The decibel count in the Olympic Stadium threatened to raise the celebrated glass wave of the distinctive glass roof as Niklas Kaul completed a stunning comeback to snatch home gold in the decathlon on a night to savour at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, part of the wider multi-sport European Championships.
Down in seventh place with two of the ten events remaining and some 500 points in arrears, the man from Mainz - who struck unexpected World Athletics Championship gold as a 21-year-old in Doha in 2019 – unleashed a mighty championship best throw of 76.05m in the javelin before overhauling long-time competition leader Simon Ehammer with the run of his life in the 1500m.
The roar as Kaul crossed the line in 4:10.04, a whopping 38.68 clear of his Swiss rival, was reminiscent of the one which greeted West Germany’s comeback to beat Johann Cruyff’s celebrated Dutch masters in the 1974 football World Cup final in the same arena.
“The noise was just crazy,” said Kaul, whose javelin throwing has been somewhat hindered in recent years having undergone elbow surgery. “It nearly blew my ears off. Winning here like this means much more to me than my world title three years ago.”
The drama did not end there. At the same time as the decathlon denouement was being played out, Greece’s Miltiadis Tentoglou was busy battling his way to a second successive men’s long jump title in style, the Greek prevailing with a championship record 8.52m (+0.3).
And, not to be overshadowed, the formidable Sandra Perkovic was slugging her way to a record-breaking sixth successive gold in a ding-dong women’s discus final.
Trailing to a third round effort of 66.93m by Kristen Pudenz, the German who took Olympic silver in Tokyo last year, the 32-year-old Croat showed her mettle amid all of the patriotic fervour, nailing a 67.95m throw in round five. Incidentally, it was in the fifth round in Berlin 2018 four years ago where Perkovic moved into the gold medal-winning position.
Pudenz came tantalisingly close with her final effort, a lifetime best 67.87m, but Perkovic was not to be denied.
By a margin of eight centimetres, the one-time Croatian member of parliament had extended her championship record to a sixth title in the same event, and matched Marita Koch’s tally of six golds, three of which the former East German gained from relays.
Germany took the bronze as well as the silver, Claudia Vita finishing third with 65.20m – denying Jorinde van Klinken a consolation prize to match the bronze she won in the shot the night before, the twin-talented Dutch thrower finishing fourth with 64.43m.
“I am so happy and proud tonight,” said Perkovic, who won her first title in Barcelona in 2010. “I’ve just won my sixth European title here at this beautiful stadium, in front of this amazing crowd.
“I had to fight against the strong Germans again, just like in Berlin in 2018. I struggled a bit as they were fighting so much and improving their PBs and SBs. But I knew I was ready to do it and I think the fight was nice.
“I am sorry for them that I destroyed their party, but I am glad for the Germans that they managed to get silver and bronze. This competition was really on the level of the World Athletics Championships.”
Kaul reels in long-time leader Ehammer for decathlon glory
Amid all of the drama across the field and multi-events, it was difficult not to empathise with Ehammer.
With world indoor heptathlon silver and world outdoor long jump bronze already in the bag, the 22-year-old was 25 points ahead of the halfway tally he notched en route to his 8377 Swiss record in Gotzis in May - thanks to a championship event best of 8.31m in the long jump and lifetime best 2.08m high jump.
After clocking 13.75 in the 110m hurdles and dipping to a disappointing 34.22m in the discus, he finished the day two morning session on the high of a 5.20m lifetime best in the pole vault – still potentially vulnerable to a late charge from the traditionally fast-finishing Kaul with another two of his own weaker events to come, the javelin and 1500m.
Ehammer could only manage 53.46m in the javelin, while Kaul propelled himself from seventh to third overall with an opening effort of 70.99m, before going for broke with his third attempt.
Fuelled by a mighty Munich roar with Whatever You Want by Status Quo blaring over the public address system, he hurled his javelin out to 76.05m – way beyond the championship decathlon best set by Sweden’s Mikael Olander in Stuttgart back in the mists of 1986.
That closed the gap between Kaul and Ehammer from 365 to 178 points. With a superior 1500m personal best by 28.73, the gold standard suddenly shifted from Swiss hands into very much the balance.
Based on lifetime bests, the projected final score would have been 8518-8506 in Kaul’s favour: too close to decisively call.
Unfettered by statistics, he simply went for broke again, charging clear of the field, and some 200m ahead of the flagging Ehammer, before crossing the line in 4:10.04, a personal best by 3.77.
Ehammer finished 15th and last in 4:48.72, a wry smile on his face as the result on the stadium scoreboard scrolled to his performance and confirmation that he had finished second with 8468 points, a Swiss record.
Kaul took the gold with 8545 and Estonian Janek Oiglane the bronze with 8346. There was a touching moment when the crestfallen runner-up, reached out to hug the winner in congratulations as they sat on the track.
There was another when the battle-hardened veteran Arthur Abele, the 36-year-old German who won in Berlin four years ago, was afforded a lap of honour and then a guard of honour by his rivals to mark his farewell decathlon, which he finished 15th with 7662 points.
“This is unbelievable,” said Ehammer. “It was a tough competition. The javelin was hard for me. I still have a lot to work on.”
It was not the best of nights for Ehammer, whose 8.45m world lead was beaten by Tentoglou in the long jump final.
After opening with a foul, the Greek took the lead in round two with 8.23m (+0.2), improved to 8,35 (-1.3) in round three and then soared out to 8.52m (+0.3) with his fourth effort – breaking the championship record of 8.47m, set my Germany’s Christian Reif in Barcelona in 2010.
“I was ready and prepared for something big,” said Tentoglou. “The championship record was something I was looking for and I managed to put everything together.”
In a closely contested battle for the other medals, Sweden’s Thobias Montler took silver behind Tentoglou for the fourth time in a major championships and Jules Pommery of France the bronze, both men jumping 8.06m.
Full results here.