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: