Eugene, USAIn the big shock of Sunday in Eugene, Hyleas Fountain was forced out of the Heptathlon competition at the US Championships - a competition which offers points scoring opportunities in the IAAF World Combined Events Challenge - after five splendid events which had at one time pointed toward an eventual total in the 6900 range.
The Beijing silver medallist had injured her neck in Saturday’s High jump competition (27), and her extreme effort in jumping 6.95 in Sunday’s Long Jump (28) further aggravated the condition. Medical personnel took Fountain away from Hayward Field on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance for transfer to a local hospital for further evaluation.
Diana Pickler, with a PB total of 6290, captured the US crown, with Sharon Day - already on the Berlin team in the High Jump - at 6177 and Bettie Wade with 5908 taking the next two places.
Even without Fountain, the US will send a full Heptathlon team to Berlin, as both Pickler and Day achieved the “A” standard today (6100), and Wade slipped in under the “B” standard (5900).
Fountain was the second major casualty in the combined events at the US Championships, as Olympic champion Bryan Clay withdrew from the Decathlon shortly before the start of competition Thursday with a strained hamstring. Lacking two Olympic medallists, the US team will go to Berlin in a decidedly weakened state so far as the combined events are concerned.
Until the moment of abdication today, Fountain continued to rule the event. She kept up her powerful pace from the first day with a 6.95 leap in the Long Jump to amass a five-event 5193 total. After a leadoff foul, the Beijing silver medallist flew out to a distance previously only attained by Jackie Joyner Kersee among US multi-eventers. Satisfied with this PB improvement (from 6.88 at last year’s Olympic Trials), Fountain then appeared to take a rest to prepare for the javelin. But in reality, her injured neck required professional attention.
Pickler had meanwhile maintained her hold on the runner-up spot with a 6.33m windy leap (her legal PB is 6.20) for an aggregate 4721. The battle for the final team spot began to take on added interest with only two events remaining. Day managed a near-PB 5.99 for a 4585 total, but Michigan student Wade jumped a career-best 6.41 for 4530 to move within 55 points of a potential Berlin nomination.
Now, without Fountain guiding the competition, Pickler took over the top spot after the Javelin Throw with 5425 after a 41.90, as Day moved into the runner-up position, trailing by 161 points at 5264 after a 40.62 fling. A tie for the third spot emerged at 5076 points between Lela Nelson and Wade after their efforts of 36.63 and 33.74, respectively.
With 300 metres remaining in the 800 metres, Day took charge and crossed the line first in 2:13.54, a personal best by more than 3½ seconds. Pickler, safely atop the point totals, still ran competitively in fifth with 2:16.99, the second-fastest two-lap race of her career, while Wade won the all-important battle with Nelson, 2:19.37 to 2:20.15, both PBs.
But all the while, one can only imagine what Fountain might have attained had misfortunate not dogged her this weekend. In the last 13 years, only Carolina Klüft, with 7032 in her Osaka victory and 6952 in winning the Athens’ gold, has scored more than 6900 points.
Ed Gordon for the IAAF
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