Tomas Dvorak after winning the 1997 world decathlon title in Athens (© Getty Images)
A new IAAF initiative for combined events athletes - The World Combined Events Challenge - reaches one of its peaks this weekend at the Hypo-Meeting in Götzis.
This prestigious meeting - whose great traditions make it the most important invitation meeting for multi-eventers - is part of the new circuit which allows these special athletes to earn points and eventually win prize money ranging from $30,000 (first place) to $5,000 (eighth place).
As well as Götzis, the Challenge includes the Decastar in Talence (France) on September 12/13, and other selected international and national competitions. The final ranking will be based on the addition of the best totals achieved by athletes in any three designated competitions.
As usual, the entry list for Götzis, reads like a Who’s Who of the combined events.
The biggest star among the 24 decathletes is 1997 World Champion Tomas Dvorak, who set personal bests in 6 events to win his title in Athens with 8837 points (the fourth best ever).
His strongest opposition is likely to come from two Americans Chris Huffins and Steve Fritz.
Huffins, a powerful sprinter who ran the fastest 100m ever recorded in a decathlon - 10.22 - in 1996, was leading the decathlon in Athens after seven events but lost ground before fouling out in the javelin and retiring from the competition. Huffins will be eager to erase that memory. Fritz, a lanky former basketball star and now a throws coach at Kansas State University, was the US national champion in 1997 and recovered from an appalling first day in Athens (he was thirteen) to finish fourth after 10 events.
Also challenging for honours will be the sixth place finisher in Athens, Erki Nool of Estonia.
He set his current best of 8575 (including a long jump of 8.10) when winning at Götzis in 1995. Reigning Commonwealth champion Michael Smith (Canada), who won this competition in 1991 and 1996, is also among the entries.
Unfortunately, in the heptathlon, Denise Lewis of Great Britain, who set a commonwealth record of 6736 when winning last year, has been forced to pull out due to an injured ankle. Her duel with the redoubtable German Sabine Braun, who took gold in Athens last year (her fiftieth heptathlon!) had been keenly awaited. Other top performers include Russia’s Irina Belova (6845), Lithuania’s Remigia Nazaroviene (6604) and Natalya Sazanovich (6563).
One of the beauties of combined events competitions is that the form book often counts for nothing - with so many events to complete, nothing is certain. Many times an early leader has collapsed in the latter stages as fatigue and pressure begin to take their toll.
Götzis will certainly provide top-notch action and, perhaps, the ghost of Daley Thompson who broke the world record here in 1980 and 1982, will inspire those who have followed in his footsteps.