Carolin Schafer celebrates her lead in the heptathlon in Ratingen (© Gladys Chai von der Laage)
Germany’s formidable combined events corps will be on full display at the Stadtwerke Ratingen Mehrkampf-Meeting, part of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge, on Saturday and Sunday (24-25).
The men's field includes the strong German trio of Arthur Abele, Kai Kazmirek and Rico Freimuth, who each have personal bests better than 8500 points.
Abele tops that list with an 8605 best he tallied with his victory at this meeting a year ago, which set the 30-year-old up as a strong medal contender for the Olympic Games in Rio. But he faltered there early on with sub-par performances in the long jump and shot put, and never quite managing to work his way back into the hunt later. He finished a distant 15th at the Games, a memory he'll hope to put behind him on home turf this weekend.
Like Abele, Kazmirek will be making his 2017 debut but unlike his Rio teammate, the 26-year-old is riding a rising wave that he hopes won’t crest until this summer's IAAF World Championships London 2017. The winner in Gotzis in 2015, we went on to finish sixth at the World Championships in Beijing later that year, and then to improve both in position --to fourth-- and in points --to 8580-- at the Olympic Games last year.
On the other hand, Freimuth, the 2015 world silver medallist, has already competed this season and this weekend will be looking to solidify his chance of making the German London-bound squad. Freimuth scored 8365 points in Gotzis last month to finish third, the marker he’s hoping to better this weekend. The 29-year-old, who scored his 8561 personal best at the World Championships two years ago, is also on the rebound from a sub-par 2016 season in which he failed to finish each of his three decathlons.
Also in the field is Cuba's two-time Olympic bronze medallist Leonel Suarez, who'll also be making his second start of the season. The 29-year-old, who was sixth in Rio last year, tallied 8214 to finish eighth in Gotzis last month.
Six others expected to start on Saturday have personal bests of 8000 or better, led by Thomas van der Plaetsen of Belgium, the 2016 European champion. The 26-year-old will be making his 2017 debut, as will Kurt Felix of Grenada, who was ninth in Rio last year, just nine points behind van der Plaetsen with an 8325 personal best.
Frenchmen Bastien Auzeil (8191 pts, 2016), Florian Geffrouais (8164, 2014) and Basile Rolnin (8087, 2016) have their sights set on the two remaining spots on the French squad alongside Olympic silver medallist Kevin Mayer.
Will Schafer’s momentum continue?
The women's field boasts four women who've cracked the 6400-point barrier, but the focus will fall clearly on one: Germany's Carolin Schafer.
Fifth in the Rio Games last year, Schafer made a big step forward already this season with her runner-up finish behind Olympic champion Nafissatou Thiam in Gotzis last month. There, the 25-year-old added nearly 300 points to her lifetime best with a 6836 tally, landing just 54 points shy of breaking into the world all-time top 10. She notched personal bests in four events in what turned out to be one of the finest non-winning performances ever.
There will also be plenty of attention on Jennifer Oeser, twice a World Championships silver medallist, who at 33 is looking to regain the form that guided her to a 6683 personal best seven years ago. Oeser didn't finish in Gotzis last month thus her most recent full heptathlon was in Rio last year where she scored 6401 to finish ninth, the best showing of her three Olympic appearances.
Others expected in the podium chase are Dutchwoman Nadine Visser and Cuba's Yorgelis Rodriguez. Visser, 22, was a distant tenth in Gotzis with 6355, 112 points shy of her 6467 lifetime best, also set in Gotzis, two year ago. Eighth at the 2015 World Championships, she was a disappointing 19th in Rio.
Rodriguez, also 22, fared better, finishing eight in Gotzis with 6446 and seventh in Rio, where she tallied her 6481 lifetime best.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF