Kevin Mayer in action at the Combined Events Challenge meeting in Talence (© AFP / Getty Images)
It’s not how he envisaged booking his place at the Olympic Games when the qualifying window opened on 1 January 2019, but world decathlon record-holder Kevin Mayer will be aiming to score in excess of 8350 at the Meeting de la Réunion on the remote French island of La Réunion on Friday and Saturday (18-19).
With athletes keen to make the most of the recently reopened Olympic qualifying window, the competition is part of the World Athletics Challenge – Combined Events and is the first meeting in the 2021 series.
The qualification period for combined events opened on 1 January 2019 but it was frozen in April earlier this year following the postponement of the Olympic Games, when it became clear that competition opportunities would be seriously compromised in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The qualifying period reopened on 1 December and will now run until 29 June 2021.
Most of the world’s leading combined events athletes achieved qualifying standards in 2019, but Mayer was not so fortunate. The 28-year-old from France contested just one decathlon last year – at the World Championships in Doha, no less – but he was unable to successfully complete the defence of his world title when injury got the better of him in the pole vault, the eighth of 10 disciplines.
With that injury now behind him, Mayer is hopeful of achieving the required score of 8350 to put himself in line for Olympic selection for Tokyo next year.
“I can’t wait to get back on track, to put into practice everything I’ve worked on this year and to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard,” said Mayer, who in 2018 set a world record of 9126. “When I do (get the standard), it will be less pressure and I will be able to finish my preparation for Tokyo calmly.”
Like most athletes this year, Mayer has competed sparingly in 2020, but his form is promising. He ran 13.91 in the 110m hurdles and threw 16.08m in the shot at the French Championships in September. He has also thrown 49.65m in the discus, while last weekend he warmed up for his decathlon by clocking a wind-assisted 10.70 in La Réunion.
To mitigate against the likelihood of conditions rendering a performance invalid for qualification purposes, organisers are prepared to switch the direction of the 100m if need be.
Mayer isn’t the only athlete heading to La Réunion with ambitions of hitting an Olympic qualifier or boosting a world ranking. Eight other men in the decathlon field have a PB in excess of 8000 points, while the top six heptathlon entrants have 6000-point PBs.
Ukraine’s two-time world indoor silver medallist Oleksiy Kasyanov, now 35, is keen to make a fourth Olympic Games appearance. The 2009 world bronze medallist won the Ukrainian title at the end of August with 7716, but he’ll need to be closer to his lifetime best of 8479 if he is to make it to Tokyo.
Axel Hubert heads to La Réunion as the top-scoring Frenchman in 2020. Earlier this year the 24-year-old organised his own competition in which he bettered the 8000-point barrier for the first time in his career, but as it was an unsanctioned event, it couldn’t count for official purposes. But he improved again – this time in an official competition, the French Championships – in Aubagne at the end of September and scored a lifetime best of 8260.
Basile Rolnin topped the French decathlon list last year with his 8205 score to finish second in Ratingen. Like Mayer, Rolnin was forced to withdraw from last year’s World Championships decathlon through injury.
Gael Querin and Bastien Auzeil are both 8000-point performers at their best, but they haven’t exceeded that barrier for a few years. Younger compatriot Ruben Gado, meanwhile, may stand a better chance of approaching that mark this weekend.
Estonian duo Risto Lillemets and Taavi Tsernjavski joined the 8000-point club earlier this year and both could challenge for a podium spot this weekend. Lillemets scored 8133 to win the Estonian title in August, while Tsernjavski tallied 8086 in Rakvere in July.
Italy’s Simone Cairoli, whose ‘quarantine decathlon’ video went viral earlier this year, will be keen to make the most of being allowed to travel outside of his homeland and will look to challenge his PB of 7949.
Ukraine’s 2013 world champion Hanna Kasyanova leads the heptathlon entries. The 37-year-old recently completed her first heptathlon since giving birth in March 2018, scoring 5962 at the Ukrainian Championships at the end of August.
But the battle for victory could be between Colombia’s Evelyn Aguilar and Switzerland’s Geraldine Ruckstuhl.
Aguilar came within 31 points of her lifetime best in September, scoring 6254 at the Spanish Championships in Madrid. Ruckstuhl, meanwhile, won the European U23 title last year and has a lifetime best of 6391.
Sarah Lagger, winner of the world U20 title in 2016, is also capable of challenging for victory. The 21-year-old from Austria has a PB of 6225. Estonia’s Mari Klaup and France’s Diane Marie-Hardy are the other 6000-point performers in the field.
World champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson will also be in action in La Réunion, although she won’t be contesting the full heptathlon. Instead, the British record-holder will just line up for a few individual disciplines.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics
Kevin Mayer (FRA) 9126
Oleksiy Kasyanov (UKR) 8479
Axel Hubert (FRA) 8260
Basile Rolnin (FRA) 8205
Gael Querin (FRA) 8194
Bastien Auzeil (FRA) 8191
Risto Lillemets (EST) 8133
Ruben Gado (FRA) 8126
Taavi Tsernjavski (EST) 8086
Simone Cairoli (ITA) 7949
Jeremy Lelievre (FRA) 7911
Ludovic Besson (FRA) 7792
Makenson Gletty (FRA) 7747
Benjamin Hougardy (BEL) 7697
Hanna Kasyanova (UKR) 6586
Geraldine Ruckstuhl (SUI) 6391
Evelyn Aquilar (COL) 6285
Sarah Lagger (AUT) 6225
Mari Klaup (EST) 6080
Diane Marie-Hardy (FRA) 6015
Cassandre Aguessy-Thomas (FRA) 5837
Annaelle Nyabeu Djapa (FRA) 5822