Disastrous day for decathlete

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:44 PM ET

Everything seemed to be lined up nicely for decathlete Massimo Bertocchi at this weekend's Canadian track and field championships.

The national championships are being held on the University of Toronto athlete's home track -- Varsity Stadium -- and the Tottenham native had recently recovered from a back injury.

But disaster struck for the 23-year-old yesterday in the second day of competition and now his participation at the world championships in August in Berlin is in serious jeopardy.

Bertocchi was cruising along in the 10-event decathlon, until the discus -- the seventh event and second of the day.

That's when his world came tumbling down. Bertocchi, considered one of the most promising young athletes on the Canadian team, fouled twice and hit the cage on another throw. Though the discus landed in-bounds, it travelled only 5.65 metres -- worth 22 points, virtually nothing on the overall points table. After recording a distance of 4.70 metres in the pole vault, Bertocchi withdrew from the championships.

And now, having failed to make the A championship for the worlds (8,000 points), he'll have to find another event between now and July 24 in order to qualify for Berlin. That's a tall order, given that the decathlon is an intensely gruelling event and top-calibre meets are hard to come by.

"This certainly puts him behind the 8-ball," said Alex Gardiner, national team head coach. "He's still got time to qualify, but whether there's a competition out there with the calibre he needs, remains to be seen. There's got to be something in Europe. But he's going to have to look around and find one."

Bertocchi certainly has an 8,000-point performance in him, having recorded a personal best of 8,014 to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At 23, he's already being compared with former Canadian decathlon greats David Steen, the 1988 Olympic bronze-medallist, and Michael Smith, the 1991 world championship silver-medallist. Smith still holds the Canadian record of 8,626 points, set way back in 1996 at the famed Gotzis, Austria, meet.

Gardiner is confident that even if Bertocchi can't find a meet before July 24 and make the world championships A standard, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound athlete will still have a good season and move on to great things in the decathlon -- given his talent and the fact that he has an excellent support group at the UofT, led by head coach Andy Higgins, who coached both Smith and Steen.

"It's pretty clear we think he's a mid-8,000 guy," said Gardiner. "He's learning the event. And we think he has two Olympic cycles in him, 2012 London and 2016."

"These things happen," Gardiner added of yesterday's misfortune.

The 2005 world championship 400-metre bronze-medallist and 2008 indoor world champion Tyler Christopher of Chilliwack, B.C. easily won his heat yesterday in a time of 47.64. Christopher holds the Canadian record in the event (44.44) but has struggled to regain his form this year.

The women's heptathlon event was won by Brianne Theisen of Saskatoon with a score of 5,847 in the absence of London's Jessica Zelinka, who finished fifth in Beijing last year. Zelinka is off on maternity leave.

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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