Sat. May 28th, 2022

Hot on the heels of Multistars last weekend in Grosseto, the Ratingen Mehrkampf meeting is taking place on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th May. Ratingen is the German championships in all but name, where the country’s best combined eventers deliver their best domestic performance every year. Almost five thousand miles away in Fayetteville, Arkansas the official US championships for the combined events kick off a few hours earlier, on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May.

Both countries already have several athletes qualified automatically for the World Championships in Oregon later this year (8350/6420), and Germany also have several athletes with the standard for the European Championships (8100/6250) in Munich a few weeks later.

However, both Federations are very particular about how and where their teams are selected. For USA, participation in the US trials is required; for Germany, Ratingen and Götzis are the competitions in which athletes who want to be eligible for selection must compete. The rules aren’t absolute – while Niklas Kaul and Kai Kazmirek were required to reach 8100 points to be considered for the Olympics last year, Carolin Schäfer was allowed a pass – but they are the assumption under which all athletes are operating.

For Oregon, Germany has the opportunity to include four men in their team, and the USA four women. That’s an opportunity, not a foregone conclusion. All athletes who want to participate in the world championships will need to either exceed the automatic qualifying standard or position themselves high enough on the rankings to top up the restricted field of 24. While an outright qualification is preferable, scores of 8100-8349 and 6200-6419 in these points-rich locations can be extremely valuable.

RATINGEN

DECATHLON

After his painful exit from the Olympics in August last year midway through the 400m, Niklas Kaul embarks on his first decathlon since Tokyo this weekend.With three years passed since he won the world title, and attention drawn elsewhere by Damian Warner’s 9000-point antics, Kaul has expressed how good it is to be away from the limelight and under a little less pressure. Kaul is essentially the “bonus” place on the German team since he is automatically qualified as defending champion. Kaul opened his season in Frankfurt on 1 May with a 14.60s hurdles, 4.90m pole vault and 45.22m discus.

The head-to-head we want to see is Kaul versus Simon Ehammer, the 2019 European U23 champion versus the 2019 European U20 champion; the 24-year-old World champion versus the 22-year-old World indoor silver medallist. Reminiscent of Kaul v Johannes Erm in Gävle in 2019, we should expect Ehammer to surge away on Day 1, but then Kaul to hunt down the Appenzeller on day two.

Ehammer’s decathlon PB is currently 8231, but that underplays his improvement over the last year. He achieved that mark in 2020, while still only 20 years old, and he then focused on long jump in 2021 (winning the EU23 title in Tallinn) after fouling out of several competitions and suffering with injury in the first half of the year.

We don’t know if Kaul is in his Doha 8600+ form, but if Ehammer’s indoor performance is anything to go by, Simon is in much better form than 8200. Will they meet in the middle at 8400?

Joining Ehammer in the field are two of his fellow medallists from Tallinn last summer, European U23 gold medallist Andreas Bechmann and European U20 bronze medallist Téo Bastien. Like Kaul, Bechmann hasn’t competed much this year, limited to some throws in April (14.62m shot and 42.25m discus) and Ratingen will also be Bastien’s opening decathlon after two heptathlons indoors in France. Bechmann’s teammate from Tallinn, Nils Laserich is competing, after his positive summer of 2021 where he won the annual U23 competition in Bernhausen, qualifying for the EU23 championships where he finished ninth.

Sweden’s Marcus Nilsson is also on the entry list. He won the Swedish indoor title this year, albeit with the absence of Fredrik Samuelsson, and had a suite of strong throws in Växjö in April. He’ll also be able to keep Niklas Kaul and Tim Nowak company if it comes down to a fast 1500m.

The Ulm decathlon contingent have made the trip north-west to Ratingen: no European champion Arthur Abele or 2019 European U23 bronze medallist Manuel Eitel, but the trio of Tim Nowak, Matthias Brugger and Luca Dieckmann will start. Nowak missed out on the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics thanks to a freak hand injury in the pole vault last year in Ratingen, although he recovered the season a little to win the German Championships in August.

Ahead of the meeting, Tim told Decathletes of Europe: “I skipped the indoor season for the first time ever to build up a strong shape for a long outdoor season. Since Ratingen is pretty early this year, I wasn‘t able to do many test competitions. I feel that I would normally need one or two weeks more to get into competition shape. But we planned our training camp in Belek as a sped-up early season. We did many competitions and the results are promising. I‘m injury free and feel good. I‘m super motivated to get the result that was taken from me last year.”

Away from the Kaul v Ehammer competition, and away from the more familiar German names, the athlete to look out for is Marcel Meyer. The 21-year-old made significant progress in the indoor season to exceed 6000 points on completion of his first senior heptathlon. Thanks to injury in 2021, he has not yet had the opportunity to complete a senior decathlon, and it will be fascinating to see where he lands after ten events. Twenty-two-year-old Malik Diakite is also on the edge of a step up to the next level, just short of 8000 points in 2021.

The field is missing Bechmann’s training partner, Jannis Wolff who withdrew with a groin injury. Wolff has been threatening 8000 points over the last few years and Ratingen would have been a likely spot for him to achieve it. Not included in the field, but also in contention for the summers’ championships are the Germans in the NCAA system, Leo Neugebauer who scored 8131 in Texas in March, and Max Vollmer who scored 8022 in California in April.

Kai Kazmirek is currently qualified for the World Championships two different ways, as winner of the 2021 World Athletics Combined Events Challenge and currently 12th in the rankings, helped by his win in Ratingen last year (after Kaul’s withdrawal) where he scored 8184. Kazmirek’s CE challenge win also entitled him to a place in the restricted field of 12 at the World Championships in Belgrade, although he had to withdraw on the first day after stomach trouble. Kazmirek competed in Frankfurt last weekend, running 14.42s over the hurdles and throwing the discus 43.27m. Jan Ruhrmann and Nico Beckers complete the German line-up.

While Germany has two athletes with wildcards, their team is limited to four, and the wildcard places are not transferrable to other German athletes if either Kaul or Kazmirek were not selected for Oregon.

HEPTATHLON

The Kaul family training squad has athletes in both competitions, and in the heptathlon they are represented by 2017 world silver medallist Carolin Schäfer and 2021 national heptathlon champion Mareike Rösing. After a tough few years in 2019 and 2020, Schäfer rallied to score 6419 – one point short of auto-qualifying for Oregon – when finishing seventh at the Olympics last year. She and Rösing also competed in Frankfurt last weekend, Schäfer 13.70s over the hurdles and 49.73m javelin, and Rösing 14.45s and 43.53m in the same events.

Two thirds of the heptathlon podium from the 2019 European U23 championships are competing, Germany’s Sophie Weissenberg and Belgium’s Hanne Maudens. For Sophie, 2019 was her breakthrough year, competing in Götzis, exceeding 6000 points for the first time and taking silver in Gävle. Her experience since then has been a little more uneven, but Weissenberg is a solid allrounder and is capable of a good score on her day.

Hanne Maudens has also had an interesting time since Gävle in 2019. After competing at the World Championships in Doha, Maudens stepped away from heptathlon and focused on the 400m, competing both at the European Indoors and the World Relays. Hanne has been open and honest about her personal challenges during this time –in doing so she is an admirable role model for others – and returned, renewed to the combined events this year.

A rising star of French heptathlon is Léonie Cambours, who added 800 points to her heptathlon score between 2019 and 2021. Indoors, she also improved to 4457 in pentathlon and competed at the World Indoors in Belgrade earlier this year. When she is without injury and gets her heptathlon right, she is impressive and could challenge for placings.

Shaina Burns of the USA and Laura Voss (of Germany) have hot-footed it from Grosseto to Ratingen for their second heptathlon in a week. At Multistars Shaina finished 12th in 5605 and Laura 18th in 5225. The 2021 British champion Katie Stainton, returns to combined events competition this weekend, following some opening individual events in California in April. Sweden’s Lovisa Karlsson also opens her season in Ratingen, after a significant 200-point improvement indoors this season.

Some familiar German faces appear in the field including Anna Maiwald and Anna-Lena Obermeier and the German contingent is completed by Paula de Boer, Katharina Kemp and Marion Brunner.

USA CHAMPIONSHIPS

HEPTATHLON

Like Kai Kazmirek, Kendell Williams has qualified multiple ways for the World Championships already, but she has three options rather than two. While Kazmirek has the World Athletics CE Challenge wild card and a good rankings position, Williams can go one better and has the automatic qualification of 6420 too. Williams took bronze at the World Indoors in Belgrade earlier this year, stepping up her game after finishing second to Chari Hawkins at the US indoors. She had much to be pleased with in Belgrade, but lots more to improve too. We should see the fruits of Williams’ post-Belgrade learning this weekend, and Hawkins will also have something to prove, after fouling three times in the long jump in Belgrade.

Among the other US heptathlon powerhouses, things are less clear. There’s no Annie Kunz, who has been injured over the last few months, and Erica Bougard has focused on individual events rather than the multis this year so far. But when Erica scores big, it’s very big.

If there is one athlete to follow this weekend, it is Anna Hall, now in Florida but formerly based in Georgia with the Williams’, Garrett Scantling and Kyle Garland.

Hall is the current world leader in heptathlon, adding that 6412 to her 4618 indoors (a world lead at the time and 5th in the world at the end of the season). Her 6412 included a 2:04 800m and there is much more to come from her. Hall missed out on the World Indoors thanks to the US selection policy – she couldn’t compete at trials given the timing clash with her college commitments.

However, Anna is vulnerable with her current score of 6412. That’s 8 points short of the automatic qualifying score; if she had done that in Europe, she could assume qualification via ranking points. But – as happened to Tyra Gittens last year – the rankings system penalises college athletes, and Anna is ranked so low that she is not currently qualified for Oregon. A near miss at the qualifying score will drop them well below athletes with lower scores. That risk recedes if Hall can place well and get the handsome points associated with national championships, but to vanquish the risk completely, she needs to score 6420.

Two US athletes have quietly been logging strong scores over the last year and are positioned within shouting distance of qualification in the rankings. Ashtin Zamzow-Mahler and Michelle Atherley are currently equal 27th on Road to Oregon, just outside eligibility for selection, and if they can improve on that this weekend in Fayetteville, there is room on the team for four.

It’s crucial to remember, though, that the first four athletes at the trials don’t automatically get to compete at the World Championships. For athletes who don’t have the automatic qualification of 6420 and are dependent on their rankings position, they need to maintain a position that keeps them in the top 24. If other athletes move higher on the rankings and push them down and lower than the 24th place they will no longer be eligible for selection, regardless of what happens at the US trials. The Decathletes of Europe Rankings Analysis will be monitoring this in the coming weeks.

Taliyah Brooks has been one of the poster girls for the Oregon World Championships, and she will be hoping for a better set of heptathlons than in 2021, where she no heighted in the high jump in Götzis and then fainted in the heat of the furnace that was the US Olympic trials. Her best score is 6252 from March 2021.

Hope Bender and Alissa Brooks-Johnson have qualified for the trials, and Melanie Winters, Cheyenne Williamson and Sarah Glidden round off the field.

DECATHLON

It seems only just a few weeks ago that there was drama for the US squad around the World Indoors. Garrett Scantling going brilliantly in Serbia but, like Kazmirek, succumbing to food poisoning. Steven Bastien’s place only confirmed thanks to deft manoeuvres by USATF to pick and mix qualification routes. For Zach Ziemek, the logistics of the trials in Spokane followed by a transatlantic flight were just too challenging to accommodate sensibly. And, like Hall, Kyle Garland lost out on the opportunity to be considered for the team despite having one of the best scores of the year.

There’s been further uncertainty for the athletes, as the combined events portion of the US trials were extracted from the main event in a few weeks’ time to give the athletes a longer gap between competitions, but the final arrangements were only confirmed relatively recently.

But here we are, in Fayetteville and ready to go. Scantling, who was fourth In the Olympics last year, is recovered from his Belgrade woes and will start as the clear favourite for the event, and indeed one of the likely medal contenders at the World Championships themselves. For Bastien, it was the US trials last year where he had his astonishing breakthrough into truly world class, and he finished tenth at the Olympics and sixth at the World indoors this year. Since Belgrade Bastien has become a new father, and if he can stay awake, he should do well.

Zach Ziemek is one of the most under-rated US decathletes in history but is also as tough as they come. His US trials experiences have been mixed in recent years. In 2019, after a super performance to finish second in Talence, he had a horrible injury in the high jump at the US trials, ending his season and requiring a long road to recovery afterwards. In 2021, he battled through severe dehydration and the other effects of the temperatures in Eugene to set the highest ever jumps combination in a decathlon: 7.74m, 2.14m and a 5.55m pole vault.

There’s no Harrison Williams – not yet fully recovered from his surgery – but there is Devon Williams, continuing his long road back since he completed his last decathlon at the US trials in 2019. Joe Delgado, Jack Flood and Hunter Price all hit 8000 points for the first time last year. Price’s wife Marybeth Sant-Price won a bronze medal in Belgrade, so it would be pretty cool if he could secure a place at his first major championships.

But this could be the weekend we finally see the big breakthrough from Kyle Garland. His talent has not had the recognition it deserves, whether that be the omnipresent Estonians often just ahead of him at college meets, or the rankings and qualification system working against him as a college athlete. Let’s see what the Freight Train brings this weekend.

Sam Black, Dylan Cooper, Kyle Martin, Jackson Walker, Josh Cogdill, Mat Clark and Will Eggers complete the field.