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Melnychenko and Arnold the favourites in Desenzano del Garda – IAAF Combined Events Challenge

Hanna Melnychenko of Ukraine competes in the women's Heptathlon javelin throw (Getty Images)Hanna Melnychenko of Ukraine competes in the women's Heptathlon javelin throw (Getty Images) © Copyright

Desenzano del Garda, Italybased heptathlete Hanna Melnychenko from Ukraine is the top name at the 23rd edition of the Multistars Trofeo Zerneri Acciai meeting set for this weekend (8-9) in Desenzano del Garda, the first leg of the annual IAAF Combined Events Challenge. Jake Arnold from the USA will be looking to score a back-to-back win in Desenzano after winning last year with 7994 points.

Melnychenko, who lives and trains in Florence under the guidance of Italian coach Riccardo Calcini, finished runner-up for the second time in a row last year in Desenzano with 6077 points behind British World champion Jessica Ennis.

For the Ukrainian Desenzano marked a good start to a solid 2009 season in which she finished second with 6445 points in the Hypo-Meeting in Götzis behind her compatriot Natalya Dobrynska in a competition highlighted by a podium sweep for the Ukrainian team. Melnychenko finished fifth at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin with 6414 points and won the European Cup of Combined Events in Szczecin with 6380 points. Thanks to these results the Ukrainian reached the podium of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge Overall Ranking finishing third behind Dobrynska and World silver medallist Jennifer Oeser of Germany.

The other stand-out name in the Heptathlon competition is Marina Goncharova from Russia, who had a solid 2010 indoor season with a seventh place at the World Indoor Championships Pentathlon in Doha last March, and a 4605 indoor PB set in Penza. Goncharova, a former World Youth bronze medallist in 2003, set her Heptathlon PB in Götzis 2008 where she scored 6319 points.

Among the other athletes who can fight for a top-three spot is Norway’s Ida Marcussen, the World Junior silver medallist in Beijing 2006 with 6020 points. Marcussen set her PB of 6226 points at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 where she finished 11th. Her best event is the javelin throw where she boasts a PB of 52.95m.

Margaret Simpson from Ghana, who trains at the High Performance Training Centre in Mauritius and a former World bronze medallist from Helsinki 2005, will make a return to the Italian meeting which she in 2003 and 2005. Simpson, who set her PB of 6423 points back in 2005 in Götzis, has already taken part in in one Heptathlon competition this year in Reduit on 11 April where she came close to the 6000 points-barrier score with 5987 points, a solid performance on her comeback from maternity leave. Nadezhada Sergeyeva from Russia, third at the European Under 23 Championships in Kaunas with her PB of 6118 points, Switzerland’s Simone Oberer (PB 6052) and Italian Francesca Doveri (PB 5885 points) complete the Desenzano’s Heptathlon line-up.

Arnold set for defence

The winners of the last two editions of the Desenzano meeting will battle for the Decathlon win this weekend. Jake Arnold is the favourite to retain the Desenzano’s Decathlon title won last year when he narrowly missed the 8000 points barrier with 7994 points. Former NCAA champion Arnold set his PB in 2007 in Sacramento when he scored 8215 points. In the same year he finished 13th at the World Championships in Osaka with 8004 points. He competed at the Berlin World Championships in Berlin where he finished 24th with 7837 points. He will square off against 2008 Desenzano winner Frederic Xhonneux from Belgium who smashed the Belgian record with 8147 points thanks to a strong performance in which he scored the National record by 100 points and set five individual PBs - 14.79m in the Shot Put, 1.95m in the High Jump, 45.36m in the Discus Throw, 4.95m in the Pole Vault and 63.56m in the javelin. His Belgian teammate François Gourmet (PB 7974) will also be competing this weekend.

Another man to watch will be Austria’s Roland Schwarzl who had a solid 2010 indoor season in which he scored 6065 points in the Heptahlon. Schwarzl set his PB of 8102 points in 2004 when he finished tenth at the Olympic Games in Athens.

Other names who can be a factor in the fight for top places are German Lars Albert (PB 7933 points); Italian Heptathlon record holder and former European Under 23 bronze medallist William Frullani (PB 7984) who will be looking for a qualifying score for the European Championships in Barcelona; Brent Newdick from New Zealand (PB 7915 points set at the World Championships in Berlin) who scored 7853 points earlier this year in Gold Coast; and Mikalai Shubianov from Belarus (PB 8028 points).

The field also includes two other athletes based at the HPTC in Mauritius, Guillaume Thierry from Mauritius and Ali Kame from Madagascar. Kame has only been training for the Decathlon for two years and nearly equalled his PB at the April meeting in Réduit, scoring 7314 points. This weekend he is expected to challenge the 7500-point barrier.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF

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