Décastar 2019: Preview
The 2018 decathlon season ended with a bang on 16 September, as decathlon fans around the world rushed to change their PIN numbers from 9045 to 9126 when Kevin Mayer smashed Ashton Eaton’s previous world record by 81 points.
How could the 2019 decathlon season possibly match the drama of 2018? Well, Damian Warner really got things going in Götzis at the end of May. It wasn’t quite a world record, but 10.12s was a world best in decathlon as Damian ran the fastest 100m in decathlon history, and set the standard for the year with 8711 points.
Kevin Mayer returns this weekend to the scene of his historic performance - just nine months on, given the change in timing to accommodate the October World Championships - for the 43rd meeting of Décastar. And, as in 2018, he leads a field with a number of French decathletes participating.
The French brotherhood of decathlon was a key feature of the 42nd Décastar, as Mayer’s teammates rallied around to support him on his way to his place in history. None more so than Jérémy Lelièvre, who played a key role during the 1500m. Jérémy spoke to Decathlonpedia this week, reflecting on his experience in 2018, and his own goals for the 2019 competition.
“Kevin and I had the same coach, and since I had nothing more to bring during the decathlon, the coach asked me if I could provide a good pace for Kevin. It was an extraordinary moment to share! To experience and participate in the world record of a friend was a magical moment.
I’m hoping for a great performance this weekend in Talence. It’s a stadium that I know and a meeting that I appreciate. I want to break my personal record, after just missing it in my first decathlon in May.”
While Lelièvre is clearly in good form, with intense competition for selection for the French decathlon team for Doha, what can we expect in Talence? No-one in the field has yet gone over 8200 this year, and among the French contingent, only Kevin has the score from 2018. Three others – Ziemek, Zhuk and Shkurenyev also have the mark from 2018.
At the time of writing, Ruben Gado and Basile Rolnin are doubtful to start, Ruben with a small fracture in his leg and Basile with ankle problems. Both had strong performances in the indoor season, as Ruben won the X-Athletics event in Clermont Ferrand in January, setting a 60m personal best in the process. Basile scored over 6000 for the first time at the French Championships in February to qualify for the European Indoors in March. Basile had a particularly good first day in Glasgow before withdrawing ahead of the 60m hurdles with an Achilles injury, and Ruben similarly cut his season short after Clermont Ferrand.
We see the return of Commonwealth silver medallist Pierce Lepage, who competed in Talence last year but retired early in the competition after the long jump. Like his world-leading teammate, the Canadian is one of the fastest men in any decathlon field and has already set 100m and 110m hurdles personal bests of 10.46s and 14.07s respectively in 2019, as well as new bests in the shot and pole vault.
Max Maugein is also on the way back from injury and finished third, and close to his Day 1 record, behind Lelièvre at the Défi’Athlon in Montpellier in May. Aside from an unfortunate no-height in the high jump, Romain Martin had a solid performance across the events in Götzis. Bastien Auzeil has already had a busy season, improving his lifetime javelin best twice in Grenoble, but has not yet completed a full decathlon.
Ilya Shkurenyev and Vitaliy Zhuk have Doha qualifying marks from 2018, but both have yet to match their 2019 indoor form, as European Indoor bronze medallist Shkurenyev finished 16th overall in Götzis and Zhuk did not record a height in the high jump in Austria.
Cuba and Belgium have brought their stars in the decathlon and heptathlon. Alongside Yorgelis Rodriguez, the legendary Leonel Suarez returns to Talence for the first time since 2016.
While Nafi Thiam headlines the heptathlon, Thomas Van der Plaetsen has had one of the most encouraging, and frustrating, seasons so far. After setting the early 2019 indoor world lead, he was then hampered by injury at the European Indoors. And after showing great form on his first day competing as a guest at the South Africa Championships in April (including a PB 7.81 long jump), Thomas’ attempt to secure a qualifying score for Doha was thwarted by a power cut in the stadium. Importantly, Thomas has promised to keep us up to date with his progress towards 8200 in Talence on Instagram, in the style of the classic 8-bit 1980s’ “Daley Thompson’s Decathlon”.
While no American men have yet been over 8200 this year, four have been over 8000, including Tim Ehrhardt who made his debut in Götzis, and Harrison Williams who was runner up to Johannes Erm at the recent NCAA championships in Texas. But Zach Ziemek is the American in action in Talence, and while he already has a qualifying mark from 2018, Double Z will want to position himself at the top of the US rankings.
And as ever, Kevin is keeping us guessing as to his overall decathlon form, participating in just a few individual events during the course of May ahead of Décastar. A 10.89s 100m and a massive 16.20m shot in Montpellier; a 4.70m pole vault and 49.39m discus at the French Club Championships in Antony. Will Damian still have the world lead at the end of this weekend? And will we need to change our PIN numbers again in October?
Photo: Michel Fisquet, Team Photo Marseille