Moscow, RussiaThe occasion was probably too much for Andre Niklaus. “I started competing in the Decathlon in 1986,” he said.
Up to this point, his English was good. Are you sure? “Yes, 1986.” He then started laughing when he realised that in 1986 he was only five, which even by decathlon standards is a pretty young age to start and when he swapped the date for 1998, he still had a chuckle across his face.
We could, of course, excuse any slip up from the Heptathlon gold medallist at the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships because the past hour had been the greatest of his career.
From nowhere, he had won the final two events of the day, the Pole Vault, with a clearance of 5.30m, and the 1000m, to beat American Bryan Clay, who had led from the first gun of the 60 Metres on Saturday morning.
“Did I think I would win with two to go,” said Niklaus, 24. “Simple answer: No. But I had a great Pole Vault and knew I had a good time beforehand in the 1000m. But you can never tell. Bryan and Roman (Sebrle) are fantastic competitors and I could not anything for granted.”
Though by the time he charged down the home straight he was celebrating becoming the champion, even though when the race finished, with Niklaus first in 2:47.80, he had to wait to see where Clay was, and then hang on anxiously to see how the times transferred into points.
Before the event, Clay was 38 ahead. He was fourth in the race in 2:50.92, behind Sebrle, the world record-holder from Czech Republic, who was second in 2:49.38 with Russia’s Konstantin Smirnov third in 2:50.90.
Niklaus had done enough to triumph with 6192. The 789 points he earned were 43 better than Clay and a dramatic, thrilling Heptathlon competition had been won at the last moment by a German who was fourth at the Decathlon in Helsinki at the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics last summer.
A new home of the Decathlon?
Then he had to watch the medal ceremony after Clay had beaten Sebrle. This time he looked down on them from the top of the podium, with the American second, five points behind with 6187, and the Czech star third with 6161.
An athlete who studies media training through the day was not quite sure what he would do with the $40,000 that improves his previous best prize money, from Helsinki, by $32,000. “I will be going to the bank to pay it in and then I shall see,” he said.
But he would like his victory to stretch beyond what happened here today. Niklaus lives in East Berlin, he was born in the city and he hopes he can now inspire the area to become a ‘home for decathlon’.
In three years time, Berlin will host the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics and with their spectacular blue track and the Olympic Stadium, it should mean a thriving future in the sport.
Of course, a certain event stands in Niklaus’ way for now. “The football World Cup in Germany this summer means everyone is talking about that,” he said. “It is hard. I want to make an impression. But we I would like to think what I have achieved here might start something off.”
He will now target the European Championships in Gothenburg in August before beginning his countdown to Osaka which stages the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics next year.
Clay, the World Indoor silver medallist from 2004, and the reigning World Champion for the Decathlon, already has his sights set on that. “I want to go there and break the World record,” he said.
But as typical with so many multi-eventers of this modern age, he was gracious in defeat. “I did not perform well overall but Andre did and he is a worthy champion,” he said.
Clay said it was down to the athlete who made the least mistakes and he looked towards the Shot Put, where he produced an effort of 13.89 to finish sixth, and today’s Pole Vault, where he was last with 4.60m, 30 centimetres outside of his best, as key moments.
Niklaus took full advantage - and as Clay wandered past him in the interview room, they shook hands and agreed to meet for a drink in their hotel tonight. Sporting comradeship does not get any better than that.
Richard Lewis for the IAAF