Australian decathlete Jake Stein in action in the javelin (© Getty Images)
It’s said a lot of different ways in a lot of different contexts, but the message that it is not over until it’s over was underlined as Sophie Stanwell and Jake Stein came through on the second day of the Oceania Combined Events Championships in Melbourne – the first leg of the 2014 IAAF Combined Events Challenge – to take the wins.
Even then, it was not over – at least not for Stein. Runner-up Stephen Cain filed a protest against Stein alleging interference in the closing stages of the 1500m, a protest which will now go to a jury of appeal hearing on Saturday morning.
Having come back from what seemed inevitable defeat three times within the competition, Stein now had to sleep on the prospect of losing victory in the jury room.
At least Stanwell’s recovery to win was clear-cut. She overcame a first-day deficit of 178 points to defeat New Zealand’s Portia Bing in the heptathlon, 5624 to 5507. Indeed, she left it until the very last event to take the lead, a 2:21.16 in the 800m putting her more than 10 seconds ahead of Bing’s 2:32.55.
Bing, fifth at the IAAF World Junior Championships two years ago in Barcelona, led after each of the first six events, but dropped steadily behind her rival in the 800m, finishing in visible discomfort with what appeared to be a side stitch.
The long jump earlier in the day also proved decisive as Stanwell flew out to a PB of 6.16m while Bing managed just 5.68m, reducing her lead to just 32 points.
Stein also trailed on day one. He was in sixth place, some 230 points behind the overnight leader, David Brock.
The 2011 world youth champion and 2012 world junior silver medallist needed a big second day. Fortunately, Stein’s strengths are the throws and with two of the second day’s five events – the discus and javelin – falling into that category, he was not as poorly placed as it appeared.
Stein, who turned 20 on 17 January, twice stared defeat in the face – or three times, if you count his overnight situation. He took a narrow lead after the 110m hurdles and discus, and increased it to 68 points after the pole vault and javelin.
Cain, however, had a big edge on him in the final event, the 1500m, where his personal best was 4:31.55 to Stein’s 4:45.34.
Cain needed to finish 10.4 seconds ahead of Stein to take the win. So both men faced a decathlete’s nightmare – victory to be decided in the tenth and most gruelling event of the lot.
A Cain win still looked possible as he led his rival into the last 300m of the final race. But Stein dug deep, and went past to finish a place in front, 4:43.71 to 4:44.17.
It was a personal best for Stein, the previous one set, perhaps significantly, in taking the silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Championships. He tallied 7564 to Cain’s 7493.
Before the victory was confirmed, however, Stein had to survive a protest filed by Cain.
Stanwell, 22, has come gradually to the heptathlon, nudged that way both by preference and injury. Not quite quick enough as a sprinter, not quite far enough as a jumper or thrower, and hampered by back and hamstring injuries in both, she turned to the combined events.
She finished ninth at the World University Games last year, then improved to her current best of 5655 earlier this year.
That still leaves Stanwell a little short of true world-class, but her performance in Melbourne earned her selection in the Australian team for the Commonwealth Games (as did those of Stein and Cain), and if she can put another year’s solid training behind her, she clearly has potential for further improvement.
The Australian under-20 combined events titles were also decided at the championships with both winners qualifying for selection for the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene later in the year.
Cedric Dubler won the decathlon with 7261 ahead of David Thomson’s 7148, while Alysha Burnett won the heptathlon with 5357 ahead of Casidhe Simmons with 5117. All four are likely to be Oregon-bound.
Len Johnson for the IAAF