Ashton Eaton in the decathlon shot put (© Organisers)
Olympic decathlon champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton leads a star-studded field at the Hypo-Meeting at the famous Mosle Stadium in Gotzis, Austria, this weekend (30-31).
It is the third meeting of the 2015 IAAF Combined Events Challenge.
Eaton will make his eagerly-awaited debut in Gotzis in the stadium where Roman Sebrle set his former world record with 9026 in 2001. Eaton broke this mark, becoming the second man in history to score more than 9000 points with his mark of 9039 at the 2012 Olympic Trials in his home town of Eugene.
After focusing on the 400m hurdles during the 2014 summer season, Eaton will look to finish his first decathlon since he won the 2013 world title, having failed to finish in Talence the month after his Moscow triumph.
It will be interesting to see how Eaton will be able to perform, especially after his fast times in the 100m and the 60m hurdles earlier this year.
He recently clocked a wind-assisted 10.20 in the 100m and set a 60m hurdles personal best with 7.51 during the winter.
Eaton will face Russia's Ilya Shkurenev, who won the European indoor heptathlon title in March, setting a personal best of 6353. Outdoors, the Russian has a decathlon best of 8498.
The traditional strong German contingent is led by world silver medallist Michael Schrader, who won in Gotzis in 2009 and made a successful return in 2013 after several years of injury problems.
Also in the field is European under-23 champion Kai Kazmirek, who finished runner-up last year in Gotzis with a personal best of 8471.
Another German decathlete who has already performed well in the Austrian meeting is Rico Freimuth, the son of former Gotzis winner and 1983 World Championships fourth placer Uwe Freimuth. Freimuth junior set a personal best of 8322 in Gotzis in 2012 and improved this mark to 8382 at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow before winning the IAAF Combined Events Challenge last year. Freimuth finished third last year in Gotzis with 8317.
Warner among the former winners
Aside from Schrader, two other former Gotzis winners in the field are Canada’s Damian Warner, who won in 2013 with a personal best of 8512, and Belgium’s Hans Van Alphen, who won in 2012 with a personal best of 8519 before going on to finish fourth at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Czech rising star Jiri Sykora, who won the world junior title last year in Eugene, will make his Gotzis debut and is aiming to score more than 8000 points with senior implements.
Czech Republic boasts a proud tradition in this meeting, started by legends Robert Zmelik, the winner in 1992, Tomas Dvorak, who was champion in 1999 and 2000, and Roman Sebrle who won five consecutive titles from 2001 to 2005.
Schippers looking for at least second
The heptathlon has interesting story lines, such as the return of Dafne Schippers to combined events after her 100m and 200m double European triumph last summer and the eagerly awaited comeback of Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill after giving birth to her first child last July.
According to her coach, Bert Bennema, Schippers’ main goal is to improve on her two consecutive third-place finishes achieved in 2013 and 2014.
She set a national best last year in her last heptathlon appearance with 6545.
After Gotzis, the world heptathlon bronze medallist will make a final decision whether to focus on sprints or the heptathlon at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this summer.
Athletics fans are particularly looking forward to seeing her performance in the 200m, where she set the fastest European time of 2014 last summer with a jaw-dropping 22.03 on a cool summer night. Schippers clocked a 100m national record of 10.94 in Hengelo on Saturday.
Schippers will not be the only Dutch athlete in the field as the 'Oranje team' will be represented by 2014 IAAF Combined Events Challenge winner Nadine Broersen. The world indoor champion finished second in Gotzis in 2013 and fourth last year.
Other Dutch combined event exponents in Gotzis will be Anouk Vetter and Nadine Visser. The latter won world junior bronze medals in the 100m hurdles and in the heptathlon last year in Eugene.
The other big story will be Ennis-Hill’s first appearance in the heptathlon since her Olympic triumph in front of her home fans where he set a national record of 6955. Ennis-Hill won three consecutive editions of the Hypo Meeting from 2010 to 2012.
A new generation of heptathletes is led by Belgium’s Nifissatou Thiam, who finished fifth last year in Gotzis with a personal best of 6508 and then went on to finish third at the European Championships, and Great Britain’s world junior champion Morgan Lake, who won in Eugene with 6148, the highest ever score by a youth athlete with senior implements.
Eaton’s wife Brianne Theisen Eaton will be looking to achieve her third consecutive podium in Gotzis after winning in 2013 with 6376 and placing second last year with a Canadian record of 6641 before taking the Commonwealth Games title in Glasgow.
Another strong podium contender will be France’s Antoinette Nana Djimou, who has won two consecutive European heptathlon gold medals in 2012 and 2014, and two European indoor pentathlon titles in 2011 and 2013.
The always-strong German team features Carolin Schaefer, the former world junior and youth champion, and Claudia Rath, who finished fourth at the 2013 IAAF World Championships.
The women’s field also includes 2012 world junior champion Yorgelis Rodriguez from Cuba, and Yana Maksimava from Belarus, the 2013 European indoor pentathlon silver medallist.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF