Damian Warner on his way to winning the decathlon at the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
Damian Warner may have earned the biggest accolade in the sport with his Olympic decathlon title last year, but his reign as king of combined events began long before that with his historic streak of victories at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis.
The Canadian all-rounder will return to the World Athletics Combined Events Tour Gold meeting this weekend (28-29) in pursuit of a record-extending seventh victory. He’ll take on a strong field that includes world champion Niklas Kaul and rising Swiss star Simon Ehammer, who pushed Warner all the way at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 earlier this year.
World champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, meanwhile, leads the heptathlon field. The Briton faces Olympic silver medallist Anouk Vetter, world indoor bronze medallist Kendell Williams and the returning Laura Ikauniece, among others.
Warner will be contesting his first decathlon of the year, but the vastly experienced 32-year-old rarely shows any sign of early season rust. He went into the World Indoor Championships off the back of just one low-key hurdles race, yet emerged from Belgrade with the gold medal and a national record of 6489, elevating him to No.2 on the world indoor all-time list.
He opened his outdoor season last month with a 49.07m throw in the discus, one of the best marks of his career, and a wind-assisted 20.63 run over 200m, which suggests his form is as good as it has been in the past 12 months – the same form that carried him to a 8995 victory in Götzis last year and a 9018 triumph at the Olympics, making him just the fourth man in history to surpass 9000 points in the decathlon.
There may not be anyone else in the field who can match that overall score, but there are several athletes who’ll push Warner in each individual discipline. Ehammer, for example, broke Warner’s world decathlon best in the long jump earlier this month, soaring out to 8.30m en route to his triumph in Ratingen. The 22-year-old is also a strong sprint hurdler, so will likely be close to Warner in that discipline too. And the strong line-up in Götzis could be just what Ehammer needs to improve on his recent Swiss decathlon record of 8354.
Kaul hasn’t quite regained the form he showed when winning the world title in 2019 with 8691, but the 24-year-old has come relatively close to his PBs in the 110m hurdles, pole vault and long jump so far this year. Given the strength of the field, this is about as good a test as he’ll get ahead of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
His German compatriots Arthur Abele and Kai Kazmirek are very much in the same boat when it comes to trying to recapture their best form. Abele, the European champion, last completed a decathlon back in September 2018. Kazmirek didn’t finish in Ratingen earlier this month or at the World Indoor Championships, but he was seventh in Götzis last year and went on to place 14th at the Olympics.
Warner’s strongest opposition this weekend could come from his fellow Canadian Pierce LePage. The 26-year-old placed fifth at the 2019 World Championships and at last year’s Olympics, scoring a PB of 8604. LePage, who finished second to Warner in Götzis last year, set a discus PB of 51.38m last month and an indoor shot put PB of 15.81m earlier in the year, so appears to be in top form.
World silver medallist Maicel Uibo of Estonia and Lindon Victor of Grenada, both vastly experienced and formidable competitors, should also be in the mix this weekend. Meanwhile, world U20 champion Frantisek Doubek of the Czech Republic will contest his first decathlon since becoming a senior athlete.
A lot has happened since Johnson-Thompson won her second Hypo-Meeting title in 2019.
The Briton won the world title a few months later, battled injuries for much of 2020 and 2021 but made it to the startline of the Olympic heptathlon in Tokyo and was competitive in the first three events, only for another injury to strike at the mid-way point of the competition, forcing her to withdraw. Since then, she has also relocated to the US to join a new training group.
She accepted a wildcard invitation to compete at the World Indoor Championships but ultimately wasn’t quite at a point where she was competitive and so withdrew before the 800m. Her early season results outdoors have been a bit more promising, including a wind-assisted 6.41m leap at the recent Wanda Diamond League meeting in Birmingham.
This weekend the 29-year-old hopes to achieve her first completed heptathlon since her World Championships victory almost three years ago, and she’ll face a strong field.
Dutch duo Anouk Vetter and Emma Oosterwegel will be formidable opponents. Vetter, the Olympic silver medallist, has shown strong form in individual disciplines already this year, including wind-assisted marks of 13.16 in the 100m hurdles and 6.58m in the long jump, plus a 15.24m throw in the shot put.
Olympic bronze medallist Oosterwegel, meanwhile, ran a wind-assisted 13.44 in the 100m hurdles and threw well beyond 50 metres in the javelin last weekend. No Dutch athlete has ever won in Götzis, but there’s a chance that drought could end this weekend.
Ikauniece will also be one to watch. The 2015 world bronze medallist finished second to Johnson-Thompson in Götzis in 2019 but was then forced to withdraw from the World Championships due to injury. She hasn’t started a heptathlon since June 2019, but she returned to competition this year and recently threw 13.90m in the shot and 52.14m in the javelin, suggesting she’s in good form ahead of this weekend.
Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez, like Johnson-Thompson, also crashed out of the Olympic Games last year, but she’s usually a strong opponent in any heptathlon.
Poland’s Adrianna Sulek and USA’s Kendell Williams, the world indoor silver and bronze medallists respectively, will also be in action this weekend. Sulek recently won in Bydgoszcz with 6290 but she hopes to get closer to – or even beyond – the World Championships qualifying standard of 6420 this weekend. Williams, as the winner of the 2021 Combined Events Tour, has already got a wildcard entry for the World Championships.
Others to look out for include recent Multistars winner Annik Kalin of Switzerland, world U20 champion Saga Vanninen of Finland, Ireland’s Kate O’Connor and Britain’s Holly Mills.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) 6981
Laura Ikauniece (LAT) 6815
Yorgelis Rodriguez (CUB) 6742
Anouk Vetter (NED) 6689
Kendell Williams (USA) 6683
Emma Oosterwegel (NED) 6590
Annik Kalin (SUI) 6398
Ekaterina Voronina (UZB) 6346
Vanessa Grimm (GER) 6316
Adrianna Sulek (POL) 6315
Kate O’Connor (IRL) 6297
Sophie Weissenberg (GER) 6293
Odile Ahouanwanou (BEN) 6274
Saga Vanninen (FIN) 6271
Damian Warner (CAN) 9018
Niklas Kaul (GER) 8691
Arthur Abele (GER) 8605
Pierce LePage (CAN) 8604
Maicel Uibo (EST) 8604
Kai Kazmirek (GER) 8580
Lindon Victor (GRN) 8539
Simon Ehammer (SUI) 8354
Pawel Wiesiolek (POL) 8333
Tim Nowak (GER) 8229
Niels Pittomvils (BEL) 8222
Joseph Delgado (USA) 8161
Risto Lillemets (EST) 8156
Rik Taam (NED) 8107