Eight events in two days, such is the challenge given to the octathletes, the 17 year-old version of the decathletes. Strength, speed and stamina, such are the qualities requested to be a good octathlete, to become a champion.
And today’s champion, the one athlete who proved to be the strongest and the fastest, was 17-year old Uruguayan Andres Silva.
Winner of the four running events included in the octathlon – 100m, 400m, 110m Hurdles and 1000m – Silva totalled an excellent 6456 points which is not only a world youth best but also a new championships record. He finished 90 points clear of Belarus Andrei Krauchanka with Luka Patera of Czech Republic a further 50 points below.
“I am such a happy man,” said Silva after his two-day effort. “I trained very hard and I came here to give it all my best. I am proud of what I just achieved today. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of sacrifices to be successful. I am delighted I can prove to the whole world what a South American is capable of.”
After day one, Silva had accumulated a 33-point lead thanks to a 10.74 clocking in the 100 metres, 6.87m in the Long Jump, 14.76 in the Shot Put and a massive 48.09 in the 400m.
Despite it being the fastest time of all the competitors, Silva admitted being disappointed by his 400 metre run – his pb being two seconds faster. “I didn’t have enough time to recover,” he complained.
But coming into the second day of the competition which opened with the 110 metres Hurdles, Silva had quickly forgotten about his disappointment and ran a new personal best of 13.74.
Problems were to start for the young Uruguayan who had poor shows at the High Jump (1.83m) and the Javelin Throw (43.58). As a result, Silva lost his lead and was trailing three points behind Krauchanka before the 1000m.
“I didn’t panic. I knew I was the best runner and I knew the medals would be determined by the 1000m. I ran my own race; I wasn’t going to miss that one.”
And the suspense just added to the beauty of Silva’s win which he secured with a magnificent 2:35.91 run. Nothing was to stop the young South American, not even the morning rain or the afternoon wind.
“Yes the weather meant we had quite a few technical problems. And also I didn’t expect to find such a strong opposition here. I always run with my heart and I didn’t want anything to prevent me from experiencing such a joy.”
“Athletics is all my life.”
Andres Silva came to athletics six years ago when, aged 12, he was spotted by Uruguay’s Club Campos coach Andres Barrios.
Running in a regional 500 metres, young Silva came in third but was immediately approached by Barrios, who amongst his 35 to 40 athletes also counts sprinter Heber Vieira, the country’s best athlete in the last 5 to 6 years.
“I liked him a lot. He was very thin and fragile but there was something about him that got me very interested.”
And that was the beginning of a coach-athlete life story that has since developed into a mutual partnership based on respect and friendship.
The second of three siblings, Silva took the crucial decision of moving 500 kilometres away from his hometown of Tacaruembo to Punta del Este to start what has since been a brilliant athletics career.
“His parents divorced shortly before I met him,” explained Barrios. “He was very interested in athletics but his mother wouldn’t let him go. I had to go and talk to her and convince her that would be the path for her son to follow.
“So he now lives with me. I have taken him under my wing and with the help of the Club and the Olympic National Committee we are slowly making our marks in the sport.”
Silva had met the qualification standard to compete in Debrecen’s World Youth champs two years ago but his coach refused to send him to Hungary. He wanted to preserve his little jewel.
A year ago, Silva competed in the individual 400m race in Kingston World Junior championships. He finished 5th in his heat with 48.14 but was pleased to have raced against athletes three years older than him. Coming into these championships, Silva had only completed one octathlon.
“The only full octathlon he did this year was back in April,” said Barrios. I specifically asked for exactly the same schedule of the worlds so he would get to know what it feels like. In the last three months he had quite a few competitions in which he would do two events. Then three, then four…this was all part of a very methodical preparation.”
A fanatic of the sport, Barrios doesn’t miss any his protégé’s movements. On his notebook, he pencils down all the results, not only those of Silva but also those of all the 35 other competitors. There is one figure that stands out from his notebook: 6666.
“This is my prognostic. I have told him he is capable of it," explained Barrios after the High Jump.
“One also wins a competition mentally. If going into a championships you know you are able to win, to improve on the world best you will perform all the better.”
Hadn’t his last throw in the javelin been a foul (largely over 55 metres), Silva would undoubtedly have surpassed the 6600 points but that is just how life goes.
Silva’s raw talent is such that he could easily have opted to compete in any individual event. His octathlon time in the 400m would have been the fourth fastest of the individual heats while only two individual high hurdlers ran faster than him in the 110m. But Silva – or better his coach - had no hesitation in choosing the octathlon.
“I am not a fan of early specialisation,” Barrios said. “I believe it is important for youngsters to have a good overall training with focus on technical exercises and co-ordination drills. What is essential is to develop one’s physical natural qualities.
“And if you take a look at Andres you can see that we are doing a great job. I mean look at him he’s not very tall, he’s not very muscular and yet he’s the most athletic of all the guys in here.”
“I would define these Championships as one step of an overall preparation of which aim are the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing,” announced Barrios proudly.s
In a country so poor that there is only one pole for more than 1000 cities – and only three financially assisted athletes - Barrios doesn’t see Silva’s future as a decathlete. But what will be his event then?
“You know he has times of 1:50.94 at 800m, 46.23 at 400m, 10.74 at 100m, 21.40 at 200m and now 13.74 at 110m Hurdles, so he could easily pick any of these events as his speciality in the future. But I think he will be a better 400m Hurdler.”
Coach and athlete may have to solve their first real argument in such an inspiring partnership though as Silva points out.
“But I want to be a decathlete. I love the decathlon!”