At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games last summer, Eelco Sintnicolaas saw his Olympic decathlon journey come shuddering and painfully to a halt after just one discipline. Having run 10.87, a season’s best, for the 100m, the Dutchman was then forced to pull out of the competition with a leg muscle injury.
Almost 10 months on from that moment, with the IAAF World Championships London 2017 on the horizon barely two months away, the 2013 European Athletics Indoor Championships heptathlon gold medallist is now clearly not only back but at the peak of his powers.
At the famous Hypomeeting in the otherwise quiet Austrian town of Götzis last weekend, the 30-year-old Sintnicolaas’ main aim prior to the gun going was to secure the qualifying standard for London of 8100 points.
But he did more than that.
He produced the greatest decathlon performance of his life, improving his own national record by 33 points with 8539 to finish second behind Canada’s Damian Warner, just 52 points in arrears, and surely banish any pain that remained in the wake of Rio.
"It is confirmation, to myself if no one else, that there is still a great deal of potential [for improvement]. I thought that another national record was possible I just didn’t expect it to happen in Götzis,” reflected Sintnicolaas after his European-leading performance.
“However, after the 100m, I knew I was in good shape and that was a big confidence-boost and almost everything fell into place after that.”
Hij doet het! Podium Götzis, limiet London én EEN NEDERLANDS RECORD! Eelco is back! pic.twitter.com/ZgOQUp1LTi
— Eelco Sintnicolaas (@eelcotienkamp) 28 May 2017
It is eight years ago that he became the European U23 decathlon champion in Kaunas, setting the foundation for a career where the following summer he won a silver medal in Barcelona at the European Athletics Championships themselves.
Although he has never stood on top of the podium at a major outdoor championship since Kaunas, he now heads to London as one of the favourites, for a medal at least.
In Götzis, he could not have made a better start and ran a personal best of 10.57 to win his heat of the 100m, a symptom many might think of having changed his lifestyle since Rio. He is no longer with Vince de Lange, his coach for many years, and works on his own.
A new start, and another Dutch record as he progressed to break his national best of 8506 which had been set in Götzis five years ago.
Over the weekend in Austria, Sintnicolaas’ other performances were: long jump- 7.61m, shot put-14.62m, high jump-1.91m, 400m-48.37, 110m hurdles-14.16, discus-43.52m, pole vault-5.40m, javelin-62.13m and 1500m-4:30.32.
Even if he only went into new territory in the 100m, his performances in the pole vault and all three throws were all just a few centimetres shy of his personal bests.
“But the one event I can improve much more is the high jump. I only jumped 1.91m [in Götzis] but I’ve got a personal best of 2.08m. Because on ankle problems, I haven’t been working on this event in recent times and I can do better.
Sintnicolaas also did not finish the decathlon at the world championships in Beijing two years ago – a huge disappointment after two fifth place finishes in 2011 and 2013 – but he hopes all will be different in just over two months.
Speaking to the Dutch media earlier this week, he said of his return: "I took the time to recover my body, hat time was missing last year. I just was not fit. The rest worked well for me.
"I still use a lot of Vince’s schedules, and the credits for this record are also to a large extent for Vince. For me, it was most important to get the fun back."