Abele battles back from adversity to land maiden decathlon title

Arthur Abele
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Germany's Arthur Abele won his first major gold medal of his career at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships

As Arthur Abele was soaking up the adulation from the home crowd as Germany celebrated their first gold medal at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships on Wednesday evening, the music of David Bowie's 'Heroes' was booming out at the Olympic Stadium.

And while the classic line 'We could be heroes, just for one day' was apt on this one particular night, Abele will surely now be a German sporting hero for the rest of his days.

At 32 and the oldest competitor in the field, he is the European decathlon champion after a competition packed with drama from the first morning when France's world champion Kevin Mayer pulled out after three fouls in the long jump.

Mayer commands so much respect among his competitors that Abele had even said after Ratingen in June - when the Frenchman had set a slew of personal best - that Berlin is all about second and third place.

But the roller-coaster ride for so many in this 10-event competition was nothing compared to the journey that Abele has been on both this year and in previous summers.

This was surely his last chance to bank a major gold medal and the raw emotional which poured out as he crossed the line and realised the achievement was a coming together of an extraordinary pursuit to never give in, to know he could make it.

He celebrated by wearing a cardboard crown with the words 'King of 2018' on it. As it was pointed out to him as he chatted after this success, someone in the crowd would have made that before they came here.

That was the confidence which had been oozing from Abele for those watching from home and he did not let them down by winning with 8431 points from Authorised Neutral Athlete Ilya Shkurenyov with 8321.

But few could have predicted that outcome on the morning back in February when he woke up in shock because the left side of his face had been struck with fascia palsy.

The one-side facial paralysis had developed because he had an infection over his jaw and his left ear and suddenly competing, let alone winning gold, looked a long way off.

"I woke up, I was paralysed on the left side of my face and I said 'Oh my goodness, what has happened?'," revealed Abele. "I went to hospital and they said you have to stop training, you have to take some medicine and see how long it takes to get healthy. It was about six weeks and I could not train until March."

The outcome was a return to the target of gold in front of his own fans.

And from the improbable came the triumph for a man who is surprisingly softly-spoken given the explosion of sporting power he has to unleash.

He had moved into the lead after the penultimate event - the javelin - before finishing eighth in the 1500m, and going on a lap of honour which will take some beating this week.

"I have been waiting a long time for this medal," said Abele, whose previous best success was silver in the heptathlon at the 2015 European Indoor Championships in Prague.

"At the Olympics in Rio (in 2016) I could not manage the decathlon, I had problems on the second day and in 2015 I ripped my Achilles. These are things I can never forget and now it is my turn. These two days were so magical, I am so happy

"I have had a lot of injuries years ago but I have so much power in my training, my family my coach and the whole crowd around me who said 'Arthur, go ahead, you can make it'."

And make he did.

Abele had finished fifth at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich and 15th in Rio. Despite a few blips along the way, Abele remained in position to challenge for top-spot due to the strength in his final two events.

"The pole vault had its ups and down, and I was a bit nervous and shaky," said Abele. "But I knew the javelin and the 1500m are my disciplines, so I said 'Come on, now it is your time'. I used the crowd and I made it happen. I won the gold medal and it is amazing."