of the Alto Adige. Despite the best efforts of Barbara and Gianni Lombardi the 2020 edition was not possible; but they have triumphed in 2021 and this weekend we have the first World Athletics Combined Events Challenge meeting of 2021: the 34th edition of Multistars.
Jan Doležal (CZE) was the victor at the last meeting in 2019 with 8117 points and has – whether intentionally or not – navigated the new rankings system brilliantly. He sits at 15th place, the highest of all the participants in the decathlon line up. Another 8100-8200 podium in Lana would keep him in strong contention for Olympic qualification.
The availability of rankings points has also attracted other big names who might otherwise have started their season a few weeks later in Götzis, where big rankings points are likely to be scooped up by those who already have the 8350 qualifying score. Jorge Ureña (ESP) arrives just 7 weeks after he overcame his injury problems to win his third consecutive medal at the European Indoors.
Sweden’s Fredrik Samuelsson (SWE) would also usually begin his season in Götzis, but he too starts in Lana, after a consistent indoor season where he just missed out on qualification for Torún. He brings with him a new 46.01 discus PB, and a new momentum in ensuring that the voices of multieventers are heard in the decisions that affect them (with hopefully some good progress to report soon).
The 2016 European silver medallist Adam Sebastian Helcelet is finally on the way back up, this year posting his best heptathlon score since 2018 in February (again just missing out on Torún selection) and improving his outright shot PB in the process. The third Czech in the line-up, Jiři Sykora, has competed sparingly in 2021 and this will be his first decathlon since he finished first in the (now defunct) second league of the European Combined Events Team Champs in Ribeira Brava in 2019. Doležal, Sykora and Helcelet have been vying for the spot of top Czech over recent years, so let’s see what this weekend brings for them.
The 2019 edition of Multistars was also the start of a strong season for Norway’s Martin Roe. Like Doležal (15th) and Ureña (17th), Roe (20th) is currently positioned within the quota of places for the Olympics. Martin weathered the 2020 lockdown relatively well, winning the Norwegian champs in 7990 in August, and can’t wait to compete again.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Martin told Decathletes of Europe, “finally getting to do a decathlon again. I just want to go out and have fun, do my best and hopefully get some good results. If the weather is good, then I think we will see some good results by a lot of people, so fingers crossed. Hopefully this will be a fun two days for everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other decathletes and heptathletes again.”
Meanwhile, there is a new duel in town between the top Italians. Lana will be home turf for 8-time national champion Simone Cairoli and 20-year old Dario Dester. Both men broke the 12-year-old Italian heptathlon record in February, but Dester pipped Cairoli – 6076 to 5986 – to being the first Italian over 6000 points and to a place in Torún. Dester set his senior decathlon best of 7655 in 2020 but has since improved his hurdles and his vertical jumps. That should take him much nearer 8000 points, but not if Cairoli, in the form of his life indoors, gets there first.
Two other Spaniards join Ureña in Lana, both competing in Multistars for the first time: the 2019 national decathlon champion Pablo Trescoli and the 2018 champion Mario Arancon. Both come from training camp in Tenerife earlier this month, where they were joined by Helcelet and Dolezal’s training partner, Reinis Krēgers from Latvia who lines up at Multistars for the second time.
While Multistars is usually the first Combined Events Challenge after the long gap from Décastar in September (unfortunately cancelled for 2021) in the interim we had the competition in Réunion. Behind the main story of Kevin Mayer’s Olympic qualification, his training partner Benjamin Hougardy was also having a great competition, improving his decathlon lifetime best to 7761. Hougardy is one of two Belgians in Lana; the other is Niels Pittomvils who has competed just once so far this year, finishing 4th at X-Athletics in Clermont Ferrand, and whose last decathlon was 7516 to win the Belgian champs in August 2020.
Two places ahead of Pittomvils in France in January was the sole Frenchman in the field, Romain Martin, who then went on to take the silver medal at the French indoor championships – showing promising consistency after a number of injuries. Rounding off the elite field is new dad Marcus Nilsson (SWE), who also had a busy indoors season, finishing second behind Samuelsson at their national championships.
The field also includes 3 young athletes: the Croatian U20 national record holder Fran Bonifacic, and local 21-year olds Lorenzo Naldon and Amar Kasibovic.
The Multistars heptathlon field is headed by 2019 World Championship heptathletes Géraldine Ruckstuhl (SUI), Chari Hawkins (USA) and Marthe Koala (BUR).
Ruckstuhl has had a relatively low profile since her illustrious 2019 season – 10th in Götzis, gold at the European U23 championships and 9th in Doha – with most of the spotlight on her teammate Annik Kälin. In 2020 she competed primarily in individual events, collecting national medals in the throws, and participated in, but didn’t finish, the heptathlon in Réunion.
2019 was also a super year for Marthe Koala, who set a national heptathlon record of 6235 when finishing 5th in Talence, and a national 100mh record on the first day of her heptathlon in Doha (which unfortunately she didn’t finish). She followed that in 2020 with national records indoors in the hurdles and long jump, and Multistars will be her first combined events competition since February 2020.
For Chari Hawkins, the journey since the World Championships in 2019 has been a rollercoaster. After pulling both her hamstrings earlier in the year, she tore her ankle ligaments and broke a bone in her foot a week before Doha, where she finished 12th. It’s been a long rehab for her since then – with a short time out to get married – and she finally returned to competition in individual events earlier this month.
There are 3 Americans ahead of Hawkins in the world rankings – Kendell Williams, Erica Bougard and 2019 Multistars winner Annie Kunz. Williams and Bougard already have the automatic qualifying score of 6420, but Hawkins needs to both finish in the top 3 at the US trials and get herself within the rankings envelope to get to Tokyo – making the long trip across from California for rankings points more attractive.
Allison Halverson-Reaser is in transition to compete for Armenia at major champs, so she won’t trouble her former teammates for places on the US team, but she has a great history at Multistars, finishing 11th in 2017, 6th in 2018 and 4th in 2019.
Canada’s Georgia Ellenwood has also made the long trip across the Atlantic. Lockdown has been particularly hard for Canadians, struggling to get access to facilities, but some creative thinking – including a few mixed events indoors – has enabled Ellenwood to get a few individual competitions under her belt before tackling Olympic qualification. Her last heptathlon was her debut in Götzis in 2019, where she finished 16th.
Estonia’s Mari Klaup has also been experiencing a period of good form, getting on top of several long-standing injuries to finish 2nd in Réunion with 6014 in December, following her PB performance of 6080 at her national championships in August. This will be her first multi-event of 2021.
Like Hawkins, the experienced German duo of Anna Maiwald and Mareike Arndt will need to get themselves within the rankings envelope to put themselves in contention for German selection, which will be decided on the basis of performance in Götzis and Ratingen. They are currently 22nd and 38th respectively – split by Sophie Weissenberg – and since Carolin Schaefer already has the qualifying score, every ranking point counts. Both have competed already in 2021 during the indoor season.
Slovakia’s Lucia Vadlejch (who set a national pentathlon record shortly before lockdown in 2020), France’s Diane Marie-Hardy (second in the French indoor champs) and home favourite, 6-times Italian champion Sveva Gerevini also line up.
The most anticipated element of competition is the reunion of the 2019 European U20 field, alongside 2018 World U20 silver medallist Sarah Lagger. Maria Vicente (ESP), Kate O’Connor (IRE) and Holly Mills (GBR) were 1st, 2nd and 4th respectively at that championships but things have move on since then.
Vicente continues to be in magnificent form this year, with a national pentathlon record of 4501 and a long jump PB of 6.55, but unfortunately, she had no mark at the same event in Torún.
Kate has spent much of her time back in Ireland to optimise her ability to navigate the challenges of lockdown, with only a few individual competitions since, and this will be her first heptathlon since the podium in Sweden. Meanwhile, Holly Mills pulverised her previous best pentathlon best by almost 300 points to score 4557 in February, qualifying for her first European Indoors, where she finished a superb 5th.
Holly summed up her thoughts ahead of the competition:
“I’m really excited for this weekend. Getting to go abroad to compete again is amazing. It’s my first heptathlon since the European U20s in 2019, so it’s been 22 months. I’ve been training really hard since then so I’m definitely looking for a points PB! This is only my third ever heptathlon, so I’m just excited to put together 7 events again and gain more experience. The weather looks wonderful, and the competition is great so it should be a great meet!”
And finally, the world U20 silver medallist Sarah Lagger had a strong finish to 2020, finishing third in 6010 behind Evelis Aguilar (COL) and Mari Klaup in Réunion. The young heptathlon talents will surely inspire the youngest athletes in the Multistars field, teenagers Linda Maria Pircher (ITA) and Sophie Kreiner (AUT).
The final name on the entry list is Anastasia Mokhnyuk (UKR), who returned to competition in 2020 after serving a 4-year drugs ban.
Photos: Daniele Morandi (unless noted otherwise)