Two multi-event world champions are in very serious pursuit of their first European outdoor titles at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships.
For Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam, whose heptathlon win in London last year followed a breakthrough Olympic victory in Rio de Janeiro, there is the opportunity to earn a clean sweep of major titles.
And for Kevin Mayer of France, who filled the post-Ashton Eaton gap at the top of the decathlon event by taking gold in the stadium that hosted the London 2012 Olympics, a victory in the 1936 Olympic Stadium would offer ideal impetus for his challenge at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Thiam’s victory at the Gotzis Hypo-Meeting in May with 6806 points puts her more than 250 points clear of the next athlete on this year’s world lists, home hope Carolin Schafer of Germany, who totalled 6549 points in winning at Ratingen on 17 June.
Defending champion Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands is third in the European lists thanks to her 6426 total in finishing fourth at Gotzis. She is followed by two Austrian athletes – reigning bronze medallist Ivona Dadic, who scored 6413 in following Schafer home in Ratingen, and Verena Preiner, who scored 6308 in finishing one place behind Vetter in Gotzis.
Thiam’s 2018 performance in Gotzis did not quite match that of the previous year, when she became only the fourth athlete to better 7000 points, moving to third on the world all-time lists behind Sweden’s Carolina Kluft - 2002 and 2006 European champion - and world record-holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the United States, as she scored a personal best of 7013 points.
But her showing in Gotzis still produced an awesome high point as she won the high jump in a personal best of 2.01m - the best ever mark achieved in a multi-event competition - which put her second on the 2018 lists for that event behind double world champion Mariya Lasitskene, although she has since been shunted down to third by Italy’s Elena Vallortigara.
But the idea of combining the two events at the European Championships however, is a no-no. “When I finish my heptathlon at a meeting I am wasted and tired,” she said.
There is a fascinating subplot in the heptathlon involving another richly talented young heptathlete. After a stellar early career which included gold medals at the World U20 Championships and European U23 Championships before taking gold at the 2015 European Indoor Championships, Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson hit rough water.
After finishing sixth at the Olympic Games in 2016, where her British record high jump of 1.98 metres would have won her the individual Olympic title, she fell out of medal contention at her home World Championships in London a year later when she could only clear 1.80m in her top event, although she did recover well to finish fifth overall.
But this year she has won the IAAF World Indoor title and the Commonwealth title. Although she is only fifth on the European lists with the 6255 she totalled on the Gold Coast, her 2017 Gotzis personal best of 6691 points attests to her podium potential.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson on the attraction of the heptathlon:
"It is an amazing event and I don’t think we are gluttons for punishment. We just get bored easier and like to do everything!”#TheMomenthttps://t.co/wEflvm4HRT pic.twitter.com/rp6tvQjYO0
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 29, 2018
Mayer, meanwhile, will be looking for his fourth major title in as many championships. After winning silver in the Olympics, the Frenchman has taken the world and European indoor heptathlon titles as well as the world decathlon title in London last year.
The 26-year-old hasn’t contested a decathlon so far this season but he has set lifetime bests in five individual events and could even be in the shape to challenge Daley Thompson’s long-standing Championship record of 8811 points.
Mayer has had two IAAF Diamond League run-outs in Paris and Monaco. In the first, he competed in a ‘triathlon’ against other multi-eventers, setting personal bests of 16.51m in the shot put and 13.71 in the 110m hurdles. In Monaco he was in the main events, managing 14.94m in the shot - and a rueful smile - before clocking 13.82 in the 110m hurdles.
Mayer, who set his French record of 8834 in taking silver behind Ashton Eaton at the Rio 2016 Games, cannot afford to lose concentration given the presence of Estonia’s world indoor bronze medallist Maicel Uibo, second in Gotzis in a 2018 European leading total of 8514.
Thomas van der Plaetsen of Belgium is back to defend the title he won in Amsterdam two years ago, and there will be strong challenges from Germany’s Ratingen winner Arthur Abele and world bronze medallist Kai Kazmirek*, as well as Pieter Braun of the Netherlands, third in Gotzis.
Also watch out for Authorised Neutral Athlete Ilya Shkurenyov, who won the European indoor heptathlon title in Prague in 2015 ahead of Abele.
*Since publishing this preview, Kai Kazmirek has pulled out due to injury. He has been replaced on the German team by reigning European U20 champion Niklas Kaul