Ashton Eaton of the United States reacts after competing in the Men's Decathlon Pole Vault of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 9, 2012 (© Getty Images)
Statisticians Mirko Jalava (FIN) and A. Lennart Julin (SWE) begin their first of eight ‘End of Season’ event category reviews covering all Athletics disciplines, highlighting the best performances which have taken place across our sport in 2012, with the COMBINED EVENTS.
The 2012 season in men’s combined events was expected to be all about Ashton Eaton and so it proved, but be he provided much, much more than expected.
The 24-year-old American from Oregon did more in one season than any multi-event athlete has done before.
He firstly won the IAAF World Indoor Championships heptathlon, breaking his own world indoor record and then continued with a world decathlon record at the US Olympic Trials.
The crown of his season was, of course, an Olympic title in London, winning with a margin of almost 200 points from his compatriot and 2011 World champion Trey Hardee.
Eaton had been tipped to reach the decathlon world record in 2010 immediately after he broke the world record for the indoor heptathlon during that winter with 6499 points, but it was quickly shown that such feats in the decathlon needs a bit more time.
Amassing an 8457 personal best in 2010 for the NCAA title and then raising his heptathlon world record to 6568 points early in 2011 was followed by an 8729 victory and personal best at that summer’s US Championships. This all paved the way for a big 2012 season.
At the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul this March, he notched up two personal bests across his seven events, an 8.16m Long Jump and 14.56m Shot Put, en-route to a total of 6645 points and his third world record in the discipline, as well as his first global title.
However, this was just a warm-up for an outdoor season in which Eaton would revise his personal best marks in eight individual of the individual events of the decathlon.
The season included huge results like his 45.68 400m in Santa Barbara back in April, which gives Eaton 89th place on the 2012 world lists over one lap of the track, and a 10.21 100m at the US Olympic Trials in June, which started his world record effort and saw him finish the year in 103rd place on the world list in that event.
Eaton set a world decathlon best in the first two events at the US Olympic Trials, reaching 8.23m with his first effort in the Long Jump, in addition to his 10.21 100m.
His 9039 points world record culminated in a stunning 1500m run in 4:14.48, when he made amends for a few results that fell slightly below his target earlier in the competition.
Circumstances in London at the Olympic Games were not quite perfect and the realistic possibility another world record went quickly beyond his grasp but the same fighting spirit Eaton has always shown was there, and he succeeded thanks to consistently good results in all 10 events to finish with 8869 points.
The Olympic title was never seriously in jeopardy and although double World champion Hardee was back to his best form to try to challenge Eaton, he could never get close enough to really threaten during the two days.
Following his two World titles, Hardee won a silver medal at his first Olympics with 8671 points. Hardee’s performance in London was particularly impressive considering that his second place score of 8383 points in Eugene was almost 700 points in arrears of Eaton’s world record.
Another athlete making good progress during the season was Cuba’s Leonel Suárez, who had won the bronze medal in Beijing 2008. The 25-year-old placed only fifth at the famous IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in the Austrian town of Götzis, having to settle for 8289 points, but he was able to find a much better rhythm in London, including a huge effort of 76.94m in the Javelin, an Olympic decathlon record in the penultimate event.
Suarez went on to win his second successive Olympic Games bronze medal with 8523 points, his best total score since 2009 when he scored a Caribbean record of 8654 points in Havana.
A few European athletes also went to London looking for a medal at the Olympics but they all, unfortunately, failed to find their best form.
Germany’s Pascal Behrenbruch became potential medal contender after his win at the 2012 European Athletics Championships, where he scored a personal best of 8558 points. Belgium’s Hans van Alphen won in Götzis with a national record of 8519 points and The Netherlands’ Eelco Sintnicolaas also set national record of 8506 points for the second place in that competition, but none of this trio was able to win a medal this time.
Van Alphen came the closest and scored 8447 points, which would have been good enough for the bronze medal without the huge javelin result by the Cuban.
There was also a major surprise in London in fifth place with Canada’s 23-year-old Damian Warner rising to take his place among the world’s elite in just one competition.
Coming to London with just 8107 points as his personal best, Warner added an impressive 335 points to that tally by scoring 8442 points at the Olympics including personal bests in six of the 10 events.
United States is easily the best country overall in the decathlon with 19 men in the world top 100 for this year. Germany is equally clear in second with 14 while France and Russia are tied for third place with eight each.
Jessica Ennis had been the poster girl for the London 2012 Olympic Games for a couple of years and knew that the British public expected nothing less than a gold medal.
With all this pressure on her shoulders, she still rose to the challenge magnificently despite the fact that she had somewhat unexpectedly had lost at both the 2011 IAAF World Championships, to Russia’s Tatyana Chernova, and then at the 2012 World Indoor Championships, to Ukraine’s Natalya Dobrynska.
She got off to a magnificent start on the opening morning of the athletics programme in the Olympic stadium when she lowering her 100m hurdles best by over two-tenth to a national record of 12.54, which itself would make her the fifth fastest hurdler in the world in 2012 and the fastest European in the discipline.
After that run, she never looked back and rarely needed to.
Ennis went into new territory in two other events: 22.83 in the 200m and 47.39m in the Javelin Throw; and she lived up to the general recipe for success in the combined events, which is to avoid seriously underperforming in any one event.
She won two events outright, the 100m hurdles and 800m; was 2nd in two more, 200m and Long Jump, and finished fifth in the High Jump and 10th in the two throws.
What that means is she finished in the top two in more than half of the seven events, which is hugely impressive indeed. In the end, Ennis had accumulated a total of 6955 points and a very healthy winning margin of over 300 points.
It was also a personal best by 49 points and her second national record of the year.
By contrast, the two women expected to challenge Ennis, Chernova and Dobrynska, experienced sub-par events right from the beginning.
The toughest challenge during the first day was instead mounted by the revitalized by the 2004 Olympic games silver medallist Austra Skujyte, who won not only the Shot Put, traditionally the Lithuanian’s strongest event, but more surprisingly also the High Jump.
However, in the end Skujyte’s weakness in the running events proved costly and she ended up fifth.
The fight for the medals at the end of the two days involved Chernova, Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf and Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Yosypenko; with eventually Schwarzkopf taking the silver medal and Chernova the bronze.
As always at the Olympics, the depth in the heptathlon far surpassed any other championship. In the last eight global championships during the last 10 years, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 have all had more than 20 finishers above 6000 points while that number has varied between 12 and 19 in the five World Championships across that period.
The scores needed to make the top five, top 10, top 15 and top20 all (6599, 6392, 6267 and 6084) all reached new levels in London.
Judging from her massive winning margin at the Olympics, and still being just 26 years old Jessica Ennis could – if she manages to maintain her motivation after having already had the greatest athletics emotional experience possible by winning an Olympic title on home soil – be able to maintain her number one position for some time to come
Chernova is two years younger and clearly has the physical tools for scoring over 7000 points but the Russian seems to have a problem putting it all together when the pressure is on.
Except for the 2011 World Championships, Chernova has always experienced one or two serious problems in her individual events when competing at major championships.
Looking further down the 2012 world list, four names stand out.
Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece (born in 1992), The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers (also born in 1992), Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson (born in 1993) and Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez (born in 1995) are all terrific prospects for the future.
The first three all competed in London; finishing ninth in 6414, 12th in 6324 and 15th in 6267 points respectively and taking the next step forward after successful junior careers.
Schippers and Ikauniece were first and third at the 2011 European Athletics Junior Championships; Schippers also won 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships while Johnson-Thompson took the 2009 IAAF World Youth Championships title, with Ikauniece second.
As for Rodriguez, she followed up her silver medal at the 2011 World Youth Championships with gold this summer at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, and still has two more years to go in the junior ranks.
Remembering that Sweden’s European record holder and 2004 Olympic champion Carolina Klüft began her career with three junior gold medals (two World, one European), that Chernova won at both the World Youth Championships and World Junior Championships, and that Ennis was a European junior champion, then the prognosis for this young quartet and the heptathlon in general looks very promising indeed.
Note: This year Jalava covers the men's side of the action and Julin the women's events