Estonia's Mikk Pahapill after winning the decathlon in Talence (© IAAF)
Germany’s Carolin Schafer held on to her overnight lead to win the heptathlon at the Decastar meeting in Talence on Sunday (21), but Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov was passed by Mikk Pahapill in the final two events to surrender the decathlon title at the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting.
Schafer held a 17-point lead after the first day, but was temporarily overtaken after the first event of the second day. Ukraine’s Anastasiya Mokhnyuk excelled in her strongest event, leaping 6.38m to post the best long jump mark of the day.
World champion Hanna Melnychenko recorded the second-best mark with 6.15m, just two centimetres ahead of Schafer.
Following the withdrawal of European silver medallist Kevin Mayer half way through the first day, and the injury sustained by European triple jump champion Benjamin Compaore, the host nation was dealt more bad news as European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou was a non-starter for the second day of the heptathlon.
With two events remaining, Mokhnyuk held a healthy 62-point lead over Schafer, but the German was a far superior javelin thrower, and proved as much with the next event.
Schafer produced the best mark of the competition with her 48.49m throw, just 27 centimetres shy of her season’s best. Yana Maksimava of Belarus also performed well, throwing 47.17m to move two places up the overall standings into fourth.
Hungary’s Gyorgyi Zsivoczky-Farkas also crept up the tables after throwing 47.11m, taking her into third place overall. Mokhnyuk, competing in one of her weakest events, threw a season’s best, but at 36.82m it wasn’t enough to hold on to her lead.
It meant that with one event to go, Schafer had a lead of 163 points over her Ukrainian rival. In 800m terms, it translated to roughly 11.5 seconds.
Schafer ended the second day in the same she ended the first – with a personal best. Her 2:15.55 clocking took more than a second off her previous outright best set indoors earlier this year. It brought her winning tally to 6383 as she capped off an incredibly consistent breakthrough season in which all three of her heptathlon scores have ranged between 6380 and 6400.
More importantly, she jumped up into second place in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge standings. There is one more competition to go in the series, but the final placings won’t be affected by it.
“I never thought I could win this,” said Schafer, the 2008 world junior champion, who became the first German woman to win in Talence since Heike Drechsler 20 years ago. “It’s a great feeling and I’m so, so happy."
Mokhnyuk finished a whisker ahead of Schafer in the 800m, smashing her PB by three seconds with 2:15.52. It gave her a total of 6220, adding 19 points to the PB she set in Gotzis earlier this year.
Maksimava also set a PB in the 800m, clocking 2:10.84 to give her a total of 6189, a season’s best and just nine points away from her lifetime best.
Zsivoczky-Farkas scored 6180 to take fourth place, while Maksimava’s Belarusian team-mate Katsiaryna Netsviatayeva was the only other woman to break 6000, scoring 6054 in fifth. Melnychenko, meanwhile, stepped off the track just a few strides into the 800m.
Pahapill leaves it late
Ukraine’s 2012 world indoor silver medallist Oleksiy Kasyanov went into the second day of the decathlon with a 91-point lead over Cuba’s Yordanis Garcia.
Kasyanov maintained that lead after the first event of the second day, clocking 14.35 in the 110m hurdles to Garcia’s 14.33. Pahapill, who impressed in the high jump on the first day with a clearance of 2.11m, dropped down one place in the standings to fifth after finishing the 110m hurdles in 14.68.
But the Estonian bagged valuable points by recording the best discus mark of the day, his 48.44m being almost two metres better than Kasyanov’s best (46.58m). He shot right up into second place, but was still almost 200 points adrift of Kasyanov.
Kasyanov’s lead was eaten into again in the following event, the pole vault, with Pahapill clearing 4.90m, 20 centimetres higher than Kasyanov.
European indoor champion Eelco Sintnicolaas was, as expected, the best in this discipline, but even a 5.20m clearance wasn’t enough to put him in contention for a top-three finish and the Dutchman was in fifth place with two events remaining.
The javelin proved to be the turning point. Pahapill threw a massive season’s best of 60.64m while Kasyanov – competing in his weakest event – was more than 10 metres adrift, throwing just 50.16m.
It meant that with one event to go, Pahapill would enter the 1500m with a 41-point lead over Kasyanov, which translated to about 6.25 seconds.
By this point, Garcia had moved up from sixth to third after throwing 67.20m, the best mark of the day, in the javelin.
Aware of what he needed to do in the 1500m, Kasyanov tried to open up a gap on his Estonian rival in the final event, leading for most of the way with Pahapill a few metres behind in the chasing group.
The gap wasn’t big enough, though. France’s Jeremy Lelievre sprinted away in the final 200m to cross the line in 4:28.25 with Kasyanov finishing second in 4:31.88. Pahapill was little more than four seconds behind in fifth place, which was enough to win.
His final tally of 8077 may have been the lowest winning score in Talence since 1986, but that mattered little to a man who recorded his first decathlon victory since 2008, overcoming many set-backs along the way.
Pahapill exploded on to the scene in 2009 when he won the European indoor heptathlon title with 6362, a performance which, at the time, put him ninth on the world indoor all-time list. But a similar breakthrough outdoors never quite materialised.
He scored a PB of 8398 in Gotzis in 2011, but finished ninth at that year’s IAAF World Championships. In a high-quality decathlon at last year’s World Championships, he finished 17th with a score of 8170.
But victory in Talence has given the 31-year-old a great amount of confidence to take into next year when he aims to compete at his fifth World Championships.
“It’s amazing,” said Pahapill. “It was quite difficult but the crowd is amazing and the conditions are ideal, so for me it’s very special. There are two really high-quality combined events competitions – Gotzis and Talence. To win one of those is a big challenge.”
In the end, Kasyanov was just 15 points behind Pahapill and was the only other man to surpass the 8000-point barrier. Garcia held on to third with 7945 with France’s Bastien Auziel taking third with 7843, 13 points ahead of Sintnicolaas.
This was Pahapill’s second decathlon of 2014. With three scores needed to rank in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge, he won’t make an impression on the final standings. But Garcia moved into third place overall, with Kasyanov going into fourth, just 50 points behind.
The scores will not be affected by the last meeting in the series, the Asian Games, as no Asian athletes have currently registered a performance in the challenge.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF