It only took Niklas Kaul from Germany two seasons to progress from European U20 champion to world senior champion in the decathlon.
One of the medal favourites after his victory at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Gavle, Kaul assembled a magnificent second day at the IAAF World Athletics Championships to clinch the gold medal. His achievements were recognised at the Golden Tracks in Tallinn on Saturday (26), becoming the fourth German recipient of the men’s Rising Star trophy after Raphael Holzdeppe, David Storl and Max Hess.
Here are eleven things which you might not know about the newly crowned world decathlon champion and men’s Rising Star award winner.
A family affair
Kaul is still mainly coached by his parents Stefanie and Michael. This has proved a hugely successful combination over the years albeit one which didn’t necessarily come about by design. “We did not think that we would be such successful coaches. We did not intend to train our kids,” said Kaul’s mother Stefanie.
Both of Kaul’s parents are former international athletes who specialised in the 400m hurdles. Michael represented Germany at the 1994 European Championships and 1995 World Championships while Stefanie represented Austria at the 1994 European Championships and won national titles in the 400m, 800m and 400m hurdles.
Following decathlon giants
Kaul was born and lives in Mainz which is not a bad place for an aspiring decathlete to come from. Kaul represents USC Mainz whose members have included 1966 European champion Werner von Moltke, 1964 and 1968 Olympic medallist Hans-Joachim Walde, 1976 Olympic silver medallist Guido Kratschmer, 1983 and 1987 world medallist Siggi Wentz and 1988 Olympic champion Christian Schenk.
Learning from the greats
Following his breakthrough win at the 2015 World U18 Championships in Cali, Kaul was scouted by Olympic champion Ashton Eaton who invited Kaul, along with three other athletes, to attend his ‘On Camp With Ashton’ training camp at the start of 2016. „Three years ago, I was the star-struck teenager who got the chance to train with my idol and I watched everything he did, trying to absorb as many lessons as I could. Now he’ll be in the stands, watching me, and I’ll be trying to put what I learned into practice,” reflected Kaul ahead of Doha.
Kaul added another chapter of success to the story of German decathlon by winning gold at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha. He became only the second German to win the decathlon title after the blue vested East German Torsten Voss in Rome 1987. Kaul’s winning score of 8691 points was also a European U23 record and at the age of 21, Kaul also replaced Voss as the youngest ever world decathlon champion by three years.
Back on the road to 80 metres
The javelin is Kaul’s formidable weapon to the extent he won individual silver in the discipline at the 2015 World U18 Championships. In the ensuing seasons Kaul would still readily top the javelin standings in decathlons although persistent elbow and back injuries limited his range for improvement. “People would tell me 70 metres is still great but because of the injuries, I knew I could do a lot better,” he said.
Kaul’s throwing arm has been working at its full capacity this season. He smashed his lifetime best with 77.36m at the European U23 Championships before improving to a championship best of 79.05m in windless conditions in Doha which all but sealed the title.
Playing it safe
That championship best in the javelin was preceded by a lifetime best of 5.00m in the pole vault. Kaul eschewed the next height of 5.20m not due to fatigue but the German didn’t want to risk getting injured as the next height of 5.20m which would have required Kaul to use a pole which he had never jumped on before.
Powered by apples
How does Kaul keep himself fuelled during the decathlon? Kaul eats up to one-and-a-half kilograms of mashed apples – or Apfelmus in German – which he says is easy to digest and good for keeping up his energy levels across the two days. Kaul also tends to drink red grape juice mixed with water.
Low key celebrations
The late scheduling of the combined events meant Kaul was officially anointed world decathlon champion at just after 0:30am local time, plus formalities such as media commitments and drug testing were to continue long into the night. After arriving back at the team hotel at 4:00am, Kaul and his decathlon teammates went to the hotel swimming pool and watched the sun come up.
Unbeaten in age-group competitions
Kaul won four major age-group titles between 2015 and 2019, a streak which began at the IAAF World U18 Championships in Cali and ran through to the European Athletics U23 Championships in Gavle. Kaul set three championship records along the way and his score of 8435 points at the 2017 European U20 Championships was also a world U20 record.
In fact, the only championships in which Kaul has been beaten thus far was last year’s European Championships in Berlin. He finished fourth after stepping in as a very late replacement for the injured Kai Kazmirek.
Extra curricular activities
As well as preparing for the World U20 Championships in 2016, Kaul was also rehearsing for an end-of-term high school production of Snow White in which the six-foot-two Kaul was improbably cast as one of the seven dwarves. Kaul also played the tuba when he was a youngster.
Steven Mills for European Athletics