The Czech Republic's Roman Sebrle in the men's Decathlon 110m Hurdles at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Crowning the ‘World’s Greatest Athlete’ – Looking back at 13 years of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge

With just over two months to go until the 24th edition of the Multistars meeting in Desenzano del Garda, Italy, kicks off the 2011 IAAF Combined Events Challenge, we begin our coverage of the season-long quest for the ‘World’s Greatest Athlete’ with a look back at the highlights produced since the series began in 1998.

The set up

This series was established in 1998 as a ‘Grand Prix’ equivalent for combined events athletes. An athlete’s top three scores from Challenge series events are combined to determine the overall winner.

In addition to the five Challenge meetings – the Multistars, the Hypo-bank meeting in Götzis, Austria, the Erdgas meeting in Ratingen, Germany, the TNT Fortuna meeting in Kladno, Czech Republic, and the Decastar meeting in Talence, France – points towards the Challenge crown can also be acquired at the World Championships, Olympic Games, Area Championships, the European Cup Combined Events meetings, and the USA national championships.

The top eight athletes then share a US$202,000 prize pot, with $30,000 going to the winner.

Decathlon highlights –

The winner of the first edition of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge was Estonian Erki Nool. He took the victory not only by winning the European championships title in Budapest in 1998, but he also took the victory that year in Götzis and at the European Cup meeting in his home town Tallinn.

The following year the crown went to Czech  Tomas Dvorak. Not only did he prove to be the strongest in 1999 by winning in Götzis and at the World Championships in Seville. He also broke the World record in his home town at the European Cup meeting in Prague. With a score of 8994 points he narrowly missed the 9000 points barrier. Even more impressive that year was his total score of 26,476 points over the three meetings, which averages to 8825 points per competition. This total is still the best score in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge competition.

In 2000 Nool again took the victory. Although Dvorak beat the Estonian in the meetings in Götzis and Talence, the World record holder lost too much to his opponent at the Olympic Games to maintain his title from the previous year.

In May 2001 Roman Sebrle wrote history by breaking the World record and passing the magical score of 9000 points in Götzis with his 9026 point tall. However a calf injury later that year kept him from maintaining his superiority at the World Championships in Edmonton. His compatriot Dvorak took the World title in Edmonton and took also the crown at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane and again left his fellow competitors behind.

In 2002 Sebrle won the Challenge for the first time. And again in 2004, 2005 and 2007 he was the best. Together with second positions in 1999, 2003 and 2006 and third positions in 1998 and 2000 he was in the top three of the series for entire decade. Only in 2001 – in which he broke the World record – the living legend was unable to compete in three meetings due to his calf injury.

The smallest margin between the first and second position was in 2007 when Jamaican Maurice Smith was only 41 points behind Sebrle.

The other winners of the annual contest were Tom Pappas (USA) in 2003, Dmitriy Karpov (KAZ) in 2006, Andrei Krauchanka (BLR) in 2008, Trey Hardee (USA) in 2009 and Romain Barras (FRA) who won last year. Barras compiled the lowest total score (25,063 points) since these series were held.

Heptathlon highlights –

In the women’s Heptathlon the first winner was Urszula Wlodarczyk from Poland, followed by Eunice Barber (FRA) in 1999, Sabine Braun (GER) in 2000 and Yelena Prokhorova (RUS) in 2001.

In 2002 Braun repeated her victory from 2000, although the highest score in three meetings in that year was by junior Carolina Klüft of Sweden. As the World junior championships are not part of the Combined Events Challenge her score at the junior championships in Kingston did not count for the series. Adding the total of her three meetings in 2002 her total score would have been 300 points higher than Braun totaled that year.

Beginning in 2003, Klüft dominated the scene, winning the first of four Challenge titles. In all those years her total scores were over 20,000 points. The only other athlete who passed that barrier was Frenchwoman Eunice Barber who tallied 20,388 points, just 11 points behind Klüft’s winning score that year. It was the narrowest margin in all the years the Challenge has been held. Klüft’s highest ever was in 2005 was 20,541 points, an average of 6847 points.

In 2007 Klüft started only in two meetings, including victories in Götzis and at the World Championships in Osaka, where she totaled 7032 points, a new European record. After this meeting she announced her retirement from the Heptathlon to focus on the Long Jump and Triple Jump in the future. Lyudmyla Blonska of Ukraine, who was second in both Götzis and Osaka, took her chance by winning the last meeting of that year, the Decastar meeting in Talence and so adding enough points to take the overall victory in 2007.

In 2008 the victory went for the first time to a non-European heptathlete, Hyleas Fountain of USA. She was followed by Ukraine’s Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska in 2009 and last years’ winner, Tatyana Chernova of Russia.

Hans van Kuijen for the IAAF