Yordani Garcia of Cuba produces the furthest javelin throw of the first group in the decathlon (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Garcia looks for another Cuban victory, Chernova up against strong Germans in Ratingen – IAAF World Combined Events Challenge

Ratingen will once again be the scene for Germany’s decisive Decathlon and Heptathlon qualifying event for the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Berlin (15th to 23rd August).

This Saturday and Sunday the 13th edition of the Erdgas Mehrkampf-Meeting, which belongs to the IAAF World Combined Events Challenge, will take place. While for the German athletes tickets to Berlin are at stake there could well be another Cuban winner in the Decathlon on Sunday. Yordani Garcia, who improved to 8496 points recently, looks to be the favourite to become the successor of last year’s champion Leonel Suarez. This is because Germany’s newest Decathlon hope Michael Schrader has decided not to compete in Ratingen in order to fully concentrate on his preparations for Berlin.

In the Heptathlon Russia’s Olympic bronze medallist Tatyana Chernova will be up against a strong German challenge in Ratingen. It looks likely that five German heptathletes will fight for three Berlin slots this weekend. Among them is the defending champion of the Ratingen event: Lilli Schwarzkopf would even make it a hattrick on Sunday if she succeeds again. The 25-year-old had established her personal best of 6536 points in Ratingen in 2008.

Decathlon: Garcia, Papahill and a German surprise?

Since Schrader’s sensational breakthrough when winning the Götzis event in May with 8522 points, which is still a world leader, there have been some setbacks for the German Decathlon team. It was on the same day earlier this month that the two strongest decathletes of the past two years announced their withdrawel from the season due to injuries: André Niklaus and Arthur Abele.

For Niklaus it is a tragedy since the World Championships will take place in his hometown Berlin and it had been his dream to win a medal being the local hero. After he had to withdraw from Götzis the 27-year-old, who had sensationally taken the gold medal at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow in 2006 and placed eighth in last year’s Olympic Games, did not get fit again for the season. The foot injury, which had stopped him before, has ruined his hopes. He will have an operation in mid-July instead of preparing for the World Championships. “It is the end of a dream, but I have goals for the future with the London Olympics now the main focus,” said Niklaus.

Arthur Abele, who had surprisingly won in Ratingen two years ago, has an inury in his pubic bone. “Sometimes it is fine, sometimes I am in pain. But we didn’t get the injury under control. It is sad, but I have to withdraw,” said Abele. The 22-year-old believes that the German decathletes will still do well in Berlin and expects Michael Schrader to end up on the podium. “You Schradi will go and get a medal,” Abele writes on his homepage.

Schrader meanwhile has also withdrawn from the Ratingen meeting. But luckily in his case there is no injury behind it. It is a precautionary measure because the 21-year-old had been exhausted after the Götzis event. Schrader was the first German to win in Götzis since Christian Schenk in 1990. And he is the first German to collect more than 8500 points since Frank Busemann in 2000. After his superb performance from Götzis there was only a hypothetic situation in which Schrader could have lost his ticket for the Berlin World Championships. Three German Decathletes will have to score more than 8522 points in Ratingen to drag him out of the team.

It is very unlikely that the ones left in the competition will come near to Schrader’s points tally. But Schrader’s withdrawal could indeed give Ratingen some extra drama in the Decathlon. This is because the first German is guaranteed a ticket to Berlin provided he beats the qualifying standard of 8000 points. Besides Schrader at present Pascal Behrenbruch (8374 points) and Norman Müller (8272) are the obvious choices for Berlin. But should Jacob Minah (7991 so far this season) or Lars Albert (7903) cause a surprise then there would be only one ticket left for either Behrenbruch or Müller.

But the favourite for Ratingen does not come from Germany: 20 year-old Cuban Yordani Garcia has come close to Schrader’s world leading mark. He scored 8496 points in Cuba at the end of May. Two years ago he had established the national record of 8257 points (also an Area Junior Record), which he lost to Leonel Suarez last year. The reigning European Indoor Champion from Turin, Mikk Pahapill (Estonia), will be another international competitor to watch. He will do his first Decathlon this season.

Heptathlon: Chernova and five Germans the focus

At the end of May Tatyana Chernova had placed just behind the three Germans Lilli Schwarzkopf, Julia Mächtig and Jennifer Oeser in seventh position in Götzis. Can the Russian Olympic bronze medallist turn this around this weekend into an ‘away game’ in Ratingen? For the Germans she will be a welcome challenge in the built-up for Berlin, where the nation’s best Heptathlete hopes to fight for a bronze medal.

In the past two year Schwarzkopf was Germany’s number one. But in Götzis this year it was very, very close. Schwarzkopf, who had finished eighth in the Olympics in Beijing and fifth in the World Championships in Osaka, was fourth in Austria with 6337 points. But she was just 17 points ahead of Mächtig and Oeser, who both collected 6320. In normal circumstances one of those three should be the best German this weekend and because of this gain automatic selection for Berlin. So it will be hard for those chasing these three to deny one or two of them selection, since a better points tally than 6320 is now required (or a place above all three of them in Ratingen).

However Sonja Kesselschläger and Christine Schulz could be in for a surprise. Kesselschläger had to withdraw from Götzis due to a slight foot injury. Schulz did compete in Götzis doing well on the first day, but then she had to stop due to a back problem.

“I expect that we will see a thrilling event in Ratingen,” said Germany’s Heptathlon national coach Klaus Baarck. “Lilli, Julia and Jennifer are of course the favourites while there is some pressure on Sonja and Christine. But Sonja has trained well recently and she has a lot of experience.”

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF

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