Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon long jump at the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis (© Getty Images)
World indoor and European indoor champion Katarina Johnson Thompson and world silver medallist Carolin Schäfer are the star names of the heptathlon at the 45th Hypomeeting as the IAAF Combined Events Challenge makes its short journey from Lana, Italy on to the hallowed ground of Götzis, Austria for the competition on 25-26 May.
The duo last met in a heptathlon at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin, where they finished in silver and bronze positions respectively behind Nafi Thiam. While Britain's Johnson-Thompson had the upper hand in Berlin and when winning in Götzis in 2014, Germany's Schäfer finished ahead of the Briton in Götzis in 2016 and 2017, as well as at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships London 2017.
Thiam, alongside decathlon world record-holder Kevin Mayer, will start her season at the Decastar meeting in Talence, but USA’s Erica Bougard will bring a strong challenge to the European medallists as they resume their duel. Bougard finished second in the 2018 IAAF Combined Events Challenge, winning Multistars, the US Championships and finishing third in Götzis with a personal best of 6725.
With athletes aiming for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 qualifying standard of 6300, the heptathlon world lists have a strong North American hue at this point in the year, reflecting Canadian Georgia Ellenwood’s win at the Bryan Clay Invitational in California last month, teammate Niki Oudenaarden’s personal best score in Tucson, and Annie Kunz’s win for the USA in Multistars. All three will be in Götzis looking to improve on their scores.
Latvia’s 2015 world bronze medallist Laura Ikauniece makes a welcome return to outdoor competition after several years of injury and will likely feature strongly in one of the most fascinating disciplines of the weekend, the javelin. With both Johnson Thompson and Shäfer working on their shot, the throws promise to be a crucial feature of the two days of action. Ikauniece is one of several women in the field with a javelin PB beyond 50 metres, alongside Dutch competitors Nadine Broersen, also returning from an extended period of injury, and national indoor champion Emma Oosterwegel.
Switzerland’s Geraldine Ruckstuhl finished third in the javelin at the European Throwing Cup in Slovakia in March, and she and Oosterwegel, along with a number of other athletes, will be eligible for the European U23 championship in Sweden in July.
Home favourite Sarah Lagger rekindles her competition with European indoor silver medallist Niamh Emerson, after the pair featured in one of the most memorable moments of the 2018 season. Lagger and Emerson, separated by only two points, were locked in battle right until the end of the 800m in the biblical rains of the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 with the Briton eventually coming out on top.
New Belgian indoor long jump record-holder Hanne Maudens, Commonwealth Games fourth-placed Celeste Mucci, world and European U18 champion Maria Vicente, and the seven-metre-leaping (albeit windy) Cuban Adriana Rodriguez will ensure that the competition benefits from both experience and youth.
And in this 45th meeting of the Hypomeeting, there is a debut for German Sophie Weissenberg, whose mother Heike Tischler set a personal best when she competed here in 1988 – the same year the decathlon was won by one Uwe Freimuth, father of Sophie’s teammate Rico Freimuth.
The enduring legacy of the Hypomeeting was celebrated earlier this month with the award of the IAAF World Athletics Heritage Plaque to the Mösle Stadium.
Warner seeks fifth win en route to fifth World Champs
In the year that he will be aiming for his fifth World Championships, Damian Warner will also be seeking to join Roman Šebrle and Carolina Kluft as the only athletes to win five titles in Götzis. The Canadian decathlon record-holder has shown promising form already this year, setting a shot put PB of 15.16m and throwing the discus 49.94m, the second-best mark of his career.
But a stellar field is lined up to challenge him. Götzis is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the athletics calendar, and this year there is an additional frisson, with many of the big names returning from lengthy absences, their form yet unknown.
The field includes 15 of the top 20 men on the 2018 world list, but we have seen only glimpses of Maicel Uibo, Kai Kazmirek, Rico Freimuth, Dominik Distelberger, Niels Pittomvils, Adam Sebastian Helcelet and Eelco Sintnicolaas on their journey back from injury. And neither has the path to the Mösle Stadium been smooth for Janek Õiglane, Karl Robert Saluri, Pieter Braun or world U20 champion Ash Moloney, all of whom have had their first few months of 2019 disrupted by injury.
But a number of decathletes have thrown down the gauntlet and declared their intent for 2019. Jan Doležal had an inspired performance to win Multistars in a lifetime best of 8117 in tricky conditions, Martin Roe has made a solid transition from indoor to outdoor season, and Tim Ehrhardt is fourth on the world list after winning the Bryan Clay invitational in a personal best of 8066.
The top four from the European Indoor Championships – Jorge Ureña, Tim Duckworth, Ilya Shkurenyov and Fredrik Samuelsson – are all in Götzis, and have all been in form in 2019, alongside authorised neutral athlete Artem Makarenko and the raw talent of Vitaliy Zhukh.
Both Pawel Wiesołek and Niklas Kaul have improved their discus marks in the wet and windy conditions that seem to have beset European combined eventers in 2019 thus far. Also making their debut in the cool climes of Götzis are Ash Moloney and Commonwealth bronze medallist Cedric Dubler, and they are joined by Commonwealth champion Lindon Victor.
With Talence moved forward from its usual slot in September to June, there are few French athletes competing in Götzis, but Romain Martin will be putting in an early bid for qualification for the French team for Doha, seeking the qualifying mark of 8200.
The pre-competition press conference will be streamed live on the Hypomeeting Facebook page on Friday.
Gabriella Pieraccini for the IAAF