Australia had never had a winner of a combined events title at the World U20 Championships but, like waiting for a bus, two gold medal prospects turned up at the same time in Tampere.
Ashley Moloney smashed his personal best with a championship record of 8190, taking gold with the biggest winning margin in World U20 Championships history. Teammate Gary Haasbroek made it an Australian 1-2 by taking silver with 7798, also a PB, while Switzerland’s Simon Ehammer took a surprise bronze.
Moloney got off to the best possible start, setting a world U20 decathlon best of 10.51 in the 100m. But his competition nearly came to a premature end in the long jump as he recorded fouls in the first two rounds. His opening effort was particularly far and looked to be close to eight metres, but he stuttered into the board on his final attempt and landed a safe mark of 7.06m.
Swiss duo Simon Ehammer and Finley Gaio produced the best long jumps of the competition with 7.45m and 7.28m respectively, while Haasbroek jumped 7.26m.
Makenson Gletty of France came to the fore in the shot put, his 16.03m throw propelling him into the overall lead. Gaio also performed well with 14.58m to move ahead of Moloney, whose 12.83m was about a metre short of his best.
World U20 leader Stepan Kekin didn’t get off to the best of starts, clocking 11.06 in the 100m and 6.90m in the long jump, both some way off his PBs. But he was happier with his 14.25m in the shot, the fourth-best result of the discipline.
Any points that Moloney had surrendered in the long jump and shot were soon reclaimed in the high jump. He set PBs of 2.04m and 2.07m before going clear at 2.10m, the best leap in a decathlon high jump at the World U20 Championships since 2004.
With Gletty clearing 1.98m, Moloney moved back into the overall lead, just six points ahead of the Frenchman. Haasbroek, who had dropped to sixth place after the shot, move up into fourth after clearing 2.01m in the high jump.
The first day ended with Moloney’s best event, the 400m, and his exertions from earlier in the day clearly hadn’t had too great an impact on him as he sped around the track in a lifetime best of 46.86. Haasbroek’s 49.20 was the third-fastest clocking of the event and it meant the Australian duo ended the first day in the top two positions on the leader board, Moloney leading with 4319 and Haasbroek in second with 4103.
Gletty’s competition, however, came to an unfortunate end. Having hurt his ankle during the high jump, he managed to stride the first 60 metres of the 400m before the pain became too much to handle and then walked off the track. His teammate Steven Fauvel-Clinch, the world U18 champion, was a non-starter for the 400m.
The second day began in much the same way as the first: with a championship decathlon best.
Puerto Rico’s Ayden Owens sped to 13.74 to win the 110m hurdles. It didn’t do much to help his medal prospects, however, as he had been disqualified from the 400m on day one and so was languishing at the bottom of the leader board.
The medal contenders all performed well, Moloney and Haasbroek clocking 14.13 and 14.26 respectively. Gaio ran 13.90, while Kekin kept his medal hopes alive by setting a PB of 14.19 to move from seventh to sixth overall.
Kekin moved up the leader board again in the discus after setting a lifetime best of 48.65m. Moloney and Haasbroek also set PBs, throwing 47.39m and 40.54m respectively to put them on pace for a score in the region of 8000 points. Gaio, meanwhile, dropped down the standings by two places after throwing just 36.96m.
The pole vault can often shake up the standings in the decathlon and that was certainly true in Tampere as five of the top six positions changed after the eighth discipline. Moloney was the only athlete to maintain his position; his equal PB of 4.60m increased his lead to 451 points with just two events remaining.
Haasbroek dropped one place from second to third overall after managing just 4.30m, but it wasn’t enough to throw him off course for the silver medal. Kekin strengthened his chances of a medal by clearing a solid 4.60m.
There were mixed fortunes for Swiss duo Ehammer and Gaio. Ehammer set a PB of 4.70m to move into second place overall while Gaio cleared 4.30m, some 40 centimetres below his best.
As was the case with the discus earlier in the day, a flurry of PBs were set in the javelin.
Moloney’s 53.67m added five metres to his best and put him on course to break the Oceanian U20 record with the championship record also moving into sight. Haasbroek’s marginal PB of 55.25m kept his hopes of a silver medal alive, while Ehammer’s lifetime best of 49.09m improved his chances of challenging for a medal.
Kekin’s 50.11m, meanwhile, was some seven metres shy of his best and put his chances of a podium finish in jeopardy.
Moloney went into the 1500m with a 437-point lead. The gold medal was safe; the only question was whether he’d coast around the final event or go for broke in a bid to set an Oceanian or championship record.
He opted for the latter.
Taking eight seconds off his PB, Moloney crossed the line in 4:42.65 to bring his winning tally to 8190. Not only did it add 96 points to the Oceanian record set by Moloney’s training partner Cedric Dubler, it also moved him to second on the world U20 all-time list.
Haasbroek finished second in the 1500m with 4:35.48 to take silver with 7798, while Ehammer’s 4:47.36 clocking gave him enough points for bronze with 7642.
Germany’s Manuel Wagner front-ran his way to a 4:29.45 clocking in the 1500m, which eventually proved enough to move him into fourth place after Kekin withdrew with one lap remaining.
“I’m feeling a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Moloney. “I just tried to do my best in every single event. The huge PB in the high jump was the highlight. It means a lot to me to have Gary by my side.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF