Since suffering a huge tear in his hamstring last November, decathlete Cedric Dubler has spent more time in the treatment room than on the track. At the Oregon 2014 World Junior Championships last month, he posted EIGHT personal bests to win a silver medal. SPIKES watched his gutsy performance, and wanted to know how on earth he managed it.
“In 2013 I attempted two decathlons and hadn’t finished either of them. It felt like I had gone backwards,” Dubler tells SPIKES, a few days after his remarkable performance in TrackTown.
The massive 20cm (8-inch) hamstring tear – about the length of an A5 sheet of paper – was Dubler's first real setback in an otherwise breezy junior career.
He had shown his track talent at school events and athletics carnivals, primarily in sprinting and hurdling but also in basketball, volleyball and soccer. Dubler then took up pole vault after seeing it on the television and thinking it looked “really cool”.
High rise: Dubler's 2.09m leap moved him from fourth to second after four events
Eric Brown, his local club coach, noticed his potential and encouraged him to give decathlon a go.
“He just said: ‘Come try a decath. You can already pole vault, we just have to teach you how to throw.’”
Learning to throw isn’t as easy as just boiling a kettle (just ask this bloke), but Dubler took to it like the natural sportsman that he is. In his first ever competition in 2010 he smashed the 6000-point barrier. Brown, a coach who had guided decathletes to world junior and Commonwealth finals in the past, knew this was a good sign.
“He saw this talent in me that I didn’t even realise,” says Dubler. “After that first performance, he pretty much just said: “That’s ridiculous, you’re going all the way.’ He predicted it from day one.”
He followed up that early promise with strong performances on the big stage. At the Barcelona 2012 World Junior Championships, 17-year-old Dubler finished fourth with a PB of 7588 points, beaten only by athletes a year or two his senior.
But the injury woes scuppered his plans to spend 2013 building “a strong base”. “It felt like I threw the year away,” he says.
Every physio he went to was unable to find a lasting cure. And so, after his most severe setback last November, he turned to the Revive Ashgrove, a physiotherapy clinic local to his base in Brisbane, Australia. They got Dubler off the track and into the yoga pants: an approach that clearly worked.
“They just helped me,” he says. “They were getting me in for Pilates, a bit of yoga, physio and massage, everything that could possibly help me get back on track.”
At least he could sit at a desk and pursue his other passion: film-making. “I can sit on a computer and edit for hours on end,” says Dubler, who once tied his GoPro to a javelin (it broke the mount) and often helps his best mate make gaming videos for 200,000 subscribers.
Dubler set himself the target of making the Australian team at the qualifiers that were to take place in May. It was a big ask, and when they came around, he still wasn’t anywhere near full fitness.
“I’d say my hamstring was at about 80 per cent. I really wasn’t prepared. We came up with really short run-ups to play it safe, and I scraped through with a seven thousand two hundred and something.
“That was a massive relief. A couple of weeks beforehand I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to compete.”
Onto Eugene, Oregon. And though Dubler was still short of his best shape, he believes his absence from the track – and therefore the limelight – worked in his favour.
“I love being the underdog. So because people didn’t really see me in the rankings, the hamstring injury was sort of a blessing in disguise,” he says. “It took a lot of pressure off myself and allowed me to come in and do the best I could.”
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Once in Eugene, his preparations were nowhere near ideal. He had completed just two full pelt runs on the long jump track going into the championships: one in Athletics Australia’s pre-meet base in Vancouver, and one in Eugene a week before events kicked off.
He admits that both those attempts weren’t competitive, the latter of which “didn’t really feel great” and “barely seven metres”.
But when the time came to compete, everything just clicked. On his way to silver he became the first Aussie junior to breach the 8000-point mark; recorded seven PBs and set a wind-legal decathlon junior record in the long jump.
That event in particular, he says, was his best moment of the championships. “The first jump I pulled out a 7.74m, which didn’t even seem hard. It felt like a nice, easy jump and my hamstring felt fine. I was stoked.”
The decathlon duel between Dubler and Jiri Sykora, the eventual decathlon winner, was gripping stuff. Over the course of the ten events, the lead exchanged between them five times. Going into the 1500m, the final event, Dubler trailed by 55 points, an almost impossible deficit to make up barring a meltdown from his rival.
You would have forgiven him for taking it easy and protecting his tender hamstrings, yet Dubler gave everything and posted 4.39.81 PB. It was both heartening and heartbreaking to watch.
Dubler on the podium with gold and bronze medallists Jiri Sykora and Tim Nowak
Ultimately, nobody could deny Sykora – the Czech’s 8135-point haul was a new championship record. But to witness Dubler, who just months ago could barely run, push him so close provided one of the best spectacles of the week. His own total would have been good enough for gold at every world junior champs bar 2004.
Dubler had also owed his training partner two smoothies from workout-related betting – a debt now wiped out thanks to his silver medal.
And now, after coming through unscathed, Dubler is turning his sights to next year’s adult contests: the multi-event championships in Göetzis, Austria, and the world championships in Beijing.
After the Rio 2016 Olympics, the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games represent a chance for Dubler to compete in his home region of Queensland, when he will be 23.
“I’ve spoken to one of the athletes that competed in Sydney who said the support and atmosphere there was just breathtaking. I’m hoping the Commonwealth Games can produce something similar, it would just be awesome.
“It’s just going to be packed with Aussie supporters, it’s going to be fantastic.”
If he can stay injury-free, there’s every chance he'll be one of the stars giving the home crowd something to cheer.