European U23s Gävle 2019: Review

European U23s Gävle 2019: Review

All things being equal, we can hope for an epic battle between Johannes Erm and Niklas Kaul”.

It was indeed the epic battle to end all epic battles at the European Under 23 Championships in Gävle.

Ahead of the competition, the shape of the two days was predictable.  The Day 1 guy would lead on Day 1, the Day 2 guy would come back on Day 2, and either guy could win.  Erm’s sprints and long jump would be good, Kaul’s javelin and 1500m would be good. The margins in the other events would be what influenced the results.  PBs might be on the cards, both perhaps repeating their 8300 scores from May and June, or perhaps reaching 8400.  All these predictions turned out to be true – but we did not predict just how strong the performances would be, nor how massive the scores, nor how intense the battle.

Erm’s Day 1 was not simply good - in his own words, it was perfect.  While his HJ of 2.03m was the PB with which he was most pleased on Day 1, his 100m PB of 10.73s was a big breakthrough.

“I knew how to run fast, but I just haven’t had a good start in two years. The day was today. The wind was good. I think these have been the best conditions in the 100 I’ve ever had.”

Johannes’ long jump was a monster. At 7.97m it was just 1cm short of his personal best. His shot was also just 3cm from his lifetime best, and his 47.41s 400 just a hundredth from the time he set at the NCAAs.  In his first five events, Erm either set lifetime bests or was no more than a hundredth or a few cm from his best, completing Day 1 with 4513 points.

While, after the long jump, Erm had led the decathlon all the way through Day 1, Kaul was stalking him. Niklas was in 12th after the 100. He moved up to 10th after the long jump.  Fifth after the shot. Fourth after the high jump, and 3rd overnight, just over 300 points behind the Estonian.

But Kaul had also either set PBs or come within a few cm of his best in his first three events of Day 1.  11.17s PB in the 100, 3cm away from his long jump PB with 7.26m, extending his Götzis shot PB to 15.19m.  As Erm maxed out his effort on his strengths, Kaul gave up little ground on his weaknesses, and improved his Day 1 Götzis performance by 133 points.  

And the same principle was pretty much true on Day 2.    

While neither got near their bests, Erm had the better relative race in the hurdles and stretched his lead out to 367 points.  Johannes also had a decent discus, maintaining a lead of 283 points while Kaul improved his discus PB for the third time this year, this time by 45cm to 47.35.

But the significant moment came in the pole vault. Kaul struggled at 4.60m and 4.70m, taking three attempts at each, but he then equalled his season’s best and outdoor PB of 4.80m at the first attempt.   In contrast, Erm had sailed over 4.70m first time. But he could not make it over 4.80m. The dynamic of the competition had changed, and Kaul gained another 30 points on Erm with the two final, and his two strongest, events next on the schedule.   

Into the javelin, and Kaul opened with 66.38m, modest by his standards.  But Erm seized his moment in the second round, launching a 58.73m throw, a PB by two and half metres and clawing back some of the ground conceded to Kaul in the PV. Was the dynamic about to change again?

And then one of the defining decathlon moments of 2019 happened. In Kaul’s second attempt, the 21-year-old flung the javelin to an astounding 77.36m, second only in history (in an 8000 plus decathlon) to Leonel Suarez’s 78.29, scoring a phenomenal 1002 points. 

But Erm wasn’t beaten yet. He threw another lifetime best, almost hitting 60m and adding another 87cm to his second-round throw.   While Niklas went into the lead for the first time in the competition, Johannes was only 17 points behind. As the 15 remaining men lined up for the 1500m, the rain began to fall, and Erm was still not letting the gold go without a fight.  He stayed with Kaul for as long as he could, before Kaul unleashed the 4:17 1500m that took him to 8572, the number two score in the world this year behind Damian Warner, and a personal best by 236 points.

That score moved Niklas ahead of Pascal Behrenbruch on the German all-time list, and to just 8 points behind Kai Kazmirek.  Johannes finished with 8445 points, his second Olympic qualifying mark of the year, 93 points better than his NCAA performance, and moving ahead of Mikk Pahapill on the Estonian all-time list.

Erm had said ahead of the competition:

“I was looking at what I’ve done this year, and what can I do. I think I can score about the same.  Some events are a little better, some feel a little worse, but I think I can do about the same.”

He was spot on, and in talking to Decathlonpedia after the competition, Niklas Kaul paid tribute to Erm:

“It was really long days, but I’m really happy that everything came together in the end. I didn’t expect that score but I’m really happy with it.  If Johannes weren’t here and scored that well on Day 1, I don’t think I would have done that well. It was like, every time he jumps the next height or did a good throw I think - maybe I have to get the next height! But that is what decathlon is all about, and it’s really good to have these guys in a competition, and it was a pleasure to compete with all of the guys. The decathlon is a special thing.”    

There was plenty excitement going on behind Kaul and Erm.  Manuel Eitel was steady in third place throughout the competition, logging a 400m PB despite nursing a hamstring injury that threatened to end his challenge. Several men were having super competitions, thwarted only by misfortune due to injury or fouls.  Other than the three fouls in the shot which took him out of contention for the competition, Makenson Gletty put together a strong series of performances, breaking new ground in his 100m, hurdles, discus and pole vault.

Likewise, Jean Baptiste Nutte was in excellent form, sailing out to a 7.34m PB in the long jump before twisting his ankle and retiring from the competition later in Day 1, but not before also setting a lifetime best in the shot. Trpimir Široki retired early after a fast 100m and a lifetime best shot, and Artem Makarenko – after just missing bronze by 0.01s and silver by 0.02s in the individual hurdles – retired after a Day 1 in which he also set a new 100m mark.  Rik Taam and Leo Uusimäki also had the misfortune of only scoring in 9 events but saw the decathlon through to its conclusion. Ondrej Kopecky retired during Day 1 after a no mark in the LJ

So behind Erm, Kaul and Eitel, the competition for 4th, 5th and 6th place was between the Dutch duo Rody de Wolff and Rafael Raap, and Makenson’s teammate Ludovic Besson. 

Rody finished only 85 points behind Eitel in 4th and was delighted with new marks in 6 of his 10 events. Ludovic finished 5th, pumped on Day 2 after his pole vault PB clearances at 4.60 and 4.70 and his javelin PB of 56.53. And Rafael finished 6th, also with a host of new marks to his name.
In 7th place, Jan Ruhrmann improved his shot PB twice, the first time by over 40cm and going over 15.70 twice to win the discipline. In 8th, Edgaras Benkaunskis reached new heights as he improved his pole vault lifetime best twice to 4.40m and 4.50m, and his high jump to 2.03m. Andreas Gustafsson finished 9th in glorious style as he led the chase after Kaul in the final stretch of the 1500m and finished with both a 1500m and decathlon PB, cheered on all the way from the stands by the 2017 European U23 silver medallist Fredrik Samuelsson.

After a solid first day that started with a 100m PB of 10.75s, Finley Gaio was frustrated that things didn’t go to plan on Day 2, finishing with a PB in 10th, but was positive about the rest of the season.

“I though after the first day I could have done much better, but I messed up the second day.  We still have nationals in September, and I hope that I can do better there. I’ll be competing against Andri [Oberholzer] and hoping that I can win the Swiss Champs, that’s my goal.  It’s going to be good, also with Luca Bernaschina, and a couple of guys that were at the European Cup, so I think it’s going to be one of the best Swiss champs ever.  We have two really strong women with Geraldine and Caro, and I guess we had to step up our game! And we’ll have a pretty cool team by the Swiss Champs, and we all push each other.”  

Rafał Horbowicz finished in 11th with a new shot and HJ best to his name, and Aris Peristeris in 12th with his fastest ever 100m time and equalling his HJ best.

You can see the full results here.

Photo: Getty Images for European Athletics



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