MonteCarloStatisticians A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) begin the first of eight ‘end of season’ event category reviews covering all Athletics disciplines, highlighting the best performances which have taken place across our sport in 2008, with the COMBINED EVENTS.
MEN - Decathlon
28-year-old Bryan Clay (USA) finally reached a level during the 2008 season where no other decathlete could challenge him for the Olympic gold. Clay, who made his breakthrough to the international elite in 2004 winning two silver medals during that season, at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest and Olympic Games in Athens, was in great shape already during the indoor season.
The American set a big personal best 7.74sec in the 60m Hurdles in Ames in February for the fastest ever 60mh time during a Heptathlon (indoors). Clay also set a 5.15m PB in the Pole Vault for a 6192 total points. At the World Indoor Championships in Valencia Clay took an easy title winning with 6371 total points personal best outscoring Andrei Krauchanka (BLR) by 137 points. This was Clay’s third medal in as many tries at the World Indoors, he had won the silver both in 2004 and 2006.
Outdoors Clay competed twice in the Decathlon and was outstanding both times. 8832 personal best came as a result of the Olympic Trials win in Eugene in June and in Beijing the American had no problem at all winning comfortably by a margin of 240 points before Krauchanka, who took the second place at the Olympics too.
Clay scored 8791 in Beijing just falling short of his world season leading score. Clay has now got three medals (one World Championships title in 2005 and gold and silver from the Olympics) and has not been able to finish the Decathlon on the rest of the three tries.
22-year-old Belarussian Krauchanka was in good form during 2008 season following a disappointment in Osaka where he was disqualified in the first event, 100m, being a favourite to win there. This time Krauchanka came to Beijing having won the European Combined Events Cup in Hengelo with 8585 season’s best and came close to that score winning the silver with 8551.
Young Cuban, just 20-years-old during the competition, Leonel Suárez was the big surprise in Beijing finishing just behind Krauchanka with 8527 national record score and a bronze medal. Suárez had set two national records before the Olympics with 8366 in Götzis and 8451 in Ratingen, both in June. He only had a personal best of 8156 before this season and added nearly 400 points to that result in 2008.
Czech Veteran, 34-year-old Roman Sebrle, 2004 Olympic champion and World record holder (9026 in 2001) who still won the World Championships in Osaka 2007 had to finally step down as he failed to find his earlier form. He came to Beijing having only scored a best of 8076 during the season, but still found a lot of extra energy for a respectable sixth place and 8241 season’s best at the Olympics.
USA heads this event with 22 athletes in the world top 100. Germany has eight for second place with Russia in third with seven.
WOMEN - Heptathlon
At the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, it was Belgium’s Tia Hellebaut, by then better know as a specialist High Jumper, who took the honours with a world season leading 4867pts total for Pentathlon gold. Hellebaut had been fifth at the Pentathlon at the 2004 World Indoors but since had become European outdoor and indoor champion at the individual High Jump.
In Beijing this summer the 30-year-old Belgian would become Olympic champion over the bar and then a few months later would announce her retirement from the sport to start a family. However, it was a semi-retirement of sorts, from the Combined Events, by another great champion that was the talking point of athletics just weeks after Valencia.
Unexpectedly for most followers of the sport, 2007 retroactively turned out the the final year of the "Klüft era" in women's combined events. After six years as the No 1 Heptathlete in the World and after in Osaka winning her third World Championships title with a new PB making her the No 2 of all-time Carolina Klüft announced that she would instead focus on the horizontal jumping events.
The decision seemed to defy "common sense" as there was no outer force – like an injury or loss of form – involved. How could the undisputed No 1 in the World suddenly quit her speciality when on top physically and on the brink of a season where she most likely would have defended her Olympic title?
But those that were confused obviously had never really listened to what Klüft had said all along from her sensational breakthrough as a 19-year-old in 2002. She was an athlete because she loved to do it and if that sense of joy would be lost she would quit right away. She was never in it for the honours, the fame or the money – only for the joy of doing sport. This attitude might seem very strange in this day and age but for Carolina Klüft it was her raison d'ete as an athlete.
For every year the pressure upon her to always perform up to the expectations of being the undisputed "queen of the Heptathlon" started taking its toll on the feeling of joy and fun until it had been completely eroded. And without that she would be unable to produce the top performances. So in the end the decision to quit the combined events wasn't that hard.
But it certainly turned the Heptathlon landscape upside down. Suddenly the dominant force for the last six years was gone and there was no one capable of stepping into Klüft's 7000+ shoes athletically - and there wasn't even any apparent candidate for the Olympic gold. Klüft had been so dominant in her era that everyone else had become almost invisible.
Typically the other twelve medals in her six championship triumphs had been spread around quite a bit: Nine different athletes where five had got silver medals (Eunice Barber two) and four bronze medals (Natalya Sazanovich and Kelly Sotherton two each).
So coming into Beijing there were at least a handful of gold medal candidates, mainly Lyudmila Blonska (silver in Osaka), Hyleas Fountain (6.667 at US Trials), Tatyana Chernova (6.618 at Götzis), Olga Kurban (6.559 in Russian Trials) and Kelly Sotherton (bronze in Osaka).
And typically none of those five got the gold which instead went to Natalya Dobrynska who managed to raise her yearly best mark by almost 500 points and her PB by almost 350 points after putting together a series where she scored a new PB in five out of seven events (only missing in High Jump and 800m). Dobrynska has competed in the major championships since 2004 but before this time never been even close to a medal finishing in the interval 6-9.
So it was really a major breakthrough for the 26-year-old Ukrainian and it will be interesting to see if she will go on to build a legacy in the future. The athlete she really need to watch out for in the years to come is Tatyana Chernova who at age 20 won the prestigeous meet in Götzis and then took the bronze (just 28 points from the silver) in Beijing.
On the other hand the career is over for Osaka silver medallist Blonska who did finish 2nd here only to be disqualified for failing the doping test. As this was Blonska's second doping offence she is now banned for life.
During the early years of the millennium the Heptathlon was in a recession with the standards dropping on all levels, but it now seems to have entered a strong revival phase: 13 athletes surpassing 6400 points is something not seen for the last twenty years (since 1988)! So the future looks quite bright for the "post-Klüft era" that has just begun!