Budapest, HungaryWe begin our three part preview - Track, Field, and Combined - of the 10th IAAF World Indoor Championships (5 – 7 March 2004) with the COMBINED EVENTS.
Men – HEPTATHLON
There is little doubt that this summer’s Olympic Games loom large over the IAAF World Indoor Championships this week, and in the men’s Heptathlon, the Budapest public could be treated to a exclusive preview to the Decathlon in Athens.
No man has yet managed to retain the World Indoor Heptathlon title, and in the absence of the American winner in Birmingham last year, Tom Pappas, that is not going to change this year.
But Roman Sebrle, the Decathlon World record holder, does have a chance to regain the title he won in 2001. The Czech has been an ever-present on the invitation list for entries on the three occasions that the multi-events have been staged at the World Indoors, and has never yet finished off the medal podium.
Sebrle’s 6420pts tally from three years ago remains the championship best performance, 56 shy of Dan O’Brien’s World record set in Toronto in 1993.
But rather than sheer point accumulation, the Heptathlon at the World Indoors has always been marked out as a tough battle between the sport’s great all-rounders, as they slug it out between themselves, event-by-event, somewhat like heavyweight boxers going toe-to-toe.
When Sebrle turns up for the weigh-in in Budapest, he will once again be eyeballed by a couple of his closest rivals: Lev Lobodin, of Russia, who beat the Czech to the silver medal in Birmingham a year ago, and Erki Nool, Estonia’s popular Olympic champion.
Through the system of invitations, four leading athletes from the 2003 season will compete in Budapest alongside four leading indoor performers from this winter season.
But while Sebrle has been invited based on his 2003 Decathlon rankings, he is also the man in form, having won a Heptathlon in Tallinn last month with the 2004 world-leading mark of 6350pts, beating Nool and the American, Bryan Clay, into the minor placings by more than 200pts.
On this winter’s form, the improving 24-year-old Russian, Aleksandr Pogorelov, could be Sebrle’s biggest threat, having scored 6161pts in January.
Women – PENTATHLON
The women’s one-day Pentathlon has proved to be an equally compelling competition to the men’s multi-event at the last three World Indoors, and in Birmingham it provided the stage for Sweden’s Carolina Kluft to announce herself as a rising star when she established the championship record 4933 points.
Kluft’s performance under the roof of the National Indoor Arena merely presaged the exuberance wit which she celebrated her talent later in the year at the Stade de France in Paris when she claimed the outdoor heptathlon world title.
But Kluft, in common with her leading rivals such as France’s Eunice Barber, Denise Lewis and Natalya Saznovich, Belarus’s 2001 World Indoor gold medallist, has opted to by-pass the Pentathlon in Budapest.
That means that Budapest will crown a new Pentathlon champion, and the competition appears wide open, with just 32 points separating the top five on the entry list so far this season.
The Ukraine’s Nataliya Dobrynska could be the Kluft of this winter season: aged just 21, she won the Pentathlon at Sumy last month with a world-leading 4602pts, despite a modest 800-metre run to conclude the five events. Her 8.49sec 60m Hurdles and 6.42m Long Jump look certain to threaten all her more experienced rivals.
These include Tia Hellebaut, from Belgium, who is noted for her strong high jumping, and Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte, who looks to be the strongest shot putter on the entry list.
But with Karin Ruckstuhl, of the Netherlands, a recent winner at Zuidbroek, and Portugal’s tough Naide Gomes also among the invitees, Budapest seems set for another clash of titans.