Jessica Ennis-Hill in action in the javelin (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Ratingen, Germany

Ennis-Hill set for Rio warm-up in Ratingen

With Olympic selection deadlines fast approaching, the Stadtwerke Ratingen Mehrkampf-Meeting, part of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge, on 25-26 June is set to be the last chance for some of the biggest names in combined events to book their tickets to the Rio Olympic Games.

World and Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill leads the heptathlon field.

The Briton, who holds a PB of 6955, took the world title at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 in just her second heptathlon after returning from maternity leave. But since her triumphant heptathlon last August, Ennis-Hill has been plagued by injury woes and had to pull out of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Gotzis last month. The 30-year-old tested her form in four events in Manchester two weeks ago with promising results.

Ennis-Hill will have to fend off some tough competition from local shores. Germany’s Carolin Schafer scored a PB of 6557 in Gotzis last month and will be looking to gain the mental advantage of beating the Olympic champion ahead of the Games in front of a home crowd.

Two other Germans having to fight for the remaining ticket to Rio are 2009 world silver medallist Jennifer Oeser and Olympic silver medallist Lilli Schwarzkopf. Oeser fell just 29 points shy of the 6200 qualifying standard in Gotzis, while Schwarzkopf will need to improve her season’s best of 6088 by more than 100 points.

Both will also likely need to surpass the 6290 score achieved in Gotzis by Claudia Rath, who won’t be competing in Ratingen.

Yorgelis Rodriguez could also challenge for a podium place. The Cuban scored 6307 in March, making her the second-ranked heptathlete in this year’s field based on season’s bests.

Austria’s Ivona Dadic missed out on the Olympic qualifying standard by a mere four points on her way to setting a national record of 6196 in Gotzis, while Norway’s Ida Marcussen will be looking to improve on her result from Kladno a couple of weeks ago.

The men’s decathlon will provide several storylines to follow. While the main focus will of course be on the pursuit of Olympic qualifying standards, national team selections will be another line of action.

Under normal circumstances, the German decathlon team would be among the toughest national teams to make. But while five Germans in the field hold PBs higher than the Olympic qualifying standard of 8100, only two of them have surpassed that mark during the qualification period, which began in January 2015.

Kai Kazmirek scored 8318 to finish third behind Damian Warner and Kevin Mayer in Gotzis last month. His teammates, world bronze medallist Rico Freimuth and 2008 world junior champion Jan-Felix Knobel, will both have to improve on their performances in the Austrian combined events Mecca, as the pair failed to post a single legal mark in the long jump.

And as if two German no-measures in Gotzis weren’t bad enough, Arthur Abele followed suit when failing to post a mark in the shot put. Unlike his compatriots, the European indoor silver medallist had started out promisingly with a strong 10.83 over 100m and a lifetime best 7.57m leap in the long jump, after injury ruled him out for the entirety of last year’s outdoor season.

The fifth German bidding for a ticket to Rio is 2012 European champion Pascal Behrenbruch. The 31-year-old was due to compete last month in Marburg, one of the three qualifying meetings identified by the German federation, but had to pull out, citing ‘muscular issues’ as the reason. Formerly coached by Andrei Nazarov, Behrenbruch is now based in the USA, but has been struggling with form in recent years. His season’s best of 7826 from Ratingen last year won’t be enough to get him on the plane to Rio.

Just like in the women’s event, a Cuban could prevent a German victory. Leonel Suarez has a knack for producing his best in Olympic years as his bronze medals from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 prove. He scored 8347 in Havana in March, but hasn’t competed since then.

Belgium’s Hans van Alphen, who finished just 76 points behind Suarez at the 2012 Olympics, is still chasing the qualifying standard for Rio. The 34-year-old holds the Belgian record of 8515, but has only completed two decathlons since the 2012 Olympics.

Dutch duo Pelle Rietveld and Ingmar Vos have both have scored higher than 8200 in the past, but struggled with injury niggles earlier in the season. A big 73.03m javelin PB from Rietveld last month looks promising, while Vos will be looking to complete his first decathlon of 2016 after failing to finish his two previous attempts.

Michelle Sammet for the IAAF