Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024
Star Gotzis athletes at press conferenceMichelle Atherley, Simon Ehammer, Anouk Vetter, Damian Warner, Verena Mayr, Lindon Victor

“If I had to choose between my wedding and Götzis,” said world decathlon bronze medallist Lindon Victor, “I’m going to choose Götzis. That’s how much I love it here.”

There will be few people in the Möslestadion this weekend, Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th May, who would disagree with the words of Grenada’s finest.

Despite the the world rankings system’s attempts to gut the Götzis field, with its incentive to chase easy podiums with generous rankings points for Olympic qualification, the Hypomeeting has yet again assembled a stellar field.

But positioning remains important. Positioning for the Olympics. Positioning for a 9000-point fight. Positioning for ranking points. Positioning to make the US Olympic team, the German Olympic team and, of course, the Estonian Olympic team. Positioning for the European Championships, for which the qualification period closes just a week after the Götzis combined events weekend, the reason for the earlier date in our diaries.

DECATHLON

The 2021 Olympic champion Damian Warner need not worry himself about qualification for Paris, but as he returns to Götzis in pursuit of his 8th win, he knows he will have a fight in the region of 9000 points later in the season.

The 2023 Götzis winner and 2023 World Champion, fellow Canadian Pierce LePage, is not competing this weekend, but PLP leads a stream of new contenders for Olympic glory and 9000 points. Germany’s Leo Neugebauer and Puerto Rico’s Ayden Owens-Delerme scored 8708 and 8732 respectively in April, USA’s Kyle Garland scored 8720 in 2022, and of course Lindon Victor himself scored 8756 in Budapest last year. Kevin Mayer too, if he can get himself there without compromising his performance. For now it is just Warner and Victor in Götzis, but the 9000-point storm is brewing.

Neugebauer and Owens-Delerme have set the pace outdoors, but the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March also elevated new contenders to challenge outdoors. The gold and bronze medallists, Simon Ehammer of Switzerland and Johannes Erm of Estonia are competing this weekend in Götzis. Both delivered big improvements in individual marks, as well as their overall heptathlon score, and that should set them up really well for similar improvements outdoors. Ehammer’s current decathlon best is 8468 and Erm’s 8484, but both are capable of something much higher.

Erm leads an Estonian trio in the decathlon and is accompanied by the 2023 European Indoor bronze medallist Risto Lillemets, and Estonia’s newest 8000-point decathlete Rasmus Roosleht. Risto and Rasmus – a pairing just crying out for a coffee shop to be named after them – have both competed already this season, Lillemets storming into second place (7971) after the 10th event at Multistars a few weeks ago, and Roosleht with some individual events close to his lifetime best.

Two other men had big breakthroughs indoors in 2024; Ken Mullings of the Bahamas, and Vilem Strasky of Czechia. Mullings scored 6340 indoors, a world lead that lasted until Glasgow, where he only missed the podium because Erm and Sander Skotheim ran like nutters in the 1000m. The improvements Mullings has made indoors should help him revise his decathlon PB of 8060 upwards, towards Kendrick Thompson’s national record of 8182.

In February, ahead of X-Athletics in Clermont Ferrand, I wrote the following words. “There’s an interesting little dynamic developing in the world of Czech decathlon. Ondrej Kopecky has been the top decathlete in recent years. But Vilem Strasky is catching up, and catching up fast.” 

Well, right now, Strasky has overtaken his older teammate in the world rankings, if not yet in outright scores. Like Kopecky, Strasky is coached by the first man in history over 9000 points, Roman Sebrle. The 24-year-old has been improving rapidly over the last year, and we should see him surpassing 8000 points very soon. Kopecky, meanwhile, was entered but is not competing this weekend – trying to navigate the rankings to land a high placing with a good enough score to move up into qualification zone.

Strasky is 29th in the world rankings with scores of 6080/7925 and Kopecky 19 places behind him in 48th with scores of 6018/8074. That comparison shows what a binfire the world rankings are, but none of that takes away from Strasky’s progression.

One talent many of the athletes mentioned already have in common is their giant horizontal jumps. Ehammer had fun in the Doha Diamond League last week pestering the specialists and landed a windy 8.30m. Ehammer’s Swiss team-mate Finley Gaio – who spent a month earlier this year training with Warner – is a 7.77m jumper. Johannes Erm is also a huge jumper, with a best just a few centimetres short of 8m. Damian, we know, is a fabulous 8m+ long jumper, only losing his decathlon world best to Ehammer and his 8.45m a few years ago.

This year we have another 8m jumper in town – German’s Felix Wolter. German decathlon depth is such that it can take a few years for your Götzis invitation to arrive, but finally the opportunity comes to Wolter. The German has spent the last few years at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA, where he emerged with an 8.01m long jump and 8299 decathlon.

That score makes Wolter the top scoring German in town this week. The German team includes Nils Laserich (7918), Tim Nowak (8229), and Marcel Meyer (8190).

Two of the German spots for the Olympics are provisionally reserved, of course, for Leo Neugebauer and European champion Niklas Kaul, but the third spot is certainly up for grabs.

The Germans will have Ratingen in play as a points-boosting selection opportunity for those below the automatic qualification mark for Paris, but there’s a long list of athletes queueing up – including Kai Kazmirek, keen to have one last go, Till Steinforth (based in USA), Andreas Bechmann (returning from long injury absence) Manuel Eitel, and Arona winner Malik Diakite. For the Germans, the interaction between the European Championships in Rome next month and the Olympics is perhaps more important than for anyone else.

Of the Germans in Götzis, we should remember Marcel Meyer was a close fourth behind Sven Roosen at the European U23 championships in Espoo last year. Roosen is in Götzis this weekend accompanied by Dutch teammate Sven Jansons. The Svens are brewing up a pair of big scores – Roosen’s best of 8157 is due for revision, and Jansons is just one good vault away from joining him over 8000 points.

While Lindon might be leading out the “Goon Squad” coached by 2000 Olympic bronze medallist Chris Huffins, he’s joined in Götzis by training partners Kendrick Thompson, Devon Williams and Jack Flood. Thompson made his debut at the meeting last year, and scored his first ever 8k score, his 8182 NR. Watch out for him on Day 1 – his 100m and 400m combination is impressive, comparable to the Olympic medallists Warner and Moloney.

Devon Williams returned to competition somewhat tentatively in 2023, feeling his way to 8000 again. But this year the vintage Williams is back – he’s already scored 8342 this year at Mt SAC, just 3 points short of his PB. Flood participated in Götzis for the first time back in 2022, the year after he first made it over 8000 points (8038), and he came very close to his PB with 8032, also in Mt SAC, last month.

Moloney is currently positioned at 52nd in the world rankings and doesn’t have the outright Olympic qualifying score of 8460 either. His eligible marks that determine his world ranking are modest, including 7884 at the Australian championships. The Australians have the bonus of the Oceania championships in Fiji in June, on which Moloney’s teammate Cedric Dubler is focusing. Area champs have the same placing points as Götzis, so the big Australians can easily scoop up the maximum 110 rankings points in a decathlon field from which the biggest competition is likely to come from domestic rivals.

Finally, the decathlon field is completed by the South American champion from Brazil Jose Fernando Ferreira Santana – who improved massively in 2023, and finished 4th in Multistars this year; five times Lithuanian decathlon champion Edgaras Benkunskas and Belgium’s Niels Pittomvils.

HEPTATHLON

The heptathlon in Götzis this year is going to have a brand-new element – for the first time it will incorporate the Austrian national championships. Austria has significant depth in heptathlon and their top five athletes – originally six until Sophie Kreiner withdrew – will compete for the Austrian title as a subset of the competition.

That includes 2019 world bronze medallist Verena Mayr, Ivona Dadic, Sarah Lagger, Chiara-Belinda Schuler and the rapidly improving Isabel Posch.

The move is an interesting one, with some conflicting dynamics. Showcasing domestic athletes in an international setting is a dream opportunity. The Austrian women are of such a standard that they shine on their own terms, but creating the opportunity for them to perform on this global platform should bring even stronger performances. It’s a great move for athletes.

On the other hand, the move undermines the world rankings, albeit the rankings don’t need any help in that department.

Austrian athletes will get whatever the higher placing points are – GL or Category B – for the position in which they finish.

Nationals Category B placing points are 60/50/45/40/35/30/25/20, the Hypomeeting’s GL points are 110/90/75/65/55/50/45/40/30/25/20/10.

Bear in mind that the rankings categories are intended to reflect the quality of a field. The Austrian domestic field is already super strong, but it is enhanced further by providing world-class opponents to compete against.

What is interesting is what happens if the top four Austrian athletes were to finish 5th, 9th, 11th and 12th. In those positions, national Category B points are worth more than GL points. What happens to the 120 GL points (55+30+20+15) that don’t get claimed?

Do they go to the next non-Austrian athlete, or are they “lost?”  It surely cannot be the case where those points are “lost” out of the system, when every point matters for qualification. If it were the case, and access to those GL points was “blocked” by an Austrian athlete who is not claiming the points (but rather using their nationals’ points) it would have the effect of removing 120 GL points from a GL meet. I’m sure someone will tell me that this is not the case, and we are not flushing 120 GL points down the drain.

On balance, the incorporation of the championships feels like a good move, with any problems a consequence of the rankings system. It’s a move of which British combined eventers can only be envious – they didn’t even know when their indoor national championships were (they found out after entering the English championships). The British outdoor combined events championships are after the end of the Olympic qualifying period, with Category B rankings points arriving too late to be of any use in the season in which they are secured.

So go for it, Austria.

Of the Austrians, Verena Mayr has been strongest so far this year with a superb 454525 indoors. Ivona Dadic, now training with Sweden’s Bianca Salming, scored 4408 indoors but struggled a little so far this season, with a DNF in Multistars. Salming herself had a strong indoor season, with a PB of 4533 indoors and a useful 5915 at Multistars.

Turning to the broader international field, the two Olympic medallists are here in Götzis, silver and bronze medallists Anouk Vetter and Emma Oosterwegel of the Netherlands.

Oosterwegel finished her 2023 outdoor season well with a win in Talence, a competition she also won in 2022 (shared with Dadic). So far this year both she and Vetter have done only individual events, and so the performance of the Big Two will start shaping the landscape from now to Paris.

The Brits have sent a trio of heptathletes to Götzis. Holly Mills returns, hopefully over the challenges that have beset her the last few years. Not enough people remember that she has been a top six finisher at World and European Indoor championships, and was the European U23 bronze medallist behind Adrianna Sulek, with whom she has enjoyed many battles in recent years. Abi Pawlett continues her super 2024 that started with a win at the secret British champs in Sheffield in January, took her to the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March, and in which she has blitzed multiple PBs across events. Jodie Smith also makes her debut in Götzis.

One of the most intriguing storylines of the weekend is that of the US heptathletes. Anna Hall is away and clear and one of the favourites for Paris, assuming she can jump through whatever hoops USATF ask of her for selection. But behind her there is a pack of women, all jostling for those precious other two places. The US selection system is ruthless – top three at trials if you’re qualified, with the caveat that a placing outwith the top three with automatic standard trumps a top three placing with rankings qualification.

Of those competing in Götzis this weekend, Michelle Atherley was the first to set out her stall, with a score of 6372 to win Mt SAC. Taliyah Brooks followed that up with her win at Multistars in Italy, repeating the 6330 that she scored when winning there in 2023. Annie Kunz also scored 6330 in 2023 but was outgunned to a Worlds place via a combination of trials results and ranking.

Allie Jones scored 4528 in January, which made her eligible for the World Indoors, although she didn’t compete in Glasgow. She has a PB of 6234. Erica Bougard makes a very welcome return to Götzis this year. She and Kunz are 6700+ athletes at their best. There are of course other US heptathletes not competing in Götzis who are in the mix for Olympic selection, including Chari Hawkins, Timara Chapman, Jadin O’Brien, Hope Bender, Ashtin Mahler, Shaina Burns, Erin Marsh, Jenelle Rogers…

Staying the USA for now, Lithuanian heptathlete Beatrice Juskevicuite has completed a successful NCAA college experience at Cornell and Vanderbilt, and she scored 6192 behind Atherley at Mt SAC. The other Baltic representative in the heptathlon is Katre Sofia Palm, who has a PB of 5805.

The Germans have sent a young squad to Götzis, led by two of their strongest heptathletes Sophie Weissenberg (6438) and Vanessa Grimm (6323). Both participated in the mini-combined events meeting in Neuwied recently. Recent European U20 medallists Marie Dehning (whose brother is 90m javelin thrower Max Dehning) and Sandrina Sprengel, plus Lucie Kienast are competing.

The Swiss have an exciting heptathlon team, as Annik Kalin (6515) returns to seven events. If all goes well, Annik should find herself on the top half of the podium. Celine Jansson scored her first 6k+ score here in Götzis last year, and Mathilde Rey is another success story from the NCAA system, emerging with a 6086 best.

Finally, Australian heptathlete Tori West makes her Götzis debut. West was the first of the current crop of Australian heptathletes to break 6k. She did so back in 2020, followed by Taneille Crase who competed in Götzis last year, and most recently Camryn Newton-Smith. West has been returning from injury over the last year and improved her PB to 6079 this year. Equally significantly, Tori is breaking new ground supporting athletes in benefitting from the use of their data and images …you can check out her work here.

You can find all the details you need for the weekend here.

Star Gotzis athletes at press conference
Michelle Atherley, Simon Ehammer, Anouk Vetter, Damian Warner, Verena Mayr, Lindon Victor