Ilya Shkurenev at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
The 2015 world champions have been crowned and the Diamond Race contests settled but athletics fans have one final feast of running, jumping and throwing to enjoy at the 39th edition of the Decastar combined-events meeting in Talence, a suburb of the French city of Bordeaux, on Saturday and Sunday (19-20).
With his personal best of 8538, Russia’s 24-year-old Ilya Shkurenev was 23 points – about four seconds in the 1500m – away from a bronze medal in the Bird’s Nest stadium three weeks ago. The last competition of this year’s IAAF Combined Events Challenge should provide some partial compensation for missing out on a place on the podium in Beijing.
As his two nearest rivals in the challenge standings, Germany’s Michael Schrader and Canada’s Damian Warner, are not competing in Talence, it means that the European indoor champion and two-time European decathlon bronze medallist is tipped to go home with this year’s challenge title and the US €30,000 first place prize that comes with it.
If he does so, he will also become the first Russian male athlete to win the challenge in its 18 editions since it started in 1998. But Shkurenev’s attempt to win Decastar itself should prove trickier.
Willem Coertzen finished two places above him to grab third place in Gotzis back in in May, setting an African record of 8398 points. The South African is looking for redemption after failing to finish the first day at the World Championships and could, in theory, take the challenge title if he improves to 8521 points.
Grenada’s Kurt Felix and Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov, eighth and ninth in Beijing respectively, are also capable of challenging for the win.
Felix won a silver medal at this year’s Pan American Games; while 2010 European silver medallist Kasyanov was also a runner-up here last year.
Also competing is Belgium’s Hans van Alphen, the Decastar champion in 2011 and 2012, and challenge winner in 2012.
He has struggled for form and fitness since then, with a succession of injuries, but were he to take an unlikely victory this weekend, he would be only the second athlete to win a hat-trick of Decastar titles – a feat managed by France’s Christian Plaziat in 1989.
Although Kevin Mayer has withdrawn through injury, there are still five Frenchman competing at Decastar. Bastien Auziel will fancy his chances of a podium place on home soil after setting a personal best of 8147 in Gotzis in May and placing 13th in Beijing.
Joining him will be Romain Barras, a 35-year-old veteran of the 2004 Olympics and 2010 challenge winner, the oldest man in the field who, at the European Cup Combined Events in July, chalked up his 10th consecutive season above 8000 points.
KJT and Broersen out to bounce back after Beijing
Whatever happens, Talence will crown one heptathlete as a Decastar champion for the first time on Sunday.
A strong women’s field features five of the top-10 finishers from last month’s heptathlon at the World Championships but the woman who is probably the favourite in Talence was not among them.
European indoor champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson had her genuine gold medal prospects dashed when she had three fouls in the long jump but the Briton has indicated that she’ll use Talence to try to secure the Olympic qualifying standard of 6200 points.
“This isn't me trying to finish off the 2015 season,” Johnson-Thompson tweeted earlier this week. “It's the start of my Rio campaign."
She won’t be the only woman looking to bounce back after disappointment in Beijing. World indoor champion Nadine Broersen was beaten to a bronze medal by Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina.
Yet if 2014 challenge winner Broersen can score 6401 points or more in Talence, the 25-year-old will pip Ikauniece-Admidina – who is not competing in Talence – to this year’s title.
Broersen’s fellow Dutchwoman Nadine Visser is the best candidate to pounce, should she or Johnson-Thompson falter.
Aged just 20, the world junior bronze medallist is the youngest woman in the field, but her personal best of 6467 to finish seventh in Götzis, and eighth place in Beijing last month, underline her potential. Both will vie to become the first Decastar winners from the Netherlands.
The three other top-10 finishers from the World Championships who are in Talence all did so with personal best scores.
Hungary’s Gyorgyi Zsivoczky-Farkas will be full of confidence after notching 6389 points to finish in sixth – the 30-year-old’s first-ever major championships finish.
Ukraine’s Anastasiya Mokhnyuk scored 6359 to finish seventh, and returns to Talence after finishing second here last year.
In the 14-strong field, French home interest will be represented by a pair of 24-year-old heptathletes who both set PBs this summer: French champion Gaelle le Foll (5848 points) and Sandra Jacmaire (5739).
James Charlton and Thomas Byrne for the IAAF