World decathlon champion Kevin Mayer will start as the favourite at this weekend’s (15-16) Decastar meeting in Talence, France, the final meeting of the 2018 IAAF Combined Events Challenge.
Mayer had originally planned to be on holidays by his point of the season, having scheduled a break ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. But he surprisingly crashed out at the European Championships in Berlin last month, a competition where he stood as the main favourite. After three fouls in the long jump, the 26 year-old Frenchman chose to call it a day.
After a short cooling-off period, Mayer decided to compete at the 42th edition of the Decastar in Talence, a suburb of Bordeaux.
“It took me time to digest, but the desire to express myself on the track has never been so strong,” he said at that time.
Mayer, who took the world indoor heptathlon title in Birmingham last winter, is sixth on the all-time list with his 8834-point tally from the 2016 Olympic Games. He took silver in Rio, finishing behind world record holder Ashton Eaton.
Judging by his impressive form this season - Mayer has set numerous personal bests in 2018 - he could threaten Eaton’s 9045 world record set at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. He would thus follow in the footsteps of Dan O’Brien who broke the world record in Talence in 1992 with an 8891 tally after famously no-heighting in the pole vault at the US Olympic Trials that year and missing out on the Olympic Games.
“I’m trying not to focus on the world record,” Mayer said at the press conference in Talence on Thursday. “As usual, I am just focusing on doing my best in each event, and not thinking about the final result.”
He added, “I’m clearly in better shape than in 2017 (prior to the World Championships).”
Abele targeting Challenge title
Mayer’s main rival should be Arthur Abele. The German took advantage of Mayer’s blow-out in the long jump to take the European title with a career best of 8605. Whether he’ll bring similar form to Talence this late in the season isn’t know, however, the freshly-minted continental champion will have extra motivation as he’ll be aiming to win the overall 2018 Combined Events Challenge title and its US $30,000 first place prize. To do so, Abele will need a modest score of 7465 to overtake Norwegian Martin Roe, who currently leads the standings.
The men’s field will feature a podium reunion from Berlin, with authorised neutral athlete Ilya Shkurenev and Vitaliy Zhuk of Belarus concluding their seasons in southeastern France. The latter, who took silver in the German capital, was fourth at the 2015 World Championships and has a best of 8601 set last year. Meanwhile, Zhuk, 21, improved his personal best to 8290 to take bronze last month.
Dutchman Pieter Braun, who set a personal best of 8342 in Götzis earlier that season, will also be a man to watch. He was seventh in Berlin.
Keisuke Ushiro, the 2018 Asian champion, will also start. The 32-year-old Japanese, who will make his Decastar debut, has an 8308 career best set in 2014.
Schäfer gunning for third Challenge victory
On the women’s side, Carolin Schäfer is the favourite to take her second heptathlon victory in Talence, following her 2014 success. Courtesy of a 6836 lifetime best set last year, the 2018 European bronze medallist seems to have a comfortable margin over the other contenders. The 26-year-old’s PB is 436 points better than Czech Katerina Cachova, second best in the field.
Like Abele, Schäfer will be chasing the Challenge title, a third straight. She is currently sixth in the standings, just behind Nafissatou Thiam, who won’t be competing in Talence. None of the four women who have already contested three decathlons in the Combined Events Challenge series will be in Talence, meaning her target will be Erica Bougard of USA, who is sitting at the top of the standings with 19,399 points.
After three heptathlons this year - Schäfer did not finish in Götzis - the German currently has 13,151 points, needing a 6249 score to move ahead of Bougard.
Cachova improved her personal best to 6400 in Berlin to finish sixth. She is in contention for a top-five finish in the Challenge.
Also on the start list are Xenia Krizsan of Hungary, Geraldine Ruckstuhl of Switzerland and Austria’s Verena Preiner.
Noteworthy too is that some French athletes will also compete this weekend in each decathlon and heptathlon event but outside of the competition. They include recently-crowned European champions Morhad Amdouni (10,000m), Mahiedine Mekhissi (3,000m steeplechase) and Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (110m hurdles).
Quentin Guillon for the IAAF