A guy with a French name won the 2019 Décastar decathlon in Talence, but it wasn’t the French guy we were expecting. Pierce LePage continued his excellent form so far this season and won the event with 8453 points, taking him to third on the 2019 world list behind Lindon Victor’s 8473, and Canadian teammate Damian Warner’s world lead of 8711.
In a striking parallel to Götzis a few weeks earlier, there was a Canadian at the front of the 100m, streaking away from the rest of the field. LePage’s time of 10.31s was a personal best, taking over a tenth of a second from his previous best of 10.46s which he also set this season in Canada. Only Kevin Mayer was anywhere near him, second in 10.60s.
The world record holder had mixed fortunes over the six events he completed; while he was only 0.05s slower than his 100m lifetime best set in Talence last year, he picked up a slight knee injury in his second foul in the long jump, won the shot with 15.56m, was unhappy with his hurdles, won the discus in over 50m, and had a frustrating pole vault, only clearing 5.05m. He now goes onto the Diamond League in Monaco and Paris. At the press conference on Thursday evening, we asked Kevin Mayer how his mindset changed between competing in a decathlon and competing against individual event specialists such as Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and Renaud Lavillenie.
“I would say, it depends on the event. In the hurdles, I can compete with them and have some hope - not to beat them, but to be with them. In Monaco, I will do the javelin. I have no hope! So, it depends on the event. But I have very good hope in the hurdles for the next year, and I think I could be, maybe, in the European Championships.”
Mayer’s training partner Benjamin Hougardy, who was a late addition to the field, had a much more satisfying weekend. In what was a successful meeting for Belgium (more on that later), Benjamin improved his bests in the 100m, 400m, high jump, long jump, discus and overall decathlon.
Speaking to Decathlonpedia after Day 1, he said
“I’m just one point off my PB for the first day, but I have a new PB in the high jump, 400m and 100m. It is positive, and for tomorrow, I would like to beat my PB.”
Back to LePage, and after topping the scoreboard at the conclusion of the 100m, he led the decathlon all the way through the ten events. The nearest anyone came to him was Mayer, within 65 points after the shot. LePage’s lead was over 300 points after the hurdles on Day 2, although Zach Ziemek had closed that down to 109 by the end of the event.
The high jump couldn’t quite match the drama of the equivalent discipline in the heptathlon, where Nafi Thiam set a heptathlon world best of 2.02m and had the second-best height of the year in the world behind Maria Lasitskene. But there was a standout performance from Zach Ziemek as he left Hougardy and LePage at 2.07m, equalled his personal best of 2.10m and then improved it to 2.13. Double Z told Decathlonpedia what lay behind that improvement in the high jump.
“I’ve had a little bit slower start to the season, I was hurt actually, and I didn’t know if I was going to be here. That [the high jump] was the only event that I’d been able to do over the past four weeks, and it worked. I’m happy with the performance, and it’s going to be a long season. I’ll do USAs in five weeks - I need to get home, get healthy, get some training under my belt, and then hopefully everything goes well, and I’ll be at Worlds.”
There was some drama though as Ilya Shkurenyov no heighted at 1.95m. He wasn’t the only one to flirt with, and then encounter, disaster. In a long jump almost identical to his performance at the European Indoors in Glasgow where he had two fouls and then 6.55m, Vitaly Zhuk’s only valid attempt was his third with 6.51m, well short of his season’s best 6.94m from Götzis. Zhuk’s weekend was even more up and down than Mayer’s, as he improved his 400m best to 47.81s and his discus by a metre to 47.01m, before recording a no height in the pole vault, and then finishing strongly in the 1500m - grinning from ear to ear as one of the few men standing at the end of the event.
It was the pole vault – as so often is the case - where the definitive performances occurred. Coming into the event, Thomas Van der Plaetsen and Ziemek had the big heights on paper, both over 5.30 – 5.50 in Van der Plaetsen’s case – during the indoor season. Ahead of the event, this would have been where TVDP and Double Z would have been expected to make big gains against LePage, whose personal best was 5.05m. But LePage was on fire. He cleared not only 5.05m, but then 5.15m, and then 5.25m, securing the same points from the event as Ziemek. And so, barring disaster, the final positions were set: LePage, Ziemek, Van der Plaetsen.
But positions were not the only game in town. While Ziemek already had the Doha qualifying mark (with his 8294 from the US Championships in 2018), Thomas Van der Plaetsen did not. At the end of Day 1, Thomas was behind schedule to secure 8200, and - in his own words – playing catch-up on Day 2. His 5.45m clearance in the pole vault, followed by his 60m javelin and 4:37m 1500 helped him eventually squeak past the mark by 14 points with 8214.
In the last few events, we were treated to some Suarez magic. It wasn’t the 75m from years gone by, but it was a 68m javelin which took him from 6th to 4th overall. And with Jérémy Lelièvre for company, free of pacemaking duties this year and top French competitor in 5th, Leonel led the 1500m to a brisk 4:25.09, and was as fresh as a daisy afterwards. Behind Leonel and Lelièvre on the home straight came Zhuk at full charge, overtaking a cramping, exhausted TVDP who finished third overall. Ziemek staggered over the line a few seconds later to secure second place in 8344, and 6th in the world.
You can find the full results here.
Photo: James Rhodes