It's World Championships gold medal number two for Trey Hardee (© Getty Images)
Statisticians A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) begin their first of eight ‘End of Season’ event category reviews covering all Athletics disciplines, highlighting the best performances which have taken place across our sport in 2011, with the COMBINED EVENTS.
Mens’ Decathlon -
Taking a statistical look at the last five years the picture appears somewhat contradictory: The number at 8000+ was the highest in 2011 (37), the number at 8200+ was average (16) and the number at 8400+ was the lowest (3) during this period. In other words, at the very top it was a down-year but at the same time the number of athletes above the “world class” benchmark 8000 was great.
The conclusion to be drawn is that necessary premises are there to make 2012 an excellent year at the top. Because the Decathlon is an event where the Olympic lure still very much influences the standards, probably something going back to the traditional view that the Olympic Decathlon crowns “The World’s Greatest Athlete”. In the other three years in the Olympic cycle the Decathlon usually never receives such media interest but exists far away from the limelight.
In recent years the USA has been able to reclaim the position as the dominant nation in the Decathlon and this year it was probably only the untimely injury to reigning Olympic champion Bryan Clay that prevented them from sweeping the medals in the World Championships.
Youngster (age 23) Ashton Eaton was leading the world list coming into Daegu with his 8729 from the US Championships and with his strength in the sprints and the jumps he was heading the competition for most of the first day and also after the 6th event (the hurdles) at the World Championships. But – especially due to a sub-par mark in the Long Jump – Eaton hadn’t managed to build the cushion of points he needed going into the last four events that included two throws and the Pole Vault.
Because after six events he found the reigning champion, countryman Trey Hardee, just 69 points behind. That advantage for Eaton was gone and turned into a deficit of eight points already after the Discus Throw. Hardee was never to loose that grip as Eaton underperformed in the Pole Vault (4.60m, 45 cm below his mark at the US trials) and as expected was outclassed in the Javelin Throw (Hardee 68.99m PB vs Eaton’s 55.17m).
Actually Eaton was relegated to third place going into the 1500m as Cuba’s Leonel Suarez ,who was no less than 299 points behind after the seventh event (the Discus), thanks to a 5.00m Pole Vault and a 69.12m Javelin Throw had gained 331 points on Eaton in the last two events! The American did show a great competitive spirit in the concluding 1500m run and thanks to a new PB (4:18) managed to reclaim the silver position with four points to spare!
But the Daegu competition clearly demonstrated the areas Eaton needs to work on for 2012 to be able to challenge for the gold medal. Probably he won’t be able to match athletes like Hardee or Suarez in the Javelin Throw, but he needs to shrink the gap at the same time as he improves his consistency in the jumping events before he is a truly “accomplished” decathlete like Hardee, Suarez and of course Bryan Clay. And don’t be surprised if Andrei Krauchanka, after a couple of years troubled by injuries, returns to the medal battles. After all the Belarussian is the Beijing silver medallist and he will still be just 26 years old in August 2012.
While the Czech Republic has not been able to find any replacements for the all-time World top-two Tomas Dvorak (retired) and Roman Sebrle (14th in Daegu at age 36!) Cuba has emerged as a Decathlon power thanks to Suarez and Yordanis Garcia (born 1987 and 1988) and former super power Germany also has a group of talents in their early twenties headed by Jan Felix Knobel and Rico Freimuth.
Belonging to the same age group there also is Eelco Sintnicolaas of The Netherlands who got the silver in the 2010 Europeans and fifth in Daegu. Looking a few years further down the line it should be noted that the European U23’s was better than ever with all three medallists at 8100 points headed by Thomas Van Der Plaetsen at 8157. The 20-year-old Belgian then went on to place 13th in Daegu with another score over 8000 points.
The 23-year-old Russian Tatyana Chernova has been “nearly there” for several Heptathlon seasons now. The tall Russian won the World Junior Championships in Beijing 2006 with a good score of 6227 points, but the next season she took a surprisingly big leap towards the world elite. A wind assisted mark, 6768 points in Arles at the start of June 2007, made the then 19-year-old athlete one of the favourites in Osaka at the World Championships.
Chernova left the competition after the first day in Osaka, but came through to win the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics the next year. 2011 however was finally the season which made her a star with some big improvements in individual events. 2009 and 2010 season had been thoroughly disappointing with only an eighth place to show from Berlin World Championships in 2009 and a fourth place from Barcelona European Championships in 2010. It was clear that things were not going her way and something needed to be changed.
She revealed her secret weapon for the 2011 season talking to press prior to the World Athletics Gala in Monaco in November: “Years of intensive training and competition made me feel so tired after the 2010 season. I needed a break, so instead of going back to training after the season, I spent the next three months on beaches. One month in Thailand and two in Russia and after this break I felt so motivated to go back to training.”
And what a season it was. Although Briton Jessica Ennis, the reigning World Champion from Berlin 2009, was still far ahead in Götzis winning with 6790 points ahead of Chernova’s 6539p for second place, something had changed. Some events for Chernova, probably because of the long break, were far from perfect in May, but she did reach a great 6.82m personal best in the Long Jump and that should have been warning enough for the others. In her second Heptathlon of the season in Kladno less than three weeks after Götzis, she was already at a different level. A 13.32 PB in the 100m Hurdles and a 52.00m javelin mark together with the 6773 total points PB showed she would be challenging Ennis big time in Daegu.
Ennis only competed in the Heptathlon in Götzis prior to Daegu, but produced some good results in individual events during the summer. A 12.79 100m Hurdles PB in Loughborough just prior to Daegu and some good throwing marks suggested she could go for the 7000p limit this time. But in Korea it was not to be as Chernova was “only” losing by 150 points after day one and with a really strong second day the Russian was just waiting for a small mistake by the Briton to take the gold. And the mistake came in the javelin where Ennis came up with a lowly 39.95m result, her worst since the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. Since then she had mastered the event and had thrown a 46.71m personal best in Barcelona at the 2010 European Championships.
Chernova did not disappoint on day two in Daegu and was in exceptional form in the last two events. First a 52.95m season’s best in the javelin gave the Russian an edge for the last event and her 2:08.04 SB run there capped a great win and a personal best total score of 6880 points.
Russia and the United States are the top countries in this event both having 12 athletes in the world top 100. Germany is a close third with 11.
Note: This year Julin covers the men's side of the action and Jalava the women's.