Yordani Garcia of Cuba competes in the Men's Shot Put in the Heptathlon during day one - WIC Istanbul (Getty Iùages) © Copyright
Preview Ratingen, Germany

Cubans are back to meet defending champion in Ratingen - PREVIEW - IAAF Combined Events Challenge

Whenever they came to the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Ratingen in the past few years they delivered: Cuba’s decathletes won the Erdgas Multiple Events Meeting near Düsseldorf three years in a row from 2008 to 2010. While they did not compete in Ratingen a year ago they will be back in force in 2012. Leonel Suarez, Yordani Garcia and Yunior Diaz are all on the start list for Germany’s premier meeting of this kind, which will take place on Thursday and Friday (14 and 15 June). In Ratingen, the three Cubans will be up against the defending champion Larbi Bourrada (Algeria).

The women’s Heptathlon field is not as strong as the men’s Decathlon competition, but it could become a very close affair. Around half a dozen athletes should have a chance of winning the event. German athletes Julia Mächtig and Maren Schwerdtner will not just fight for victory but also for the one remaining place in the German Olympic Heptathlon team. It is the same situation for the German men: One ticket to London is still available in the Decathlon.

The Erdgas Meeting in Ratingen belongs to the IAAF Combined Events Challenge. For the first time in its history the meeting is scheduled for the evening. Athletes will compete under floodlight in the later stages of both days, which will create a different atmosphere than in the past.

DECATHLON: Larbi Bourrada opens season in Ratingen

Yordani Garcia has very good memories of the Ratingen Decathlon. The Cuban has won the event twice, in 2009 and 2010. This year the 23-year-old has placed seventh in the Heptathlon at the World Indoor Championships and then he took seventh again in the Götzis Decathlon. While Yordani Garcia had collected 8061 points in Austria Cuba’s strongest decathlete of recent years was more than 200 points ahead of him: Leonel Suarez was fifth in Götzis with 8289. The 24-year-old, who has already collected bronze medals at the Olympics in 2008 and the World Championships in Daegu a year ago, had won the Ratingen meeting in 2008. He then won with 8,451 points, which still is the fourth best result ever in the history of the Ratingen multiple events meeting. 25 year-old Yunior Diaz will have to improve quite a bit compared to his recent 13th place in Götzis if he wants to seriously challenge his fellow-countrymen on Thursday and Friday. Back in March he had won the national championships with 7956 points. This remains his season’s best so far.

The strongest opponent for Suarez and Garcia should be the defending champion: Larbi Bourrada had impressed a year ago, when he surged to an African record of 8302 points in Ratingen. He then went on to take tenth place in the World Championships. For the 24-year-old the German meeting will be his first Decathlon of the Olympic season.

German decathletes Pascal Behrenbruch and Rico Freimuth have already been pre-selected for London and will not compete in Ratingen. While Michael Schrader had to cancel his start due to a foot injury Jan Felix Knobel and former World Indoor Champion André Niklaus (2006 in Moscow), who had many injury problems in recent years, will fight for the remaining slot. However they also need to score at least 8,200 points.

HEPTATHLON: Could Schwerdtner or Mächtig continue German win streak?

Jennifer Oeser had become a symbol of the Ratingen Heptathlon in past few years. The athlete from nearby Leverkusen had won the event three years in a row (2009 to 2011). Since she and fellow German Lilli Schwarzkopf are already pre-selected for London they will both not compete on Thursday and Friday. Nonetheless there could still be a German successor of Jennifer Oeser in Ratingen.

26-year-old Maren Schwerdtner had just done enough in Götzis with 6154 points to achieve the German qualifying standard for London. Now she needs to be the number one German in Ratingen to snatch the final place in the Heptathlon team. Her strongest rival will most likely be Julia Mächtig, who had collected 6110 points in Götzis. The qualifying standard is set at 6150 points. So in case both athletes should miss it in Ratingen Maren Schwerdtner could still be nominated for the Olympics.

But there will be some international athletes challenging to stop the German win streak in Ratingen that started back in 2007. Among them is Remona Fransen (The Netherlands), who had scored a personal best of 6198 points a year ago in Ratingen. With this total she had placed fourth in 2011. Two others who have achieved personal bests this spring are Sara Cowley (New Zealand/6135) and Ellen Sprunger (Switzerland/6124).

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF