Erica Bougard in the pentathlon 60m hurdles in Birmingham (© Getty Images)
The 2018 IAAF Combined Events Challenge kicks off on Friday (27) with the 31st edition of the Multistars Trofeo Zerneri Acciai in Florence.
The Luigi Ridolfi Stadium will host the Multistars for the sixth consecutive year, welcoming combined events specialists from 20 countries. The traditional Italian season opener is shaping up as a battle between the US and Brazil in both the men’s decathlon and the women’s heptathlon.
Bougard starts as heptathlon favourite
US specialist Erica Bougard will highlight the women’s heptathlon field, which also features 2016 Multistars winner Vanessa Chefer Spinola and last year’s third placer Tamara De Sousa.
Bougard, a native of Mississippi, won the pentathlon at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships with 4399 points as a sophomore and represented the USA at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. She finished second at the NCAA Indoor Championships the following two years behind Kendall Williams and clinched the US indoor title in the long jump in 2017. She won the last two US indoor titles, tallying 4558 in 2017 and 4760 in 2018. Last year she was second at the US outdoor championships with her 6557 personal best. Bougard opened her 2018 season with a fifth place finish at the IAAF World Indoor Championships with 4571 points.
Brazil’s Spinola, the 2015 Pan American Games bronze medallist, won the 2016 edition of the Multistars with 6100 points and finished fourth in the Tuscan city in 2014 and 2017. Another Brazilian specialist fighting for the top positions is Tamara De Sousa, who finished third last year with 5866 points after leading on the first day. De Sousa won the world U20 bronze medal in 2012.
Two more heptathletes with bests of over 6000 points are Lecabela Quaresma from Portugal, who finished eighth in the pentathlon at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham with 4424 points, and Alexandra Gochenour, who placed fourth at the 2017 US championships with 6129 points.
Barbora and Katerina Dvorakova, the twin daughters of Czech decathlon legend Tomas Dvorak, will make their second appearance at the Multistars one year after finishing 16th and 17th with 5266 and 5249 points respectively. They were born in 1997, the year their father won the first of his three world outdoor titles. Dvorak started his international career in the Multistars in 1992.
Taiwo the man to beat
Jeremy Taiwo of the US is the stand-out in the decathlon. Taiwo hails from a sporting family: his father Joseph Taiwo was a Nigerian triple jumper, who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. Jeremy finished second in the decathlon at the US Olympic Trials in 2012 behind world record holder Ashton Eaton and repeated the same placing four years later at the same event scoring his personal best of 8425. He finished in the top-three at the US championships twice more --second in 2015 and third in 2013-- and won the US indoor heptathlon title in 2015 with his indoor personal best of 6273 points. He is an excellent high jumper with a career best of 2.25m set in 2013.
Taiwo will face Jefferson Santos from Brazil, who clinched the Multistars win last year with 7728. Santos began his athletics career following in the footsteps of his uncle, who worked as a coach. Last year he won the South American title in Asuncion with 8187 points.
The Norwegian duo of Lars Rise and Martin Roe will return to Florence two years after claiming a surprise double. Rise won the 2016 edition with 7868 beating his compatriot Roe by just 13 points in a very close competition. Roe finished 12th at World Championships in London with 8040 points and won the European Second League Combined Events title with his lifetime best of 8144. Another past Multistars winner returning to Florence is Poland’s Pawel Wiesolek, who was propelled to his 7863 victory by four individual lifetime bests.
Maksim Andraloits from Belarus also returns after finishing fourth last year. The 20-year-old won the world U20 silver medal in Bydgoszcz in 2016 with 8046 points and finished fifth at the 2017 European U23 Championships in the same Polish city with 7858 points.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF