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Series10 Jul 2021


100 ones to watch in Tokyo: combined events

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Ones to watch in Tokyo - combined events

As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics continues, we add to our series highlighting 100 ones to watch in the lead-up to the Games.

Some are known athletics stars, some are gold medal favourites, others will be outsiders. But they all have fascinating stories that will be worth following as the Games draw ever closer.

Every 10 days we’re profiling 10 new athletes, each time focusing on a different area of the sport. So far we have looked at the sprintsmiddle-distancelong distancehurdles and steeplechasevertical jumpshorizontal jumps, short throws and long throws.

Now it’s the turn of the combined events.

 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Great Britain & NI

heptathlon

It was on the Olympic stage, nine years ago, that the British heptathlete was propelled into the international spotlight. Aged 19, Johnson-Thompson set a national U20 record of 6267 to place a highly respectable 13th at the London Olympics while her teammate Jessica Ennis-Hill struck gold.

Just one year later, Johnson-Thompson was in the hunt for medals at the World Championships in Moscow, eventually finishing fifth in a close competition. She went on to rack up three major titles indoors, winning two European indoor crowns and the 2018 world indoor gold medal, but narrowly missed out at outdoor championships, finishing sixth at the 2016 Olympics and fifth at the 2017 World Championships.

In Doha two years ago, however, she put together the series of her life to win the world title with 6981, breaking Ennis-Hill’s national record.

The 28-year-old was forced to delay the start of her 2021 season due to injury, but she returned to action late last month with a 1.84m high jump clearance. She may not be at her absolute best just yet, but there’s a chance she could be in medal contention by the time the Games start.

 

Xenia Krizsan

 

Hungary

heptathlon

Born just four days after Johnson-Thompson, Xenia Krizsan has been chasing the Briton for the best part of a decade.

The Hungarian heptathlete has notched up a fair few international medals along the way, taking world U20 silver in 2012 and European U23 gold in 2015.

She made a big improvement in 2019 to set a Hungarian record of 6619 when finishing second in Talence, but picked up an injury shortly before the World Championships and was unable to compete in Doha.

The pandemic-hit 2020 season allowed Krizsan to take her time in returning to action. She contested a few low-key competitions throughout that year, then came out all guns blazing in 2021, taking European indoor pentathlon bronze with a PB of 4644 and scoring a national record of 6651 to win at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis.

And anyone who wins in Götzis is usually in contention for medals at that year’s major championships.

 

Annie Kunz

 

USA

heptathlon

The 28-year-old produced one of the biggest breakthrough performances in recent combined events history to win the heptathlon at the US Olympic Trials.

Kunz wasn’t a complete unknown leading into this year, as she earned Pan-American silver in 2019 and represented the USA at the World Championships later that year. A pentathlon PB of 4610 at the start of 2020 hinted that she was set for a big score during the outdoor season later that year, but the pandemic meant that she didn’t compete beyond February.

It looked as though her breakthrough would come in Götzis earlier this year as she led after the first day, but then she recorded three fouls in the long jump, bringing an abrupt end to her competition. Nevertheless, she then focused her efforts on the US Olympic Trials, where she put together a stunning series to win with a world-leading 6703, adding 550 points to her PB.

 

Kevin Mayer

France

decathlon

On his day, Mayer is the best decathlete on the planet.

“I want to set the record straight,” Ashton Eaton said earlier this year on the World Athletics Podcast. “I think Kevin is the greatest athlete we have on earth right now.”

But the decathlon is an unpredictable event at the best of times, and when you’re trying to give your absolute best in all 10 disciplines, mistakes – or, indeed, injuries – can creep in.

In his rollercoaster of a year in 2018, Mayer fouled out of the decathlon long jump at the European Championships in Berlin but then went on the break the world record with 9126 in Talence a few weeks later.

In his world title defence in 2019, injury forced Mayer to retire from the competition with just a couple of disciplines remaining, but he rebounded earlier this year to win the European indoor title with 6392.

The 29-year-old, who took silver behind Eaton in Rio five years ago, has competed sparingly during the 2021 outdoor season, wanting to focus all his energy on claiming his first Olympic gold medal. Whatever happens in Tokyo, it will be fascinating to watch.

 

Ashley Moloney

 

 

 

Australia

decathlon

The Australian all-rounder hit the headlines in 2018 when he won the world U20 decathlon title with a championship record of 8190, taking gold with the biggest winning margin in the history of the competition.

One year later, while still an U20, he scored 8103 with the senior implements, becoming one of the select number of decathletes to score 8000+ points while still a teenager. Last December, he improved his PB to 8492 to break the Oceanian record and book his place at the Olympics.

The 21-year-old excels in the sprints and has PBs of 10.36 for 100m and 45.82 for 400m. A strong jumper and solid thrower, he has few weaknesses – and his senior career is just getting started.

 

Garrett Scantling

 

 

USA

decathlon

Back in 2016, Scantling finished fourth at the US Trials, missing out on making the national Olympic team by just one place.

Soon after, he pursued a career in the NFL and enjoyed some moderate success, but with the Tokyo Games on the horizon he returned to combined events.

It was as though he’d never been away; in January last year in his first competition back, he scored 6110 in the heptathlon, then improved to a PB of 6209 to take the US indoor title. He skipped the pandemic-hit outdoor season but resumed competition in 2021 and scored 8476 in his first decathlon of the year.

Two months later – and five years after his disappointment at the 2016 edition – he won the US Trials with 8647 to secure his place on USA’s Olympic team.

 

Karel Tilga

 

 

 

Estonia

decathlon

Most world-class athletes are impressive physical specimens, but Tilga – who stands at 201cm (6ft 7in) – is something else.

The 23-year-old Estonian took European U20 bronze in 2017, then in 2018, at the age of 20, became part of Estonia’s 8000-point club, scoring a PB of 8101. He relocated to the USA later that year, signing with the University of Georgia – a hotbed of combined events talent.

His first couple of years stateside did not quite go according to plan. An elbow injury hampered his 2019 campaign, while the pandemic ruled out most of 2020. But he used the extra time to rehab his injury and focus on his weaknesses.

He returned with a bang earlier this year, winning the NCAA indoor heptathlon title with a PB of 6264. Outdoors, he went on to set a decathlon PB and Olympic qualifier of 8484 – moving to fourth on the Estonian all-time list – and then won the NCAA title.

It will be easy to keep an eye on Tilga in Tokyo – he’s kind of hard to miss.

 

Anouk Vetter

 

 

Netherlands

heptathlon

Vetter didn’t have the smoothest of starts to her international career. The Dutch heptathlete failed to finish at her first three major events – the 2011 European U20 Championships, the 2012 World U20 Championships and the 2013 European U23 Championships.

But things started to click in 2014 and she added more than 400 points to her heptathlon best with 6316 before going on to finish seventh at the European Championships. Two years later, she struck gold at the European Championships on home soil, setting a Dutch record of 6626.

The success caught her by surprise, though, and she struggled to cope with the pressure and attention leading into the Olympics that year, eventually finishing 10th. She returned to top form one year later to take bronze at the World Championships with 6636, another Dutch record.

Her injury problems returned, though, and by 2019 – after recording DNFs in all three of her combined events competitions – she had fallen out of love with the sport.

A low-ley 2020 was just what she needed to rehab back to full health and rediscover her love of athletics. Following a spate of individual PBs in the first few months of 2021, she finished second in Götzis in May with 6536 – her best score outside of her two senior medal-winning performances.

 

Damian Warner

 

Canada

decathlon

Warner may be the most dependable athlete in the sport’s most unpredictable event.

The Canadian has finished in the top five at the past six consecutive outdoor global championships. During that time, he has earned three World Championships medals (one silver, two bronze) and an Olympic bronze. He is also the world indoor silver medallist, Pan-American champion and Commonwealth champion.

But the 31-year-old would dearly love to win Olympic gold. And after his stunning 8995 score in Götzis earlier this year, he is certainly in the form to do so.

During that competition, he leaped 8.28m in the long jump – a Canadian record and world decathlon best – and ran 13.36 in the 110m hurdles, another world decathlon best. He also holds the world decathlon best for the 100m (10.12).

He always banks lots of points in the speed-based disciplines, but over the years he has also worked hard on the other disciplines and no longer has any obvious weaknesses. A formidable competitor.

 

Zheng Ninali

 

 

 

 

China

heptathlon

Zheng is part of a Chinese sporting dynasty. Her grandmother, Zheng Fengrong, set a world high jump record of 1.77m in 1957, making her the first Chinese woman to hold a world record in a sports event. She was also a talented all-rounder and won the heptathlon at the 1965 Chinese National Games.

Zheng – who up until this year was known as ‘Nina Schultz’ and represented Canada – followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and made her international debut at the 2015 World U18 Championships. Aged 16 at the time, Zheng finished 11th in the heptathlon and cleared 1.79m in the high jump – higher than her grandmother’s lifetime best.

In 2017 she broke 6000 points for the first time, scoring a Canadian U20 record of 6021, and went on to take silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 with a PB of 6133.

Now a Chinese national, the 22-year-old recently secured her place at the Olympic Games after producing the three biggest scores of her career – 6358 in Arona, 6324 in Tallinn and 6153 in Xian.

China did not partake in the Olympics between 1952 and 1984, so Zheng’s grandmother never had the chance to compete at the Games. But Zheng will make her family’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.

 

 

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