Zheng Ninali after winning the heptathlon in Arona (© Organisers)
China’s Zheng Ninali and Jiri Sykora of the Czech Republic came out on top at the Arona Combined Events meeting, the Spanish leg of the World Athletics Challenge – Combined Events, held this weekend in the Canary Islands.
Zheng, who previously represented Canada and competed under the name Nina Schultz, added more than 200 points to her PB to win the heptathlon with 6358. Sykora, meanwhile, added one point to the PB he set back in 2016 to win the decathlon with 8122.
Britain’s Holly Mills got off to a strong start in the heptathlon, winning the 100m hurdles in 13.22, just 0.01 outside her recent career best set in Lana. Zheng was also just shy of her recent PB, clocking 13.39 for second overall.
Mills strengthened her lead with a PB of 1.85m in the high jump. The 21-year-old was only bettered in that discipline by Spain’s Claudia Conte, who cleared a PB of 1.88m. Zheng, however, lost out on a few potential points with a clearance of 1.76m.
Switzerland’s 2017 European U23 champion Caroline Agnou was the top performer in the shot put, throwing 14.92m, and was closely followed by France’s two-time European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou (14.86m).
Mills managed 13.26m, enough to hold on to her lead, but Zheng produced a huge PB of 13.86m to climb up to second place overall. Belgium’s European indoor silver medallist Noor Vidts remained in third place overall after throwing 13.31m.
Local star Maria Vicente bookended her day with PBs. Having clocked 13.51 in the 100m hurdles, she ended day one with a 200m PB of 23.33 (0.8m/s), catapulting the 20-year-old into third place overall in Arona, as well as into ninth place on the Spanish all-time list for 200m.
Mills and Zheng, who clocked 24.36 and 24.51 respectively for 200m, held on to first and second place overall with scores of 3823 and 3711.
Since taking bronze in the long jump at the 2019 European U20 Championships, Mills has had to switch her take-off leg for the event. So while her 6.08m leap in Arona was some way off her lifetime best, it was one of her top performances to date using her new approach.
Vicente, however, jumped 6.35m and closed the gap on the Briton to just 46 points. Zheng (6.23m) and Vidts (6.34m) performed solidly to maintain their position in the top four.
The positions changed again after the javelin. Despite a PB of 35.77m, Mills finally surrendered her lead to Zheng, who hurled a lifetime best of 48.26m. Vicente threw 46.75m, moving her into second overall, one place ahead of Mills and just 10 points behind Zheng. Vidts, meanwhile, managed a PB of 38.80m and remained in fourth, just 17 points shy of Mills.
In a thrilling 800m, Zheng ran a massive lifetime best of 2:14.49 to secure the overall victory with 6358. Vicente, who clocked 2:19.82 in the final event, held on to second place with 6274, just 30 points shy of her own national record. Thanks to a PB of 2:09.34 in the 800m, Vidts took third place with a lifetime best of 6240. Mills, who clocked 2:12.40, was relegated to fourth but rewarded with a PB of 6211. Fifth-place finisher Conte also achieved a PB (6029).
“I’m delighted with my performance today,” said the 22-year-old Zheng. “Beyond the win, I’ve managed to be consistent in all the events; the last couple of years had been very difficult for me as I suffered injuries, but this season I’ve come back strongly. I’m especially proud of myself as this year I’ve trained on my own.
“Today I fell 62 points short of the Olympic standard,” added the Commonwealth silver medallist. “I’m not sure if I’ll try it again before the deadline but anyway I’m very happy with my season.”
Sykora makes late charge to win decathlon
The men’s event had been billed as a clash between European indoor silver and bronze medallists Jorge Ureña of Spain and Pawel Wiesiolek of Poland. Unfortunately, neither of them managed to finish the competition, but Sykora came through to lead a Czech 1-2 finish from compatriot Adam Sebastian Helcelet.
France’s Ruben Gado and Spain’s Pablo Trescoli were the fastest in the 100m, both timed at 10.83. Wiesiolek then took the overall lead after equalling his lifetime best of 7.63m in the long jump. 20-year-old Italian Dario Dester managed 7.61m, adding one centimetre to his career best and moving to second overall, 19 points behind the Pole.
A 7.54m leap kept Ureña in third place, but the Spaniard picked up an injury in the long jump and he was forced to drop out after the next event, the shot put.
With a 15.99m heave, Venezuela’s Georni Jaramillo moved into fourth overall after the shot put. Helcelet was the only other athlete to surpass 15 metres (15.32m), elevating him to third while Wiesiolek managed to hold on to the lead after throwing 14.04m.
Wiesiolek, Dester and Helcelet all cleared 1.98m in the high jump, an event topped by Spain’s Pablo Gámez (2.01m). But Dester closed in on Wiesiolek’s lead after clocking 48.36 in the 400m, ending the first day with a score of 4221 to the Pole’s 4239. Helcelet was in third, 95 points behind the Italian, while Sykora was a little further back in fifth (4067).
Dester finally overtook Wiesiolek in the overall standings after the 110m hurdles, clocking 14.46. Jaramillo was the top performer in that event, running 14.12.
The discus provided the biggest turning point of the weekend. Wiesiolek’s competition ended after recording three fouls, while Dester surrendered his lead after throwing 38.21m. 2014 world U20 champion Sykora, meanwhile, threw a PB of 48.86m to jump from fifth to first overall.
Gado then moved back into contention after clearing 5.30m in the pole vault, putting him second overall in between Sykora (4.80m) and Helcelet (4.60m).
The Czech duo dominated the javelin with Helcelet prevailing over Sykora, 67.29m to 66.91m. Norway’s Martin Roe moved into the top three overall after throwing 64.66m.
Sykora finished 10th in the final event, but his 4:51.42 clocking for 1500m was enough to secure victory with 8122. Helcelet ran 4:47.59, giving him a final score of 8058 for second place, while a 4:26.76 1500m win from Gado moved the French decathlete back into a podium position (8038). Roe was fourth with 8016.
The meeting also featured U20 and U18 competitions. In the U20 men’s contest, Belgium’s world U20 indoor record-holder Jente Hauttekeete exceeded the 8000-point barrier for the first time. He set PBs in the opening events, running 10.88 in the 100m and leaping 7.45m in the long jump. He had a scare in the shot put, but threw 14.19m after two fouls to remain on course. He excelled in the high jump, clearing 2.10m, and clocked a 50.08 400m PB to finish the first day.
On the second day the Belgian ran 14.38 in the 110m hurdles, threw 44.89m in the discus, cleared 4.50m in the pole vault and threw the javelin 52.92m before rounding out his weekend with a 4:37.84 clocking in the 1500m.
The 19-year-old ended with a national U20 record of 8034, putting him 12th on the world U20 all-time list.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics