For the first eight events of the decathlon, Kaul kept his cool. He knew that his best event was yet to come.
Maksim Andraloits of Belarus went into the first event of day two with a 117-point lead. He increased his lead to 152 points after posting the fastest time in the 110m hurdles, 13.95.
Kaul, meanwhile, moved up two places in the overall standings after running 14.72. Rik Taam of the Netherlands and Johannes Erm of Estonia traded places and were second and third respectively after the sixth event with Taam clocking 14.02 to Erm’s 14.66.
Andraloits pulled ahead further after the discus, having sent his disc flying out to 48.62m. Only three other men produced better throws: Cuba’s Santiago Ford with 51.67m, Rody de Wolff of the Netherlands with 51.44m and Australia’s Alec Diamond with 51.16m.
Kaul’s effort of 41.80m was only the 11th-best mark of the day and he fell to seventh overall, but he remained calm, knowing he could make up ground in the last three events.
That’s exactly what he did in the very next event, the pole vault. His 4.80m clearance was 10 centimetres higher than any other decathlete could manage and bumped him up to third place overall.
But Andraloits performed better than expected. His 4.60m vault meant that his margin over Erm had grown to 341 points and his margin over Kaul was 370 points.
As good as Kaul is in the javelin – he took silver in the individual event at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015 – he still faced an uphill task to make an impact on Andraloits’ lead, especially as he has struggled with elbow injuries this year.
There was no need to worry, though.
Andraloits opened with 43.29m, while Kaul responded with 65.42m. Andraloits improved by a metre in the second round and then produced a throw of 48.79m with his third and final effort.
Knowing he needed something a bit extra to give him a fighting chance in the 1500m, Kaul attacked his final attempt as his spear flew out to 71.59m, a PB with the senior specification javelin and the best ever throw within an U20 decathlon.
Within the space of one event, the gap between Andraloits and Kaul had gone from 370 to 24 points.
In 1500m terms, it meant that Andraloits had to finish within four seconds of Kaul to maintain pole position. But the reality was that Kaul was a far superior 1500m runner; the difference in their PBs is 18 seconds.
Just as he had done throughout the entire decathlon, Kaul timed his 1500m to perfection. Norway’s Toralv Ospal sped into the lead while Kaul was more cautious on the opening lap. He then worked his way through the field and moved into second, within a few strides of Ospal.
Andraloits, meanwhile, was already struggling and he trailed Kaul by seven seconds with a lap to go. And then Kaul kicked.
Opsal and Kaul ran side by side down the home straight and spurred each other on to PBs of 4:21.61 and 4:21.70 respectively. Kaul had done enough; more than enough, in fact, as Andraloits finished 22 seconds adrift in eighth place.
Kaul’s eight-second PB in the final event brought his winning tally to a championship record of 8162, the best score in history with the U20 decathlon.
The official world U20 record, however, remains the 8397 set by Torsten Voss with the senior specification decathlon. Should any athlete score higher than that mark with the U20 decathlon, then it will be accepted as an official world U20 record.
Having led the competition from the third to the ninth events, Andraloits eventually had to settle for silver but was rewarded with a lifetime best of 8046.
It was reminiscent of the last time a German won the world U20 title, back in 2008, as a Belarusian athlete had taken silver on that occasion.
“After the pole vault, I was still thinking I could only get the silver and I would have been happy with that,” said Kaul. “I did not expect such a great result in the javelin. I was afraid of the 1500m, but I ran a great race and now I’m very happy.”
Erm held on to third place with 7879, taking Estonia’s first ever decathlon medal at the World U20 Championships.
Cuba’s Santiago Ford was 60 points shy of a medal, finishing fourth with 7819, while Opsal finished fifth with 7815.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF