Kevin Mayer, the current world-record holder in the decathlon, overcame morning nerves and a delayed start to capture the combined events edition of the Ultimate Garden Clash virtual event on Sunday.
Competing at a sun-splashed track in Montpellier, France, the 28-year-old was defeated by 2019 world champion Niklas Kaul of Germany and silver medallist Maicel Uibo of Estonia in the shuttle run competition, but had built a healthy enough lead in pole vault and shot put to take the combined events title.
“I saw the children there, it was amazing and they gave me strength. I had my crowd to encourage me,” Mayer said of two kids who watched his performance from an entrance to the track.
“I woke up nervous today. I’ve missed that feeling the last couple of months” while idle from competition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last October, Mayer withdrew in tears at the track and field world championships in Qatar when he was unable to complete the final two events due to injuries to his hamstring and Achilles tendon.
Kaul, then 21, went on to win the javelin and 1,500 metres for the gold medal, becoming the youngest decathlon medallist ever at worlds. He finished with 8,691 points, 87 more than Uibio, while world No. 1 Damian Warner of Canada won bronze with 8,529.
On Sunday, Kaul performed indoors in Mainz, Germany, while Uibo — the husband of 2019 world 400 silver medallist Shaunae-Miller-Uibo — was stationed in humid Clermont, Fla.
Mayer started his day clearing a four-metre bar 17 times in a 10-minute time limit to win the pole vault competition, with Uibo and Kaul posting 15 and 14 successful jumps, respectively. It was an impressive feat considering Uibo and Kaul started 25 seconds ahead of Mayer, who was spotted drinking water as the event began.
With the bar set low — his personal-best is 5.45 metres — Mayer smartly used a six-step approach, compared to eight steps by Uibo. He held a two-jump lead midway through the event and held on as Uibo closed to within one with 50 seconds remaining.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Mayer rule the shot put event after he turned in a 17.08-metre PB at last year’s worlds. He jumped out quickly and never relinquished the lead, throwing a 7.26-kilogram iron ball on or beyond a 12-metre line 28 times in 10 minutes.
Mayer held a three-throw advantage after five minutes (13-10 over Kaul) and increased it to five (16-11 over each of his opponents) with 3:40 left.
For the record, Kaul’s PB is 15.19 compared to 15.12 for Kaul.
Mayer’s nine-point lead entering the shuttle run, the third and final event of the day, turned out to be huge as Kaul collected 27 points for each completed back-and-forth shuttle around two cones placed 20 metres apart. Mayer and Uibo each completed 26 circuits.