With the 2015 IAAF Combined Events Challenge producing the closest finishes in challenge history – just 12 points separating the top three men and a scarcely more comfortable 233 between the first two women – the 2016 version has something to live up to.
The 2016 IAAF Combined Events Challenge gets under way at the Australian Championships in Sydney on 31 March to 3 April.
With this year’s challenge incorporating the Rio 2016 Olympic Games among its 11 competitions, it is entirely appropriate that Sydney will feature several young Australian hopefuls in pursuit of the Olympic qualifying standard along with New Zealand veteran decathlete Brent Newdick.
Newdick has a personal best of 8114, but he last surpassed the 8000-point mark in 2012, the year he finished 12th in the decathlon at the Olympics. He has not been near that level since; he won the New Zealand title earlier this year with a modest 7115.
He will almost certainly need something much better over the two days in Sydney to see off the challenge of Australian pair Cedric Dubler and Kyle Cranston, who will be hot in pursuit of the 8100 score needed to win a place on the Australian team for Rio.
Dubler, the silver medallist at the IAAF World Juniors Championships Oregon 2014, improved his senior score to 7785 earlier this year. Cranston, 23, has likewise improved this year, taking his personal best to 7703.
Jake Stein, Dubler’s predecessor as world U20 silver medallist in Barcelona in 2012, is also in the field, along with promising New Zealand pair Aaron Booth and Jackson Henry.
New Zealand champion Veronica Torr, with a best of 6051, is the leading entrant in the heptathlon, appearing to have a comfortable buffer over Australia’s Sophie Stanwell. Stanwell’s best of 5754 was set when finishing fourth at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The women’s U20 competition also has international implications as it is the selection trial for the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016. Alysha Burnett has already achieved the Australian standard, but she will be given a tough contest by Celeste Mucci, already selected for Bydgoszcz in the sprint hurdles, but who wants to contest the heptathlon as well.
A global series
Sydney is the first of 11 competitions comprising the 2016 Combined Events Challenge.
From Australia, the challenge moves to Africa for the African Combined Events in Reduit, Mauritius on 2-3 April.
Then it is on to Europe for the traditional Multistars Trofeo Zerneri Acciai in Florence (29-30 April) and the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis (28-29 May), followed by the TNT Express Meeting in Kladno in the Czech Republic (10-11 June).
Two North American competitions – the Pan American Combined Events in Ottawa on 17-19 June and the US Olympic Trials in Eugene on 1-10 July – will be contested either side of another traditional European competition, the Erdgas Merhkampf Meeting in Ratingen on 25-26 June. The European Championships in Amsterdam, 6-10 July, overlap the US Trials.
The final two legs of the challenge will be the combined events in Rio, where the athletics programme runs from 12 to 21 August, and the Decastar meeting in Talence, France (17-18 September).
The challenge is decided by the best three-competition points total. The 2015 men’s winner, Ilya Shkurenev of Russia, had just seven points to spare over second-placed Michael Schrader of Germany, who in turn was just five points clear of Canada’s Damian Warner. Those wafer-thin margins represent a little over, and a little under, two points per decathlon or 0.2 per event’s difference.
It was close, though not as close, in the women’s contest. Laura Ikauniece-Admidina of Latvia had 233 points to spare over Claudia Rath of Germany, who was 77 clear of the Netherlands’ Anouk Vetter in third place.
Testament to the international scope of the challenge, five different nations were represented in the top five men, four in the top five women. Willem Coertzen of South Africa and Oleksiy Kasyanov of Ukraine rounded out the top five men, while Nadine Visser of the Netherlands and Anastasiya Mokhnyuk of Ukraine were next among the women.
The timing of the Olympic Games and European Championships will dictate the competition programme of most combined-eventers this year. The traditional Gotzis meeting will be the jumping off point for many, but there will also be the all-important US Olympic Trials for world champion and world record-holder Ashton Eaton and his US teammates, and the European Championships for the old continent.
The first qualification for those seeking to win the challenge is that they must do three events. With the US Trials mandatory, Eaton will assumedly do at least two in 2016. But will he do a third?
Similarly, Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill may take the conservative route as to how many competitions she attempts in the run-up to Rio.
With that caveat in mind, world medallists Eaton, Warner and Rico Freimuth of Germany will all be prominent at various stages of the challenge, as will Ennis-Hill, Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Canada and Ikauniece-Admidina.
The World Indoor Championships usually represents a reliable guide to outdoor form, so add Germany’s Mathias Brugger and Eaton’s US teammate Curtis Beach to the men’s mix and Alina Fodorova of Ukraine to the women’s.
Others who will likely play a part include Ennis-Hill’s compatriots Katarina Johnson-Thompson and world junior champion Morgan Lake in the heptathlon, and Trey Hardee of the US and Cuba’s Leonel Suarez in the decathlon.
Len Johnson for the IAAF