Kevin Mayer in the decathlon at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)
For the first time since 2011, a senior men’s global combined events title will be won by someone other than Ashton Eaton.
The world record-holder announced his retirement earlier this year, bringing an end to a career that included two Olympic gold medals, two world titles, three world indoor titles, two outdoor world records and three indoor world records.
While Eaton’s departure has left a Superman-shaped hole to fill in the world of athletics, it has thrown the decathlon wide open as it will no longer be a competition between one man and the scoring tables.
But that’s not to say there are still one or two more favoured athletes. The most obvious candidate for the title is the man who got closest to Eaton at last year’s Olympic Games, Kevin Mayer. Having shown so much promise since his junior days, the French decathlete finally achieved the breakthrough he had promised for so long, scoring a national record of 8834 to take the silver medal in Rio.
He hasn’t contested a decathlon since then, but Mayer has shown improved form in his few competitive outings this season. He won the European indoor title with a European record of 6479, setting or matching his PB in five of the seven disciplines. Outdoors, he has set lifetime bests in the discus, javelin and 110m hurdles this summer.
Still, Mayer has a higher DNF rate than almost any other elite decathlete, so he is by no means a nailed-on favourite for gold.
Before Mayer’s performance in Rio, Canada’s Damian Warner was the man who’d usually get closest to Eaton at major championships. Still a formidable opponent, as shown by his 8591 victory in Götzis this year, Warner now has a great chance – possibly his best one yet – of finally landing a maiden global title.
He and Mayer are just two of the many decathletes who’ll be vying for a place on the podium, though.
As ever, the German contingent will be strong. Rico Freimuth has recovered from the injuries that hampered his progress since taking the world bronze meda in 2015. He finished third in Götzis with 8365 and followed it four weeks later with a world-leading PB of 8663 in Ratingen.
Compatriot Kai Kazmirek finished fourth in Rio last year with a PB of 8580 and hasn’t been far from that kind of form this season, finishing third in Ratingen with 8478, the second-best mark of his career.
Neutral athlete Ilya Shkurenev, the 2015 European indoor champion, scored a PB of 8601 to win his national title, setting PBs in three of the individual disciplines. Aside from last year, when he was unable to compete in international competitions, Shkurenev has produced his best score of each season at major championships. He will also be fired up by missing out on a medal by one place two years ago.
Over in the USA, Grenada’s Lindon Victor has been making headlines after his exploits on the collegiate scene. He broke the collegiate record with a score of 8539 and won the NCAA title with 8390. Unusually for someone so young – he is 24 years old – Victor excels in the throws and is capable of throwing beyond 16 metres in the shot, 55 metres in the discus and 70 metres in the javelin.
His older brother Kurt Felix, the Commonwealth bronze medallist, has also been in PB form this year. In fact, his 8509 score to finish second in Ratingen would have been a national record had Victor not broken it just five weeks earlier.
Trey Hardee may be one of the oldest in the field, but his 33 years of age comes with bags of experience. The two-time world champion has shown on numerous occasions that he can never be discounted; the latest such reminder was delivered in June when he won the US title with 8225. It should also be noted that Hardee is the last man to have beaten Eaton in a combined events competition.
Eelco Sintnicolaas is another decathlete who has returned to form this year after some difficult injury spells. The 2013 European indoor champion finished second in Götzis with 8539, breaking the Dutch record he had set in 2012.
Larbi Bourrada competes sparingly, but the Algerian finished fifth at the 2016 Olympics and 2015 World Championships in what were his only decathlons of those seasons. He won in Kladno in June with 8120, but if recent years are anything to go by, the African record-holder could once again contest for a podium position.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF