The 15th edition of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge saw Belgium’s Hans van Alphen and Russia’s Tatyana Chernova emerge as the overall winners for the all-rounders premiere series. Both received the US$30,000 first prize that was available for the winners of the Challenge.
The Combined Events Challenge is an important competition as for the multi-event exponents as the possibilities to earn prize money in their event are very limited.
Physically, the participation in a Decathlon or Heptathlon is for most elite athletes is usually limited to a maximum of three top level competitions a year.
This year only 11 men and 14 women completed three competitions that counted for the IAAF Combined Events Challenge and were therefore eligible to be contenders for the overall prize money for the series. In total 215 athletes completed at least one Decathlon or Heptathlon that was in the Challenge.
The series started in April with the African Championships in Bambous (MRI). Other continental championships counting for the IAAF Combined Events Challenge included: the NACAC Championships in Ottawa (CAN), the European Athletics Championships in Helsinki, the US Olympic Trials in Eugene, and the most important meeting of 2012, and the Olympic Games in London.
Five international meetings were also part of the series: Desenzano (ITA), the Hypo-meeting in Götzis (AUT), Kladno (CZE), Ratingen (GER) and the season ending Talence (FRA).
Van Alphen was the most prolific points scorer in his three Decathlon appearances in 2012. The 30-year-old athlete started with a win at the prestigious meeting in Götzis in a national record of 8,519 points, followed by an 8,447 points score at the Olympic Games, where he narrowly missed out on the podium, and he ended the season with a victory in Talence.
He is a pupil of Wim Vandeven, who is the husband and coach of 2008 Olympic High Jump champion, Tia Hellebaut. His best result in the Combined Events Challenge before was sixth in 2007 and 2011. With Germany’s 2012 European Athletics Championships gold medallist Pascal Behrenbruch and Ukraine’s Oleksey Kasyanov finishing second and third, the 2012 Challenge podium was completed.
In the Heptathlon, Olympic Games bronze medallist Chernova took the victory for the fourth consecutive year. This performance was earlier only achieved by Sweden’s Carolina Klüft who ruled supreme between 2003 and 2006.
However, the struggle for second place was very close. Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Yosypenko had the edge with 19,520 points, only 10 points ahead of France’s 2012 European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou. This year was a very strong one for the women’s Heptathlon. The all-time top 20 list of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge also saw the entry of Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte, who finished fourth in the 2012 Challenge with 19,408 points.
In the opening meet of the season at the African Championships, the Decathlon victory went to Kame Ali (MAD) with 7,409 points, ahead of Guillaume Thierry (MRI). As both athletes also competed in Desenzano and Kladno this year, the African pair ended among the top 12 in the final standings.
In the first weekend of May, Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Karpov took the victory in the Multistar meeting in Desenzano where he totaled 8,172 points. The Asian champion eventually finished in fifth in the overall final standings.
In Kladno, Karpov bettered his result from Desenzano by one point, while he totalled 7,926 points at the Olympic Games.
The most prestigious combined events invitation meeting is traditionally held on the last weekend of May in the Austrian village of Götzis. Here the world top combined events athletes usually meet for the first time of the season. In the polls most mentioned names for victory that weekend started with S (Sintnicolaas, Sebrle and Suarez), but Van Alphen had other ideas.
The Belgian had ended the previous season with a victory in Talence, where he improved his national record to 8,200 points, enough to guarantee him a ticket for the Olympics. Van Alphen was therefore quire relaxed when he arrived in Götzis and he opened with personal best performances in the first two events, enough to find himself at the top of the standings at the end of the first day.
When Van Alphen started the second day with yet another personal best in the hurdles it became clear that he would fight very hard not relinquish his leading position. However., despite another personal best in the Pole Vault, he found himself back into third behind Sintnicolaas whose 5.36m was good enough to take the lead by 36 points.
Van Alphen reduced the gap to only eight points before the final event in which he needed to defeat his Dutch opponent by four seconds to claim the win. At the end of the 1500m race Van Alphen was six seconds ahead of Sintnicolaas for an overall total of 8,519 points, while Sintnicolaas’ counter stopped at 8,506. For both athletes, there performance was a national record.
Behrenbruch finished third in Götzis. One month later, he took the gold medal at the European Athletics Championships in Helsinki with 8,556 points. This, together with his 8,126 points score in London, was enough to secure him the second position in the IAAF Challenge.
For the US athletes, the only possibility to qualify for the Olympics is at the Trials. It was perfect timing for 24-year old Ashton Eaton who was in the shape of his life right when it mattered. In the first two events - 100m in 10.21 and 8.23m in the Long Jump - he produced all-time best performances in Decathlon.
Despite awful weather conditions during the two days he continued to chase the World record of Roman Sebrle. At the start of the 400m Bill Toomey, the 1968 Olympic champion and still the owner of the all-time best performance in 400m Decathlon (45.68), looked to heaven and said: “Oh, Lord. Thank you,” knowing that it would sadly be impossible to break this mark now.
At the start of the last event, Eaton knew that he needed 4:16.00 to break the World record and although for most of the decathletes this would have been an impossible task, his coach, Harry Marra, advised him to go for it.
With the help of Curtis Beach and Joe Detmer, the pace plan worked to perfection and Eaton clocked an incredible 4:14.48. Sebrle’s World record from 2001 was history and, with a score of 9,039 points, Eaton became the second athlete ever to break the 9,000 barrier. Two months later, at the Olympic Games in London, Eaton proved again that he was the best when he beat 2011 World champion Trey Hardee by a massive 198 points for the gold medal.
After the Olympic Games many athletes, including Eaton and Hardee, decided to end their season. The Americans only completed two decathlons this year and therefore did not feature among the top-10 in the overall standings. However, Van Alphen took the opportunity to repeat last year’s victory in Talence and secured the win in the 2012 IAAF Combined Events Challenge.
“It was a crazy season in which I won Götzis and Talence. I could have become the third athlete in history of Decathlon to score in all 10 events above 800 points, but at the start of the 1500m I was too tired. I could not predict such a year before the start of the season,” he said.
In the two most important meetings of the season, Jessica Ennis proved that she was the best heptathlete in 2012. In Götzis she opened the season with a personal best performance of 6,906 points, a British national record. Yet, since being forced out of the Beijing Olympic Games through injury there was only one competition that mattered to her: the London 2012 Olympic Games for which she was the Poster Girl.
0n the morning of 3 August, Ennis stormed out of the starting blocks of the 100m Hurdles and went on to clock 12.54, the fastest ever time in Heptathlon. With four more athletes finishing under 13 seconds it was the fastest Heptathlon race ever.
After day one, Ennis had totalled 4,158 points and 176 points ahead of her opponents. When the ‘Golden Girl’ of British athletics did not fail in the first event of the second day she knew that she almost only had to finish to secure the title she had focused on during four years. As it turned out she totaled 6,955 points, another British record. With 23 athletes scoring over 6,000 points it was the best ever competition in the history of the Heptathlon.
The silver medal in London went, perhaps surprisingly, to Lilli Schwarzkopf who unfortunately tore her Achilles tendon a month later in Talence. With both Ennis and Schwarzkopf not completing a third Heptathlon this year, Chernova had an easy ride to the top of the overall standings with her second place finish in Götzis, third in London and fourth in Talence. The Daegu World champion totalled 19,717 points.
The struggle for second position was much closer as only one point separated Lyudmyla Yosypenko from European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou before the final meeting in Talence.
Both athletes were motivated not only to take the victory in Talence, but also to get the second position in the challenge. At the start of the 800m, the gap between the two athletes was less than two seconds. The French woman may have been ahead of her opponent but Yosypenko followed very closely just one second behind and therefore secured victory in Talence and the overall second position by a mere 10 points.
Hans van Kuijen for the IAAF
Leading Overall Standings
1. Hans van Alphen (BEL) 25259.00
2. Pascal Behrenbuch (GER) 25117.00
3..Oleksiy Kasyanov (UKR) 24822.00
4. Eelco Sintnicolaas (NED) 24481.00
5. Dmitry Karpov (KAZ) 24271.00
6. Adam Sebastian Helcelet (CZE) 24106.00
7. Yordani Garcia (CUB) 24022.00
8. Ashley Bryant (CUB) 23194.00
1. Tatyana Chernova (RUS) 19717.00
2. Lyudmyla Yosypenko (UKR) 19520.00
3. Antoinette Nana Djimou Ida (FRA) 19510.00
4. Austra Skujte (LTU) 19408.00
5. Laura Ikauneice (LAT) 19031.00
6. Jessica Samuelsson (SWE) 18790.00
7. Sharon Day (USA) 18731.00
8. Eliska klucinová (CZE 18543.00