This may well be the last European Combined Events Team Championships and the finish line for this competition, and its earlier variants, is in sight, but an exciting two days of multi-events action in the Super League should still be in store in Lutsk, Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday.
Ukraine won the title – which combines a nation’s top three men’s and women’s performances – two years ago in the Estonian capital Tallinn and they are eager to defend their crown in front of their home fans in the 11,000 capacity Avangard Stadium.
The host’s team will be headed by the Oleksiy Kasyanov, at 34 the oldest man in the competition who has a venerable history including world and European medals.
Injuries meant that he didn’t compete in a decathlon last year but he returned to competition in May and although his 21st place in 7874 points at Gotzis was a rather modest performance by his own standards, it suggested that he had few physical problems remaining and passing 8000 points might be on the cards again for the men’s individual runner-up at the last two Super Leagues.
Alongside him are two other men from the team that won in Tallinn two years ago: Vasyl Ivantskyy who was fourth on that occasion and Ruslan Malohlovets.
The hosts will be missing the two Alinas – Fyodorova and Shukh – who were respectively the top heptathletes in the 2015 and 2017 Super League competitions but are still able to count of two of the four 6000 points-plus performance in the heptathlon field, Daryna Sloboda and Rimma Buinenko, with the former having already exceeded the 6000-barrier this year.
On paper, Estonia should offer the biggest challenge to Ukraine for the very last Super League title in after the decision by the European Athletics Congress in April to bring this competition to an end.
Maicel Uibo has a career best of 8514 from the 2018 Gotzis meeting, where he finished second, and the US-based athlete showed that he is in excellent shape with third place at the same meeting in May, when he put together a tally of 8353.
"I went back to the US straight after Gotzis, took a few days off and then started preparing for this competition. We have a strong team and there is the feeling this could be our chance for the title," said Uibo at Friday's press conference.
Estonia finished third in this competition in 2015, second on home soil two years ago and nothing would make Uibo happier than to guide his country one step further up the podium with an individual victory in Lutsk. Alongside him in the Estonian team is men’s winner from Tallinn, Janek Oiglane, whose best of 8371 came when he finished fourth at the IAAF World Championships in London, and he has already gone over 8000 points this year.
Leading the women’s entries is another Estonian, Grit Sadeiko, who has made the individual podium at three of the last four editions of this competition, including finishing second in 2015.
Sadeiko’s personal and season’s best are better than anyone else having put together tallies of 6280 and 6162 points respectively, the latter coming at the Decastar event in Talence, France less than two weeks ago. The big question is whether she will be able to put together two quality back-to-back heptathlons in such a short space of time.
"and it's a good question because normally I wouldn't consider doing two heptathlons in such a short space of time but I'm here for the team. However, I have a problem with my right foot so my aim is just to stay healthy and go event-by-event," said the 2011 European U23 heptathlon champion.
France took third place two years ago in Tallinn and were second in 2015, as well as being the 2013 champions, and have never been off the podium in the four editions of the combined Championships since they were inaugurated in 2013. Consequently, it’s logical to consider they will be in contention for a top three position once more although the squad does not look as strong as previous years.
World record-holder and 2018 European Athlete of the Year Kevin Mayer has his sights set on bigger prizes later in the summer so the best-known multi-events exponent in Les Bleus team is Bastien Auzeil, who has gone over 8000 points six times in his career although most recently in 2016.
However, Belarus could surprise everyone despite the nation never having been on the podium since the competition became a combined Team Championships.
Former European champion and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Andrei Krauchanka, now 34, can boast of a career best of 8617, which is the highest of anybody in Lutsk, and showed good shape when he went close to 8000 points when he won the domestic National Cup competition last month, his first decathlon since he won the 2014 European title after a series of injuries during the last five years.
However, a lot of eyes will be on his rapidly improving compatriot, Berlin 2018 bronze medallist Vitali Zhuk, who is 12 years Krauchanka’s junior.
Two years ago, Zhuk set a personal best of 7612 when finishing eighth in this competition but he improved his decathlon best to 8290 when finishing third in the German capital last summer. This year, he has improved his personal best in six individual disciplines so could well be challenging for the first place among the men and, perhaps, another personal best.
Also part of the Belarus team is Eduard Mikhan, the 2008 world U20 silver medallist who took second place in this competition in 2013 and 2014.
It will be a major surprise if Spain enter into consideration for team honours, but the 2019 European indoor heptathlon champion Jorge Urena will be looking to improve in his personal best of 8125 after having fallen a frustrating two points short of it in Gotzis recently.
However, Urena's preparations have been far from ideal. With soaring temperatures in Spain, even though he lives and trains in his mountainous hometown of Onil, he has changed his training schedule to accommodate the heat which regularly surged into the mid-30s during the last couple of weeks.
Action at the European Combined Events Team Championships First League in Ribeira Brava, Portugal begins on Friday and the Czechs arrive with a strong team in tow, including Adam Sebastian Helcelet and Jan Dolezal in the decathlon and Katerina Cachova in the heptathlon.
The individual favourite in the decathlon could be the in-form Pawel Wiesiolek who set a lifetime best of 8204 points to win the Polish title earlier this season, a mark which has only been surpassed by Helcelet in terms of lifetime best performances.
The Second League also takes place in Ribeira Brava this weekend. The prospective favourites are Belgians Noor Vidts and Niels Pittomvils and they could also make a run for the overall title despite the absence of some of their illustrious teammates.