It’s a quick journey from the X-Athletics meeting in central France to the snowy streets of Tallinn for the second big combined events meeting of the year. Estonia is one of the world superpowers of decathlon and the Estonians are in very, very good form.
Estonian decathlon can generally be split into two camps: the Estonians based in the US, and the Estonians based at home. There are representatives of both in Tallinn this weekend. The headline name is, of course, the World decathlon silver medallist and World indoor bronze medallist Maicel Uibo.
Among the Estonian contingent, he is the as yet untested quantity in 2022, and this will be his first competition this year. It is unusual for the slower decathletes to excel indoors – world champion Niklas Kaul doesn’t bother with the heptathlon – but Uibo’s phenomenal vertical jumps compensate for his relative lack of speed over the sprints. His lifetime best is 6265, set when he won the bronze medal in Birmingham in 2018, and that’s just 20 points short of Simon Ehammer’s current world lead.
At this meeting in 2020 Risto Lillemets was just 4 points short of breaking 6000 points for the first time. Returning in 2021 he succeeded, scoring 6089 to qualify for the European Indoors in Toruń, where he finished 5th. His outdoor season in 2021 was less successful, but so far in 2022 he has come within hundredths of his 60m and 60mh PBs, and he is feeling ready to reach those big marks again.
Kristjan Rosenberg first exceeded 8000 points outdoors in 2019, but in 2021 he made another breakthrough with a score of 8298. While the score wasn’t legal – the wind was +2.1 and +2.4 in the long jump and hurdles respectively – the jump was some way short of his legal best, and the hurdles were only marginally faster than his PB set in the year that he broke 8000. The score was therefore a credible indication of his improvement. Already this year he has run under 7 seconds for 60m for the first time and is clearly also in good shape.
After his breakthrough in 2020, Taavi Tšernjavski had a more challenging year in 2021, but he is also in fast and promising form, breaking his hurdles PB last month and close to his best in the flat sprint.
Perhaps the most intriguing Estonian of all is Hans-Christian Hausenberg. On paper, his only weakness indoors is the 1000m, with which he struggles more than his contemporaries, usually over 3 minutes. But he is phenomenally fast. He can run sub 7 flat and sub 8 hurdles. He is a superb long jumper, closing in on 8m. His shot and high jump are solid, over 14m and 2m respectively. And he is a fantastic vaulter, 5.30m at his best. Hausenberg – who famously jumped in his bare feet at the World Juniors in Cali in 2015 – was the WU18 heptathlon record holder until December last year, when his mark was broken by Russian Ranel Shafikov.
So far this year HCH has run 6.87 for 60m, jumped 7.76m, cleared 2.03m, hurdled 7.97 and vaulted 5.25. His best is 5804 from 2018 and that score included a 3:08 1000m. In 2021 he was on for a great score – a run of 2:49 would have taken him to 6000 points – but somewhat dramatically withdrew before the final event, citing some personal problems and declaring that he would focus on long jump thereafter. We’re glad he’s back.
With Rosenberg sitting on a lifetime best of 5986 and Tšernjavski 5910, if the Estonians can translate their early season form into some big heptathlon scores, the 6000-point mark could take a battering from multiple sources this weekend in Tallinn.
Belarussian Vitaly Zhuk didn’t make it to Clermont Ferrand, given a problem with his vaccination status, but he’s due to start in Tallinn and could quite possibly drive a snowplough through the field. Zhuk’s lifetime best of 6010 was set at this competition last year, enabling him to qualify for the European Indoors, although he didn’t take his place. He subsequently had a big year outdoors, finishing 4th at Götzis in 8331 and participating in his first Olympics. Zhuk’s weak spot has traditionally been the long jump, often jumping below 7m and/or fouling out, but he seems to have overcome those challenges.
Unfortunately, bureaucratic problems mean that ANA athlete Aleksander Komarov won’t compete. He is a big talent with much potential and has missed some important years given the combination of Covid restrictions and the challenges with his Federation.
Poland’s Rafał Horbowicz will seek to continue his roll from Clermont Ferrand. Last weekend he had a great series of scores, breaking the X-Athletics meeting record in the shot with his PB throw of 15.77, and setting a heptathlon PB of 5684. Edgaras Benkunskas makes the short hop north from Lithuania with two teammates, Tomas Sabašinkas and Vytautas Savickas. Benkunskas was 7th in the European U23 decathlon here in Tallinn in 2021, and so far in 2022 he has finished a heptathlon in a score of 5340. His best is 5660.
But the first man to make a mark in 2022 was Abdel Larrinaga, the former Cuban who has been competing for Portugal since 2019. A big lifetime best of 5857 – including bests in 6 of his 7 events – placed him as an early world leader in January, and Abdel spoke to Decathletes of Europe about his performance so far:
“I felt satisfied with my world lead. I don’t have much experience indoors, and I’m always learning more about this attractive part of combined events. I’m working across events generally, to regain my form, because I had a lot of time away from combined events. This is the first year in which I’ve been able to begin an indoor season without problems, and I believe it’s been a positive start. Competing in Tallinn is always a pleasure, and I’m very happy and looking forward to competing in such an important global competition. My objectives this year are to gain confidence and experience, score as many points as possible, and be part of the best competitions of the circuit. The year is still young, and I have a positive attitude to see what awaits us 2022.”
The field also includes Estonian athletes David Jaanson, Karl-Uljas Mölder, Romet Vahter and Martin Kivimaa.
Poland’s European U23 champion Adrianna Sułek won the pentathlon last weekend in Clermont Ferrand, and she comes to Tallinn as world leader with her score of 4569, along with teammate Paulina Ligarska. Sułek indicated during the competition in France that she felt that there was more to come, especially when setting her indoor HJ PB of 1.84, so we may see her improve her mark further.
The European U23 heptathlon bronze medallist Holly Mills, of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will make her pentathlon debut this weekend. She’s already had a strong start to the year with lifetime bests in the hurdles and shot (8.19 and 14.03), and Holly explained to Decathletes of Europe the background to those positive developments:
“I’ve had my most solid winter’s training to date this year! This is my 4th year with my coach, Laura Turner, so we are beginning to be able to really home in on specifics and what works for me over the winter months. I’m excited to properly open my season here in Tallinn, after a small competition 2 weeks ago in London, doing the hurdles and shot put, I feel prepared to put 5 events together.”
“I’m not focusing on the end overall score, I’m focusing on event by event, performing just as training has been going. But I feel I’m capable of a big score- which it will need to be since I’m targeting the World indoor champs in March, which is the overall goal of the indoor season. Moving outdoors my sights are firmly set on the Commonwealth Games, followed by the European champs.”
Three further athletes from the 2021 European U23 heptathlon field are also competing: Edyta Bielska of Poland, Yuliya Loban of Ukraine and Estonia’s Katre Sofia Palm, who were 9th, 10th and 14th respectively. Margit Kalk, 9th in the 2019 edition of the European U23s also lines up in her home competition.
The big challenge to Sułek and Mills is likely to come from the Estonians’ neighbours across the Baltic, Saga Vanninen and Maria Huntington from Finland. Eighteen-year-old Vanninen utterly dominated the U20 championships in 2021, winning both World and European U20 titles. Her Euro winning score of 6271 placed her 27th in the world in 2021. And Maria Huntington joined Sułek at the Olympics in Tokyo, following her 4th place in Götzis in May.
However, the competition will be new territory for both Vanninen and Huntington. While Vanninen has improved her indoor hurdles and long jump lifetime bests this year, she has not yet completed a senior pentathlon, and her only mark is from the girls’ event (in which the shot is lighter). And more surprisingly, Huntington does not have a senior pentathlon mark either, at least accordingly to World Athletics. Both should be capable of making pretty impressive debuts this weekend in Tallinn (note: shortly after the time of writing Vanninen withdrew from the meeting).
Estonian athletes Reena Koll, Meelika Toom, Marja-Liisa Landar, Maiken Lipp and Liisa-Maria Lusti complete the field,