Estonia, spiritual home of decathlon, where Janek Õiglane is on the commemorative stamp to celebrate the championships; where 2000 Olympic champion Erki Nool presented the medals to the European U23 victors; and where even the local organising committee can embrace multi-events and organise two championships on consecutive weekends.
As the European U20 championships get underway, the home country is represented in both the decathlon and heptathlon: with Rasmus Roosleht and Tony Tamm the latest in a long line of championship decathletes, and Pippi Lotta Enok bringing her lifetime best of 5515 from June in Rakvere to the heptathlon field.
At the 2019 edition of the U20 championships in Borås, the decathlon medallists were Simon Ehammer, Leon Mak and Markus Rooth. Since then, all three have gone onto greater things. Ehammer broke the Swiss heptathlon record this year and came within a handful of points of breaking the national decathlon record in 2020; and of course, won gold in the U23 long jump last Friday. Markus Rooth set the second best U20 decathlon score of all time in 2020, 8238, and won bronze on Sunday in the U23 decathlon. And at these championships in 2017 in Grosseto, the world champion Niklas Kaul set the decathlon U20 world record of 8435, finally ratified just last year.
Rooth doesn’t expect his mark to last the weekend, and during his own competition last week observed “Sander and Jente are in super good shape. I think they are hungry for it – records are there to be broken.”
And therein lies the story to watch in the decathlon: the duel between Belgium’s Jente Hauttekeete and Norway’s Sander Aae Skotheim. These two athletes are the only two ever to have scored over 6000 points in the U20 heptathlon, both exceeding the 2010 world record of Eusebio Caceres, 5984, during the 2021 indoor season. Coincidentally, Caceres also holds the EU23 championship long jump record of 8.37, which survived the onslaught of Ehammer last week.
Hauttekeete set the new world record of 6062 during a competition with Ehammer and the new U23 European Champion Andreas Bechmann in Frankfurt in February, and just one week later Skotheim scored 6015 in Norway.
Both have started to translate that form outdoors. Jente broke 8000 points for the first time in Arona in June, setting PBs in 6 events en route to his score of 8034. “I’m stronger than ever this year,” he said at the pre-event press conference, “and I hope I can show that on Saturday and Sunday.”
Sander also set out his thoughts ahead of the competition:
“I am very excited to compete in the U20s and really looking forward to the competition. I feel very motivated after watching Markus setting PB after PB in the 2nd day to take bronze. The season has been very good: 6000+ indoors was crazy. I felt very motivated after watching Jente’s heptathlon in Frankfurt, and I really wanted to beat his record, but really satisfied doing 6000+. Outdoors has been going very well. I’ve only done one decathlon, 7491: the 1st day was really good with big PBs in shot and 400, but unfortunately, I fell in the hurdles and hurt my toe, so I couldn’t really give it all in the events that were left. After that training has been going very well, and I feel very motivated to fight for the medals in Tallinn and try and get that 8000+ score. And if I can find the flow it could be possible to challenge Markus’ and Kaul’s scores.”
But of course, it is not just about two athletes – you can find the full line up here – and there is likely to be a strong challenge from Czech Republic’s František Doubek and France’s Téo Bastien. Doubek won the Czech U20 title in June in a big score of 7821 and won the senior competition at the Portarathlon in Naxos in May, in a windy 7664. Bastien has had big breakthroughs both indoor and out this year, winning the French indoor U20 title in 5637 and winning the U20 decathlon at the “Defi-athlon” competition in Montpelier in May with a PB of 5600.
Also in the field are two of Hauttekeete’s competitors from Arona, Ireland’s Diarmuid O’Connor, who improved in 8 events to finish second in 7316, and Spain’s Jose San Pastor who finished third in 7197. In earlier years the Spaniard had been a shot and discus thrower, before turning his hand to decathlon.
“As it’s my first year as a decathlete, qualification for the European Championship is a victory in itself,” says Jose. ” I really hope to improve some of my throws, as I was a thrower. I’ve done a lot of work during this season, with some injuries due to the hard training plan, but I’m really happy with the results, and the progression I’ve made. I would like to tell everyone to believe in their dreams: I consider myself a dreamer and nothing is impossible with hard work. I was the world leader in 5kg shot for a number of months in 2019 and now I’m at the Europeans in decathlon. I want to thank my trainer Fran Caballero, and Oscar Husillos (2021 European indoor 400m champion) who trains with us, and who inspires the young generation through hard work.”
The 2019 medallists in the heptathlon have also gone onto greater things, gold-medallist Maria Vicente on her way to the greatest stage of all, the Olympics, in a few weeks. Between Maria, silver medallist Kate O’Connor and bronze medallist Annik Kälin, they have multiple national titles and other achievements between them. Fourth-placed Holly Mills also went onto win bronze last weekend.
In 2019, the leading contender is Finland’s Saga Vanninen, whose PB of 5861 (and national U20 record) was set when finishing second at the Finnish champs in 2020. However, she also had the honour of winning the first ever multi-event competition – 200, long jump and shot – included in the famous Finland v Sweden Finnkampen in September 2020.
But Vanninen will face a strong trio of Germans in the shape of Serena Riedel, Marie Dehning and Lara Siemer. In 2020 Serina Riedel broke the 21-year German U18 record with a score of 5818 and followed that up with a senior score of 5625 in May this year. Marie Dehning won the annual junior meeting in Bernhausen in June with a PB of 5729; Lara Siemer finished second to Dehning in 5585 and was the German U20 champion in 2020.
Behind Vanninen and the Germans, Great Britain’s Abi Pawlett has the 5th best PB in the field, which she set when winning the England Athletics U20 title in May.
“I’m really excited to compete in my first Euros and represent GB for the first time,” she said. “My main goal is to enjoy myself and take everything in my stride. It’s an experience I’ve not really had before, and hopefully something I can take into next year, which will be my last year as a junior.”
“I’m really happy with my season so far, even though Covid provided challenges and setbacks. To score the European and World junior qualifier in my first hep of the season, as well as still having another year as a junior was a particular highlight. To medal in the individual hurdles at nationals and running a significant 200 PB in my last competition has definitely given me confidence going into this heptathlon.”
“I’m hoping to use this competition as a big learning experience,” Abi continued “while still being competitive. It was really fun watch the U23s heptathlon last week and hopefully we can go and produce some impressive scores like them!”
Several of the field have also been in action during the World Athletics Combined Events challenge meetings. Austria’s Sophie Kreiner set her PB of 5500 at Multistars in April, and Spain’s Sophia Cosculluela won the girl’s competition in Arona. Two of the leading athletes in 2020 and 2021 are missing from the heptathlon: Norway’s Henriette Jaeger who curtailed her season due to injury after falling in Ratingen, and Andrea Rooth who is focusing on the hurdles. Norway will be represented by Lisa Wilker, who was runner up in the Norwegian U20 championships this year.
The full heptathlon field can be found here.