Kevin Mayer and Ivona Dadic
As this extraordinary year draws to a close, we look back at the key moments of 2020 in each area of the sport.
The series begins today with a review of combined events and relays. It will be followed over the coming days by reviews of all the other event groups.
In this extraordinary 2020 season, we actually had to wait until the last weekend before Christmas for the best results in the men’s decathlon.
The season – understandably – didn’t get off to a quick start either. The first 8000-point score was set in July when Estonia’s Taavi Tšernjavski scored a PB of 8086 in Rakvere. A few weeks later, Simon Ehammer set a PB of 8231 to win the Swiss title in August.
Twenty-year-old Ehammer is one of the most promising decathletes at the moment. Along with his 8.15m leap in the long jump, he set several other impressive PBs during the 2020 season, including 10.50 in the 100m, 47.27 in the 400m and 13.48 in the 110m hurdles.
The weekend of 18-19 December finally brought the fireworks. Kevin Mayer started his first decathlon in more than a year, having failed to finish at the 2019 World Championships in Doha through injury. The 28-year-old had actually finished just two decathlons – his 8768 to win gold at the 2017 World Championships and his 9126 world record in Talence in 2018 – in more than three years before he recently headed to Saint-Paul, on the island of La Réunion, a French overseas territory located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.
The world record-holder easily exceeded the 8350 Olympic qualifying standard in Saint-Paul, accumulating a world-leading 8552 – the best ever score achieved in the month of December. Having done only a handful of competitions in 2020, Mayer still showed his class in many of the events, with the biggest highlight coming in the 110m hurdles where he lowered his personal best to 13.54.
A bigger surprise came in Brisbane at the Queensland Championships in Australia. Just 20 years old, Ashley Moloney crushed the Oceanian record with 8492. The 2018 world U20 champion recorded a couple of huge personal bests in the process, lowering his 100m best to 10.36 and taking almost a second off his 400m PB, clocking 45.82 – the third-fastest time ever recorded within a decathlon.
Another Australian, Cedric Dubler, also qualified for Tokyo behind Moloney, scoring a PB of 8367 for second place.
Before all the excitement in La Reunion and Brisbane, Brazil’s Felipe Dos Santos had enjoyed a short stint at the top of the world list thanks to his 8364 PB and Olympic qualifier in Sao Paulo. The 26-year-old now sits second on the South American all-time list, just 29 points shy of the area record.
Elite combined events athletes usually compete only two or three times in their speciality each outdoor season with a clear focus on major championships and the World Athletics Challenge – Combined Events meetings. As neither the championships nor the invitational meetings were staged in 2020, a great majority of the top heptathletes took the year off from their speciality.
Of the top 22 women in 2019, only five completed a full heptathlon in 2020. Instead, most of them took advantage of the unforeseen opportunity to compete more in individual events. World champion Katrina Johnson-Thompson, for example, competed at the Diamond League meetings in Monaco, Stockholm and Brussels.
Compared to last year, the number of athletes scoring 6000+ and 6250+ dropped by almost two thirds, going from 46 to 17 and from 15 to six respectively.
There were, however, some heptathlon performances of note. Austria’s world indoor silver medallist Ivona Dadic tops the list with 6419 – her third best score ever – just 33 points ahead of Ukraine’s Alina Shukh, who made a welcome return to form with a PB of 6386.
In a one-hour heptathlon earlier in the season, Dadic scored 6235 – a world best in the rarely held discipline.
Relays, of course, suffered the most during the Covid-19 outbreak. There were very few relay competitions at the elite level and the fastest times of the year were set in Jamaica before the outbreak reached the Caribbean. The all-Jamaican Sprintec Lions squad clocked 38.56 in Spanish Town in early February, while an international Racers Track Club quartet achieved 38.59 in Kingston, also in February.
The fastest 4x400m times were clocked by Japanese universities at the University Championships in Niigata in September. Nihon University won in 3:04.32 with Waseda University close behind in 3:04.34.
With no major championships or US collegiate action, the only relay action that took place was at the national or local level, which of course had a profound effect statistically.
In 2019 there were three sub-42-second national teams (topped by Jamaica in 41.44), 10 sub-43 and 23 sub-44. This year, however, a Jamaican club team leads the world list with 43.47 and the leading national team, Japan, recorded 44.00.
In the 4x400m, the world-leading mark fell by more than 10 seconds compared to last year, going from 3:18.92 in 2019 to 3:29.60 in 2020. The top time, set by Cuba, was just a couple of tenths away from their best mark in 2019 which was then good enough for 15th place among national teams.
However, this year opened up the possibility to pursue some of the more rarely contested events – an opportunity the Bowerman Track Club used to attack the 4x1500m world record in Portland on 31 July.
Running on their own for the last 12-and-a-half of the 15 laps, the Bowerman TC quartet of Colleen Quigley (4:07.6), Elise Cranny (4:09.8), Karissa Schweizer (4:05.4) and Shelby Houlihan (4:04.2) combined to cut more than six seconds off the record that had been set by Kenya at the inaugural World Relays in 2014.
Mirko Jalava (men’s disciplines) and A Lennart Julin (women’s disciplines) for World Athletics