Germany's Pascal Behrenbruch in the decathlon shot (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Ratingen, Germany

Ratingen the final stop for European combined eventers ahead of Zurich

This weekend (28-29) some of Europe’s best combined eventers will use the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Ratingen as a form-test and qualifying event ahead of the European Championships in Zurich in August (12-17).

For German athletes, Ratingen – alongside the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Gotzis – always counts as the main qualifier for international championships with domestic competition being of a high standard and the three spots for Zurich being highly contested.

Behrenbruch and Freimuth play catch-up with Kazmirek

This year’s decathlon field features nine athletes with personal bests higher than 8000 points. Main contenders include European champion and last year’s meeting winner Pascal Behrenbruch and Olympic sixth-place finisher Rico Freimuth.

While fellow German and European under-23 champion Kai Kazmirek, following a strong performance of 8471 in Gotzis, has passed on the opportunity to get another decathlon under his belt ahead of Zurich, Behrenbruch has to prove his form after pulling out of the prestigious Austrian meeting in May.

The field also includes the likes of World Championships fourth-place finisher Kevin Mayer of France and Ingmar Vos of the Netherlands. Vos last year swapped his Birmingham training base for Texas, where he now trains alongside the likes of two-time world decathlon champion Trey Hardee, but the Dutchman had to pass on Gotzis due to slight injury niggles.

World silver medallist Michael Schrader had to pull out of the meeting, suffering another injury set-back after his successful season last year.

Also in the decathlon field, among others, are Belgium’s Frederic Xhonneux and Germany’s Arthur Abele, who set his personal best of 8372 in Ratingen in 2008.

Schafer enjoys role as ‘the-one-to-beat’

In the heptathlon an equally fierce competition for tickets to Zurich is expected, with Gotzis fifth-place finisher Carolin Schafer leading the 2014 national rankings with 6386. The 22-year-old set four personal bests in Gotzis, and following a final test at her regional championships last weekend is feeling confident going into the meeting as the No.1.

“Pressure? Which pressure,” said Schafer with a laugh when asked how she is coping with her role as the odds-on favourite. “I think the rest of the field is under pressure, they have to challenge me. I am in the best starting position.”

Her training partner Claudia Rath will definitely feel more pressure going into Ratingen following her exit from the competition in Gotzis when she registered three fouls in the long jump, normally her strongest event as she has a personal best of 6.67m.

The Frankfurt-based athlete won the regional 100m hurdles title in 13.86 last weekend, despite that not being her favourite event. “Normally I am a bit scared of the hurdles. You make one mistake and everything is over. But in the heptathlon you have got to risk everything. We don’t do things by halves.”

Among those challenging for one of the three tickets to Zurich is Olympic silver medallist Lilli Schwarzkopf, who following an achilles tendon rupture at the end of 2012 is hoping for a successful comeback.

Julia Machtig, winner in Ratingen for the past two years, is also hoping for a spot on the plane to Zurich, while Sweden’s Jessica Samuelsson and Norway’s Ida Marcussen are looking for a good result in what will be the fourth heptathlon of the year for the latter.

Poland’s Karolina Tyminska, who set her personal best of 6544 when finishing fourth at the 2011 World Championships, could also be in with a shout, but this will be her first heptathlon of the season.

Also in the field will be sprint hurdler-turned-heptathlete Cindy Roleder. The world indoor 60m hurdles finalist will be looking to improve on the score of 5665 she set last month on her heptathlon debut in Gotzis.

Michelle Sammet for the IAAF