Sat. Apr 13th, 2024
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SIMON EHAMMER, SWITZERLAND

As the eleven decathletes line up for the start of the heptathlon at the World Indoors in Glasgow this weekend, all eyes will be on Simon Ehammer of Switzerland. That’s in part because Ehammer’s blistering speed will mean he is among the fastest in the first event, the 60m. But his is also the name most familiar to the general athletics audience, thanks to his parallel achievements in the individual long jump.

At 24 years old, Ehammer already has two world medals. He won bronze in the long jump at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon, and silver behind the Olympic champion Damian Warner at the previous edition of these championships in Belgrade. Ehammer’s strength is in his speed, and that strength is amplified when he translates it into the long jump, and into the hurdles. He’s been over 8m already this year and recently set a PB of 7.55s over 60mh at the Swiss champs.

A few years ago, Ehammer had a horrendous interlude with the pole vault, no-height after no-height. But the Swiss has overcome those problems, and he is now among the strongest of the vaulters in the field. His weakest events are the discus and the 1500m. Since there are no long throws planned inside the Emirates this weekend, the challenge for Ehammer is to put himself beyond catching by the time we get to the final event, the 1000m.

In 2022 Warner’s superior 1000m ability allowed him to overtake Simon for the gold medal, and in preparation for a showdown in Glasgow, Ehammer has improved his 1k to sub 2:50. That was in his heptathlon this year in Clermont Ferrand at the end of January, where he won with 6242 points. His PB is 6363.

Kevin Mayer’s European record is 6479, and with the almighty tussle due this weekend, that mark may find itself on its farewell tour.

Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images for World Athletics

SANDER SKOTHEIM, NORWAY

While Ehammer might be the best-known name to the casual viewer, the crowd is about to get to know Sander Skotheim a heck of a lot better.

Scottish athletics fans love Karsten Warholm for the ex-decathlete’s japes at the European Indoor Championships in 2019. They’re a little bit less fond of Jakob Ingebrigtsen thanks to the magnificent trash-talking between the Norwegian and Scotland’s two consecutive world 1500m champions Jake Wightman and Josh Kerr, who beat the un-blindfolded Ingebrigtsen. Twice. In succession.

But they will definitely welcome Skotheim , and teammate Rooth, to the heptathlon in Glasgow and so Scottish-Norwegian relations remain harmonious overall.

While Ehammer had the impudence to lead Damian Warner for most of the 2022 World Indoor Champs, Skotheim brought a similar level of sass to the European Indoors in Istanbul last year. “I was so scared”, Kevin Mayer said about the hours before the 1000m in Istanbul, knowing that Skotheim was going to scream round the final event like a bam. Skotheim took the silver medal behind Mayer, and scored his PB and NR of 6318, just 45 points short of Ehammer’s best.

While Skotheim and Ehammer are evenly matched overall indoors – Skotheim is stronger outdoors by over 100 hundred points – their strengths are a little different.

Skotheim’s stand-out event is the high jump, and he has cleared 2.20m in individual competitions, and just a few cm below within a combined event. He is outstanding in the final event too. And if it weren’t for Ehammer’s outlier long jump skills, Skotheim would expect to be among the best long jumpers in any decathlon field. He set a lifetime best of 7.83m when he scored 6281 to win in Tallinn in February.

So, while Ehammer will likely set the pace in the first two events, Skotheim’s long jump will keep him close to the Swiss. Sander will then lever his outstanding high jump to close the gap on Ehammer on Day 1 and will be poised to pull out a strong final 1000m to close the gap that Ehammer will have re-introduced after the hurdles on Day 2.

Photo: Daniel Kopatsch / Munich2022

MAKENSON GLETTY, FRANCE

While Ehammer and Skotheim are playing and cat and mouse, Makenson Gletty will announce himself into the Glasgow heptathlon competition during the shot. France’s top decathlete is a fabulous shot putter, so he’ll be dropping 16m bombs into the competition around 1345 on Saturday. But there’s more to Mak than his cannonballs. He’s fast, a super hurdler, and like Skotheim can run a screamer of a 1k.

In Talence last September, Gletty came achingly close to being the first French man to qualify for the Paris Olympic decathlon, just a few points outside the automatic qualification of 8460. Outdoors he is evenly matched with Ehammer, and indoors stayed close to the Swiss all the way through the heptathlon competition in Clermont Ferrand in January, forcing Ehammer to reduce his 1k PB in order to beat him. Gletty set his PB score of 6230 at that competition.

Photo by Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for European Athletics

KEN MULLINGS, BAHAMAS

But the world lead in 2024 doesn’t belong to Ehammer, or to Skotheim, or to Gletty. It belongs to Ken Mullings.

The 26-year-old Bahamian has been the sensational breakthrough of the season. He had a flawless performance in Champaign, Illinois in January to score 6340 and add almost 400 points to his previous PB. That made him the top qualifier for Glasgow. But there’s a story behind that mark.

In 2022 Mullings took a decathlon PB of 7734 to the NACAC championships, which he won. That landed him a place at the World Championships in Oregon in 2023, thanks to the protected places for area champions. He improved his best to 7866.

Mullings was already the Bahamian record holder indoors and improved his own mark to 5933 in 2023. But the meet fell foul of the new WA registration arrangements and his mark was not recognised by WA for rankings purposes. Meanwhile the progress of Mullings and his Bahamian teammate Kendrick Thompson landed them both an invitation to Götzis, where they continued their race to break 8000 points. Thompson got there first, but Mullings joined up a few weeks later with a score of 8060 at the Central American and Caribbean Games. Under the eye of Petros Kyprianou, the mastermind behind the “decathlon academy” at the University of Georgia which produced Maicel Uibo, Devon Williams, Garrett Scantling, Karel Tilga, Johannes Erm and Kyle Garland, Mullings has flourished.

Ken will keep up with Ehammer and Gletty in the 60m, although he will concede distance to Ehammer and Skotheim in the long jump, even with his 7.52m long jump PB this year.

However, Saturday night is Mullings night in the Glasgow heptathlon.

Ken has a 15.91m shot PB, second only to Gletty, and a 2.14m high jump PB, second only to Skotheim. So, this is where Ken reduces the gap to Ehammer – and he’s pretty handy in the Swiss’ second speciality too, with a hurdles PB of 7.76s this year. Mullings’ PV is just a shade over 5m, and his 1000m is the slowest in the field, so it’s all about the first five events for Ken.

JENTE HAUTTEKEETE, BELGIUM

While Skotheim and Mullings are fighting it out in the rafters during the high jump, expect Belgium’s Jente Hauttekeete to be part of their group as they leave the rest of the field behind. The high jump is the young Belgian’s best event and was the centrepiece of his World U20 heptathlon record back in 2021. Hauttekeete has been over 2.10m twice already this year, first in his opening heptathlon in Clermont Ferrand, and then at the Belgian championships where he scored 6131 for fifth spot on the world lists in 2024 among those aiming to compete in Glasgow. That score represents a marked step up for the Hauttekeete at senior level. He cleared both 6000 points indoors and 8000 points outdoors in 2023 and is now just a couple of hundred points short of the main medal contenders – his PB would have placed him fifth in Belgrade in 2022.

Photo: Joan Estruch

HARRISON WILLIAMS, USA

If Day 1 ends with the big high jump heights, and Day 2 begins with the speedy hurdlers, then Sunday lunch belongs to Harrison Williams. The US has so many combined eventers that quite often some really good ones go relatively unnoticed, and most definitely underappreciated. Williams is one of those.

Over ten events, Williams has scored more points than anyone else in the field. He scored over the Olympic qualifying score three times in 2023, with a best score of 8630 at the US championships. Over seven events, Harrison only has one weak point, in the hurdles which are still the wrong end of 8 seconds. But when he is in form, he’s one of the best combined event pole vaulters in the world, with a best of 5.40m. His PB of 6042 will likely mean that untrained eyes will skip over him on the entry list – that score dates from 2019. You don’t get to be an 8600 decathlete without being able to put together seven strong events.

Williams qualified via the 2023 outdoor world lists, so this will be his first heptathlon of the year – if he is fit and healthy, he’s a big contender.

JOHANNES ERM, ESTONIA

Johannes Erm qualifies for Glasgow by way of his performance at the World Championships in Budapest, where the three Estonian athletes placed fourth, sixth and ninth, all three over the Olympic Standard, and Erm with a PB of 8484.

Erm is a graduate of the UGA “decathlon academy”, and his best of 6114 dates from 2020. That was the year after his epic battle with Niklas Kaul at the European U23s in Gavle, before the German would go on to win the World title in Doha. Erm is fast, a great long jumper (close to 8m at his best), and a 15m thrower. Although not his strongest events, he can clear both 2m and 5m in the vertical jumps. Erm is, however, the outright fastest in the field over 1000m.

Like Williams, Erm has only done a few individual events so far this year, so we’re in a state of eager anticipation to see what the Estonian presence will bring. Erm’s teammate Karel Tilga was eligible to participate as 2023 Combined Events Tour Winner but chose not to take the place.

Photo by Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for European Athletics

MARKUS ROOTH, NORWAY

The third athlete in the Glasgow heptathlon field from the 2023 lists is the second Norwegian, Markus Rooth.

When Glasgow last held a major championships in 2019, the Norwegian in the European Indoors field was Martin Roe, the national heptathlon record was 5951, and the national decathlon record was 8228. Five years later, Rooth and Skotheim have taken Norwegian combined events to a completely different level.

Rooth was the 2019 European U20 bronze medallist behind Ehammer, and the 2021 European U23 bronze medallist behind Andreas Bechmann. In 2022 Rooth set a Norwegian decathlon record of 8307 at Multistars, after a great battle with Skotheim where they were only separated by 9 points.

 And a year later, in the greatest decathlon battle since Erm v Kaul, Rooth landed the European U23 title in in Finland with a fantastic score of 8608. Rooth’s heptathlon CV is less impressive than his decathlon record, and he hasn’t been in a position to compete consistently indoors since his U20 days. So Rooth will be setting his inaugural heptathlon score this weekend, and while he won’t be able to draw on the big points from his long throws, he should be in mix in the the top half of the standings.

Photo: Bjorn Paree

ONDREJ KOPECKY AND VILEM STRASKY, CZECH REPUBLIC

Since only three athletes of the five possible from 2023 performances chose to compete at the World Indoor Championships, the available places switch to the 2024 world lists and that brings in the Czech duo of Ondrej Kopecky and Vilem Strasky.

Both athletes are coached by Roman Sebrle, the first man to break 9000 points. Sebrle was the “Heptathlon Short Track” world champion in 2001 and 2004, titles which may well be news to him, and he scored 6400+ on each of those occasions. With only eleven athletes in the field, there’s a spare place free so perhaps he will jump in and see what he can do.

Back to Kopecky and Strasky, and Kopecky is the more experienced of the two, always in the mix for major championships fields although not always able to see the competitions through. His pole vault is his strength, 5.20m at his best. Kopecky comes to the competition with a PB of 6035 from the Czech champs, and he finished third behind Ehammer and Gletty in Clermont Ferrand.

Vilem Strasky, meanwhile, is improving rapidly and Kopecky will need to work to retain his position as the current top Czech decathlete. This time last year Strasky had a heptathlon PB of 5850 and a decathlon PB of 7493. Now those numbers are 5981 and 7925 respectively. His finished second to Sander Skotheim in Tallinn at the start of February.

SVEN JANSONS, NETHERLANDS

Sven Jansons makes his first major championships field thanks to a first time 6k+ score of 6025 from the Dutch championships this season. Jansons is owed a breakthrough after his 2023 outdoor season was curtailed due to injury in Ratingen, where he’d had a storming first two events.

He is coached by Ingmar Vos who together with Sebrle, Attila Zsivoczky (Szabina Szucs’ coach), Ashley Bryant (Abi Pawlett) and Dmitry Karpov (Kazakh coach) will surely be enjoying a former-decathlete reunion.

Jansons’ trademark is his speed, and he’ll be close to Ehammer, Gletty and Mullings in the first event of the heptathlon. And, given the similarities between the Dutch kit and our beloved Irn Bru, he’ll get a warm welcome from the Scottish crowd.

TWELFTH ATHLETE

There is no twelfth athlete in the Glasgow heptathlon field because the qualification is batshit complicated, with four ways to qualify for 12 places. In a scenario that no-one could possibly have predicted, there was mass confusion, and the final place ended up not being filled. That means precious rankings points for at least one place – and likely more, assuming the usual combined events hazards ensue – go in the bin. So that’s been a roaring success.

But even a bungled qualification process cannot take away from the insanely competitive heptathlon this weekend, in which a new world champion will be crowned.

Will it be Ehammer, Skotheim, Mullings, Gletty, Williams, Erm or Rooth?

Follow along with @decathletesofeu on Twitter and find out.