The first day of the “Decastar” Meeting, last leg of the IAAF World Combined Events Challenge 2005, saw the two favourites, Roman Sebrle in the Decathlon and Eunice Barber in the Heptathlon take the lead at the half-way stage. While Barber seems unchallenged and set for a high score, Sebrle will focus on victory only, as he is closely chased by Aleksandr Poregolov.
DECATHLON - Sebrle heading for a second successive victory in Talence
Eleven Decathletes out of the seventeen entered in Talence competed at the recent World Championships in Helsinki. In spite of the sun and favourable but cold wind, the times set in the 100m, the opening event of the Decathlon, were slightly down compared to Helsinki. Czechs Roman Sebrle and Tomas Dvorak, the two all-time best performers, were down (11.09 and 11.22 respectively) compared to their usual standard, so was Helsinki bronze medallist Attila Zsivoczky (HUN) with only 11.13. The fastest were Belgian François Gourmet (10.61) and Estonian Kristjan Ranhu (10.72).
Sebrle, the World record holder, Olympic champion and defending winner in Talence, didn’t wait too long before showing his tough mental attitude. His win in the Long Jump (7.60m) brought him back into the high part of the overall standings. Russian Aleksandr Pogorelov placed second with 7.53m, and the points he took at 100m (10.99) and at his winning throw at Shot Put (16.07), made him a surprising leader before the High Jump. Sebrle, back very close to his best shape of the year, set 2.04m, while Pogorelov further secured his leadership with 2.07, but the event was won by Mikk Pahapill (EST) with 2.10m.
By then the Overall positions were led by Pogorelov, Sebrle, Pahapill and the Finn Jaakko Ojaniemi but they were expected to change after the last event of the day, the 400m, due to the small point margins which separated the chief combatants.
Pogorelov could do no better than a 51.10 second one lap run, letting the overall lead pass to Sebrle with a 49.02 race. Sprinter François Gourmet gained points thanks to his 47.77 victory.
After five events, Sebrle led with 4331 points (compared to 4513 at the half way of his silver medal in Helsinki with 8521), from Pogorelov 4294, Ojaniemi 4196, Gourmet 4171 and Pahapill 4161.
Sebrle’s second day is expected to be better than Poregolov’s, since in Helsinki, the Czech scored 4008, compared to 3902 by the 5th placer Russian. However, it might just be the eye deceiving but Sebrle appeared particularly exhausted at the end of the first day.
HEPTATHLON - Barber heads towards improving her world season leading mark
Eunice Barber (FRA) took an early Heptathlon lead thanks to a 12.96 second emphatic win at 100m Hurdles, over Virginia Miller (USA) 13.12 and Kelly Sotherton (GBR) 13.32. Even though her time is similar to what she did (12.94) during World Championships where she won silver medal, Barber was frustrated since she wanted to erase her 12.78 Personal Best.
The strong swirling wind during the High Jump prevented the heptathletes finding their best marks. The French star, quite unpredictable at the event at which she has concentrated on training last week, increased her lead with another win at 1.87m, six centimetres higher than Yvonne Wise (NED) and Marie Collonvillé (FRA). She missed 3 times at 1.90m.
Her comfortable margin after these first two events made Barber unusually relaxed before the Shot Put, known as her ‘Achilles heel’ since her failure at 2001 World Championships (three fouls). Very concentrated and under the close eye of her coach Claude Monot, Barber improved her puts round after round, 13.13m, 13.46m, and a season’s best of 13.65. The athlete and the coach were joyful, even if Monot is still looking for the translation of her best training performances into competition, since Barber had thrown around 14.50m in practice a month ago.
“It’s a problem of self-confidence, I need to be as cool as possible in the circle, and the Shot Put will improve,” said Barber who placed third behind Vera Yepimashko (BLR) 15.66m and Nataliya Dobrynska (UKR) 14.95m.
At 200m, Barber followed her coach’s advice “to stay as high as possible while leaving the bend” in a race which was won by Kelly Sotherton (23.64) - who had set a personal best earlier at Shot Put with 13.91m - and Virgina Miller (23.72). Barber, who was third in 24.08 (wind -1.2m/s), secured her lead at the end of the first day with a total of 3941 points (in Helsinki, en route to her 6824 Silver medal, she scored 3973). Kelly Sotherton is placed 2nd with 3797. Tomorrow, the battle for 3rd place will be contested between Dobrynska and Miller, who were only separated by 1 point today (3698 and 3697 points respectively).
“This is the first time in many years that I am able to make a complete season (injury free),” said Barber. “Many things are getting better and better but it’s late in the season and now my legs are tired. But I am still in shape, I have the will to compete and to have fun. I am now looking for a great Long Jump tomorrow”. Two weeks after having scored her season's best with 6.80m, Barber seems to be ready for more, implying a Heptathlon total superior to her World Leading mark of 6889 points.
Pierre-Jean Vazel for the IAAF