Preview: 2021 European U23 Championships, Tallinn

The last time the European U23 championships took place, it was in the summer of 2019 in Gävle, Sweden. The decathlon was a showdown between the titans Niklas Kaul and Johannes Erm, both scoring over 8400: Kaul 8572 and Erm 8445. Kaul went onto become the youngest decathlon world champion in history in Doha a few months later, and Erm’s score secured his Olympic selection for Tokyo. The heptathlon medals went to Géraldine Ruckstuhl, Sophie Weissenberg and (now 400/800 specialist) Hanne Maudens. What lies ahead this week in Tallinn?

DECATHLON

One German was missing from the championships in 2019, and that was the then 19-year-old Andreas Bechmann who injured himself just ahead of the championships, in Bernhausen, and was unable to compete. In September that year he scored his first ever 8000-point decathlon when winning the Thorpe Cup, also in Bernhausen, with 8132. Among the athletes he beat at that competition were Steven Bastien and Jack Flood, who finished 2nd and 9th respectively in the recent US Olympic trials, both over 8000 and Bastien with a massive 8485.

Andreas Bechmann (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for European Athletics)

Bechmann’s preparation for the 2021 iteration of champs hasn’t been ideal either, with a bout of Covid immediately after his 6th place in the European Indoors in Toruń in March, and a couple of injuries en route to Estonia, including on his debut in Götzis in May. But he logged a solid 7955 in Ratingen in June, and hopefully back close to his best – with newly blond hair to match his team-mate Jannis Wolff – this month.

We’ll be missing the much-anticipated Bechmann v Ehammer competition since Simon Ehammer – the 2019 Euro U20 decathlon champion – is competing only in the long jump. But Bechmann won’t have it all his own way, since there is a group of athletes all charging towards their first 8000-point scores. Estonia, the spiritual home of decathlon, may just be the place for them to do it.

The contenders are Makenson Gletty from France, Markus Rooth from Norway, Finley Gaio of Switzerland, Dario Dester from Italy, Baptiste Thiery of France, and the Dutch Svens, Jansons and Roosen.

This is Makenson’s second European U23 championships and in Gävle he had the misfortune to have 3 no-throws in his shot put. Since then, he’s come a long way and in December 2020 in Réunion he had a superb competition to finish 5th with a PB of 7978.

Makenson Gletty (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for European Athletics)

Markus Rooth, the 2019 U20 bronze medallist moves into the U23 age group this year. He missed out on the opportunity to compete at the World U20s when the competition was delayed from 2020, but by way of compensation he scored the second best U20 decathlon mark of all time, 8238, second only to Niklas Kaul. Whether either of those marks survives Jente Hauttekeete and Sander Skotheim’s assault next weekend remains to be seen, but more on that later this week! These championships were of course originally supposed to be a home competition for Rooth, in Bergen, but they were moved to Tallinn due to less restrictive quarantine arrangements. Rooth also made his Götzis debut this year, with a PB of 7738.

Finley Gaio finished 10th in Gävle in 2019 and really wants to see out his final year in the age group with a medal. He’s been in great form, with a big PB of 7899 in Götzis, and taking the “Rookie of the Year” title.  Finley had qualified for multiple events in Tallinn but decided to focus on the decathlon.  Baptiste Thiery also made his debut in Götzis in May, coming away with a 7766 PB. He had also been eligible for a double, with the pole vault, but similarly is just focusing on decathlon.

Finley Gaio (Photo: Athletx.ch)

Dario Dester was the first Italian in history to score over 6000 during the indoor season, and he’s been getting closer to 8000 outdoors, with a PB of 7825 in Arona in June where he finished 6th. He’d previously finished 4th at Multistars in Lana in April.

And the dark horses in the line-up may be the Dutch. In 2019 Sven Roosen finished 7th and Sven Jansons 9th in the European U20s in Boras, where teammate Leon Mak took silver. In 2020 Roosen broke Pieter Braun’s Dutch U20 record with 8116, and in Tilburg this year both set senior PBs, Roosen with 7916 and Jansons 7734.

Sven Roosen (Photo: Bjorn Paree)

Also in the field from Gävle is Lithuanian Edgaras Benkunskas, who finished 8th in 2019.

The Spanish duo of Bruno Comin and Jorge Davila have had mixed fortunes so far this season. Comin is the 2020 Spanish champion and suffered a slight injury in Arona while Davila had a strong competition in Alhama de Murcia, setting a PB while finishing 3rd behind Jorge Ureña. Edgar Campre and Manuel Dias took 1 and 2 in the recent Portuguese championships, and Switzerland’s Fabian Amherd was runner-up in the Swiss champs in Langenthal.

The field also includes Fran Bonifačić of Croatia, Christian Gundersen of Denmark, Nils Laserich of Germany, Antonios and Angelos Andreoglou of Greece and Carl Af Forselles of Sweden.

It’s a high-quality decathlon field with the best U23 athletes in Europe – the only big names missing are Germany’s Leo Neugebauer (who has focused on the US college season) and Russia’s Alexandr Komarov. Komarov has ANA status and would almost certainly have been a medal contender following his PB of 7927 in Estonia last month but lost out in the quota to senior athletes participating in the Olympics.

HEPTATHLON

The heptathlon is already underway and as we would expect, the big names feature: the 2019 U20 silver medallist Kate O’Connor from Ireland, Olympic-bound Adrianna Sułek from Poland, the 2018 World U20 silver medallist Sarah Lagger and Great Britain’s European Indoor Championships 5th placer, Holly Mills. But there are another two names to look out for – Spain’s Claudia Conte and France’s Léonie Cambours, both of whom are making significant breakthroughs in 2021.

Claudia Conte has had an upward trajectory over the last 12 months, culminating – so far – in her lifetime best of 6029 to finish 5th in Arona in June. And Léonie Cambours improved her lifetime best by over 800 points, when winning the Defi’athlon in Montpellier in May with a score of 6192.

The hurdles unfolded as anticipated, with Holly Mills the fastest in 13.40. But Sułek was only 0.03 behind her, setting a lifetime best of 13.43 in the process.  

Holly Mills (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for European Athletics)

Unusually for any heptathlon that involves Mills, she wasn’t still ahead after two events. Sułek pulled ahead after the high jump, clearing 1.84 while Mills could only achieve 1.72, 13cm below her season’s best of 1.85 from Arona. Kristine Blaževiča of Latvia, who already has a US college season behind her, equalled her PB height of 1.75, the same height as Sarah Lagger.

But Claudia Conte stayed with Sułek at the higher end of the competition, also clearing 1.84, the pair 9cm ahead of the rest of the field and Conte moving into second place. Sweden’s Klara Rådbo unfortunately could not clear her opening height of 1.69 and exited the competition.   

Claudia Conte (Photo: Bjorn Paree)

Onto the shot, and two of the longest puts of the day came from Yuliya Loban of Ukraine, and Beatričé Juškevičiūté of Lithuania, with 14.05 and 13.84 respectively, the latter equalling her lifetime best. But suddenly Kate O’Connor roared into action, and after a 14.19 hurdles and 1.72 high jump, she pulled out a 14.00m shot, which lifted her to 5th place behind Sułek, Mills, Lagger and Conte.

Kate had been dealing with an ankle injury incurred in Arona.

“I’ve been rehabbing since then,” she explained afterwards “and it’s only in the last week I’ve been given the all-clear to go again. So, I’m trying to enjoy it – and see what I can do off no training!”

Léonie Cambours delivered an almost 40cm improvement to her lifetime best in the shot to throw 13.26, moving her into 6th place. Lydia Boll of Switzerland had the second set of no-marks of the day but continued in the competition.

In the final event of the day, the 200m, the wind varied between heats: +2.4 and +2.5 in the first and third heats, and +1.3 in the second. Not surprisingly, the fastest times came from the final heat: Adrianna 23.69, Louise Maraval of France 23.80, Holly 24.06 and Léonie 24.35. But both Claudia Conte and Jodie Smith of Great Britain set lifetime bests in the second heat, Conte 24.89 and Smith 24.95.

Adrianna Sulek (Photo: Bjorn Paree)

At the end of Day 1, Adrianna Sułek (3838) leads by 150 points from Holly Mills (3688), with Cambours (3554), Conte (3553) and Lagger (3520) close together, and Britain’s Jade O’Dowda (3493) and Blaževiča (3493) not far behind. Mills and Cambours are big long jumpers so should bring a fresh challenge tomorrow, while Lagger, Conte and O’Connor will respond with the big javelin throws.

Sarah Lagger (Photo: Bjorn Paree)

 The results from Day 1 can be found here.

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