Germany’s Niklas Kaul might have conquered the world in the decathlon but even by his admission he is not quite the finished article just yet.
At 21, Kaul became the youngest ever world decathlon champion in Doha last October, winning gold only three years after taking the corresponding title at U20 level in Bydgoszcz. He also won the European U23 title in Gavle and his pair of major triumphs in 2019 were such he was the resounding recipient of the men’s Rising Star accolade at the Golden Tracks award ceremony last October.
In fact, Kaul has only ever been beaten in one major championship. That was when he just missed a medal at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships where he stepped in as a late replacement for the injured Kai Kazmirek in his first season as a senior.
The Paris 2020 European Athletics Championships are still on the calendar and could potentially offer an opportunity for Kaul to improve on his fourth-place finish from 2018, although an assault on the Olympic title in Tokyo has been pushed back by twelve months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Kaul regards the postponement as an advantage for his personal ambitions.
“With this shift, I can now work on my obvious weaknesses. It is an advantage because I am still relatively young. In some disciplines, I still need time and technical work,” he said in a recent interview with German website Sport Buzzer.
“The time has now come, and it is about who best uses the time until Tokyo 2021. After all, all athletes are currently unable to train normally. I can't influence what that means in the end but the more points I can score, the better the result,” he added.
Kaul isn’t too renowned for his first day exploits, his 100m and long jump are relatively weak compared to most other top decathletes, but there are also still events on the second day where there is scope to improve as well.
He set a lifetime best of 5.00m in the pole vault in Doha but opted not to continue at 5.20m as this would have involved jumping off a longer pole which he has never used before and with his throwing arm operating at its maximum capacity again, Kaul dreams of being the first top class decathlete to surpass the 80 metre-line in the javelin as well.
Gyms and stadiums have been closed across Germany to prevent the spread of the virus but Kaul is still finding ways to practice some of the ten events. He recently posted videos on his Instagram account of himself throwing a discus across an empty football pitch as well as exercises with resistance bands on his garden patio to maintain muscle tone.
This set-up might be far from conventional and athletes around the world are trying to adjust to the realities as calmly and as practically as they can but Kaul views the situation with acceptance. He also admitted he was "relieved" when it was the announced the Olympic Games would be postponed until 2021.
"I was relieved," he said. "The training we are doing is nothing like the training we would normally do at this time of the year. It wasn't easy for the head. On the other hand, of course I was looking forward to the Olympic Games this year.
“The situation is difficult for society as a whole - economically and privately. Sport is of course at the back, even if there are livelihoods attached to it. It's not just about the athletes, it's about clubs and employees. But health is important,” he said.