Preview Talence, France

Eaton and Melnychenko lead Talence fields, Lavillenie to make Decathlon debut – IAAF Combined Events Challenge

US decathlete Ashton Eaton in action in the Shot (Getty Images)US decathlete Ashton Eaton in action in the Shot (Getty Images) © Copyright

World champions Ashton Eaton and Hanna Melnychenko will start as the favourites in Talence this weekend (14-15) at Decastar, the final meeting of the 2013 IAAF Combined Events Challenge.

Held in the suburb of Bordeaux in the South East of France, this will be the 37th edition of the combined events meeting. It is also the final opportunity for the world’s best decathletes and heptathletes to add to their points tally in a bid to scoop the $30,000 bonus on offer to winning the IAAF Combined Events Challenge whereby the best three scores achieved by athletes within the series are added together.

World record-holder Eaton will be competing in his first Decathlon on European soil outside of major championships. Last year Eaton broke the World record at the US Championships with a score of 9039, becoming the second athlete in history to surpass 9000 points.

The 25-year-old from Oregon, USA, won the Olympic title last year and more recently took gold at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. He is undefeated in the Decathlon for more than two years, which makes him the outright favourite to win the Decathlon this weekend in Talence.

He will be joined in France by his wife, Brianne Theisen Eaton, who will be competing in the Heptathlon. It will be a nice interruption of their honeymoon travel, but the competition itself will be no holiday as the Eatons attempt to become the first married couple to win the IAAF Combined Events Challenge.

Jean-Paul Durand, the president of the organising committee of the Decastar meeting in Talence, has gathered a strong field to challenge the World champion.

Eaton’s toughest competition is expected to come from Canada’s Damian Warner, who took the bronze medal in Moscow and won at the prestigious Hypo-Meeting in the Austrian city of Gotzis earlier this year.

Other contenders in the field are 2012 European Champion Pascal Behrenbruch from Germany and European indoor champion Eelco Sintnicolaas from the Netherlands. Other parts of the world are represented by African record-holder Willem Coertzen from South Africa and South American record-holder Carlos Chinin from Brazil.

The Asian region is represented by Japanese record-holder Keisuke Ushiro, while three other athletes with PBs in excess of 8000 points are also on the start-list – Romain Martin of France and Russian duo Artem Lukyanenko and Vasiliy Kharlamov.

Lavillenie making Decathlon debut

The most surprising name on the start-list is Olympic Pole Vault champion Renaud Lavillenie.

“I will compete at the Decastar meeting with a double ambition,” said Lavillenie last week. “My first aim is to do something different, but my main aim is to improve the best Pole Vault performance in a Decathlon. This will not be easy as the best mark is now held by Tim Lobinger with 5.76m.

“The Pole Vault is the seventh event of the Decathlon and I will already be tired at that time. Moreover I have to pass the 7000-points mark to get such a performance recognised.”

At this meeting, spectators are allowed to sit close to the Pole Vault pit, creating a unique atmosphere in the ‘Stade de Thouars’. Lavillenie’s presence will make the event extra special and he will be pushed by four other decathletes with personal bests above 5.30m.

Melnychenko tops Heptathlon entries

In her sixth appearance at this meeting, surprise World champion Hanna Melnychenko is expected to take her first victory in Talence. The Ukrainian improved her personal best by 141 points to take the gold medal in the Russian capital and currently leads the overall standings in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge.

But as was the case at the World Championships, the Heptathlon in Talence could see Melnychenko battling with Theisen Eaton until the bitter end. If Theisen Eaton finishes more than 96 points ahead of Melnychenko, she could take the overall victory in the Combined Events Challenge.

Also on the start-list are World Championships fourth-place finisher Claudia Rath from Germany, US champion Sharon Day and Poland’s Karolina Tyminska. All three of those dipped under 2:09 in the 800m in Moscow, so are capable of applying pressure through to the final event of a Heptathlon.

Others heptathletes in Talence with PBs above 6000 points include Norway’s Ida Marcussen, Belarusian Yana Maksimava and USA’s Bettie Wade.

Combined Events Challenge title still open

None of the six men who have already contested three Decathlons in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge will be in Talence, meaning current leader Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus is sitting as a target at the top of the standings with 25,084 points.

After two Decathlons this year, Eaton currently has 17,100 points and will need just 7985 in Talence to move ahead of Krauchanka. The top eight finishers in the challenge are rewarded with prize money, and Behrenbruch (16,830), Warner (16,819), Sintnicolaas (16,713), Chinin (16,570) and Coertzen (16,558) are all in contention to achieve that.

In the women’s standings, 15 athletes have already completed three heptathlons in the series. Melnychenko currently leads with 19,262, but will have the opportunity to add to her leading tally in Talence. She is followed by Tyminska (18,977) and Rath (18,858).

Day (12,957) and Theisen Eaton (12,906) have completed just two heptathlons so far this season, but are still in contention for a top-three finish – and perhaps even victory – in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge.

Hans van Kuijen for the IAAF