The pressure of performing in the intense heat of a major championship cauldron can either make or break an athlete. But if the aura of calm generating from Kevin Mayer is anything to go by, then the combined events star is poised for a golden weekend ahead.
The 26-year-old Frenchman, who is aiming to add the world indoor crown to his global outdoor title from London last summer, insists that – despite his rising star status – focusing on purely having fun in fact plays a pivotal role in his continuing success.
“Being tagged as the favourite, I felt the pressure the most in London," said Mayer. "And then I realised that the key is to just have fun and enjoy every single discipline, so now I don’t think about the pressure at all.
“Everyone bills me as the favourite at the moment but that’s not competition for me," he said. "If we knew in advance who was going to win, there would be no competition so I don’t consider myself the favourite and will never think of myself as having won an event before a competition. I just let people talk and I assume when we are all on the startline, that we are all on the same level.
“I think to perform well, I have to perform like I did as a youth athlete – just to go in and enjoy it, to make the most of it.”
He may not necessarily enjoy the added pressure of being billed as the favourite, but he understands it.
“I know I’ve worked really hard to become a world champion. It’s normal people expect more of me now and I am a perfectionist; I expect only the very best from myself. It’s just not added pressure because I think it too but in a relaxed way.”
Warner the underdog
Coming into his debut World Indoor Championships off the back of lifetime bests in the 60m hurdles (7.79) and the pole vault (5.60m), Mayer will face four other men who placed in the top seven positions in the British capital last year. He views Canada’s 2015 world silver medallist Damian Warner as his main threat for the glory.
“I have very good competition in Damian Warner," said Mayer, who holds the European heptathlon record with 6479. "He has an Ashton Eaton-type profile so I think he can do a great heptathlon.
“Indoors, I feel I am equally strong in every event but I’m stronger in the decathlon so I think Warner will be very hard to beat indoors. He is very strong on the first day so I’m glad the pole vault comes in as the second to last event because I can get a lot of points on him there.
“It’s going to be interesting to see him ahead of the game in the first few events and then me catching him up," he added. "He is a bit of a mystery in the heptathlon, only doing one before, so it’s going to be fun."
Mayer has managed to steer clear of injury for more than a year. Despite a recent brief illness, he insists his form and confidence levels are in good shape.
“Some people say I have peaked too early but I have not prepared specifically for this weekend and I am improving and competing well, so I hope it will work out for the best,” he ensured.
From Eaton's challenger to Eaton's successor
Mayer won several major age-group titles, but his big breakthrough came when he finished second to Eaton at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Rio was the most exciting decathlon in my life," said Mayer. "I felt I could improve in each event so it was special and it was euphoric competing against the best ever (Eaton). Losing to Ashton was better than winning (in London).
“He was very special and I still feel his spirit. He’s been a great example for me. I cannot beat him now but I hope one day that I can train and train and train to beat his world records (6645 for the heptathlon and 9045 for the decathlon).”
Mayer's life is a lot busier since becoming world champion. With juggling training for 10 events with media and sponsor commitments, he dismisses the suggestion of attempting a temporary switch to a single discipline like Eaton did in 2014 with the 400m hurdles.
“It’s a little dream but for now, it’s impossible," he said. "I believe I’m not yet strong enough to compete in an individual event. Maybe one day but I’ll never forget the combined events. Maybe sometime I’ll do the decathlon and then the pole vault afterwards for fun, but I have to be realistic in my aspirations so I have no interest in doing that yet.”
As much as Mayer wants to perform to his best this weekend, his main focus is on the outdoor season.
“I like creating surprises but it’s getting harder as I’m getting better," he says. "People tend to forget how hard training is.
“I will love representing my country this weekend but I prefer outdoors. The heptathlon is easy because there’s no 400m and 1500m. I definitely prefer the decathlon; it is more painful.”
Nicola Sutton for the IAAF