Ashley Moloney defied history by taking Gold in the Decathlon at the 2018 World Under 20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
Moloney’s coach Eric Brown and Olympian training partner Cedric Dubler knew he was capable of winning the world U20 decathlon title, but even they found some of his performances to be positively ‘ridiculous’ in Finland. And what’s even more amazing is that they know he is capable of so much more.
The 18-year-old produced personal bests in seven of the 10 events for a score of 8190 points, the second best U20 score in history. He broke the championships record, the Australian U20 record and his own squad record, held by Dubler – who won the U20 silver in 2014 before 14th at the Rio Olympics and bronze at the Commonwealth Games in April.
His friendly rivalry with countryman Gary Haasbroeck, who also performed superbly in Tampere to win the silver medal in a personal best (7798 pts), gave Australia a 1-2 finish at a major championship for the first time in 50 years.
Moloney was ecstatic with his win saying, "I’m feeling a rollercoaster of emotions, I was not expecting the performance - I just tried to do my best in every single event but not caring about the end result as much."
Dubler, who was following live in the early hours of the morning from his Gold Coast home, has such praise for Moloney’s performance and the traits of his training partner. “He started with a 10.51 for the 100m, which is an insane time. And I’m pretty sure his first thought would have been ‘I could have gone faster’,” Dubler said.
“He is the guy that is always pushing to do better. And the interesting thing about Ash is he doesn’t even realise where his limits are yet, so he just thinks anything is possible, which is so awesome to see. He’s been improving out of sight in the past 12 months. But still to jump 2.10 after struggling for the past few months in high jump is mind-blowing.”
(Image: Cedric Dubler and Ashley Moloney)
Cedric is thrilled, not threatened by Ash’s incredible performances.
“I could not be happier. I’ve seen Ash progress from the very start, to the point he is now. It’s been a very exciting progression seeing him slowly dedicate himself more and more. Now we are at the point that he’s started dragging me around the track, as he’s faster than I am now!
“Having taken him under my wing and sharing experiences to let him learn from the mistakes made and watching his performances over the two days even more exciting.”
Dubler was also full of praise for Haasbroeck who will also be a threat as he continues to improve. “It’s also extremely exciting for Gary and he produced a great performance. Gary hasn’t been around for years and years and he has is an exciting prospect with a great coach in Steve Cain who is a former decathlete himself.
“Decathlon in Australia is just getting stronger and stronger. The Tokyo Olympic qualifiers will be one to watch because I know there will a lot of boys going for those spots.”
It is hard to comprehend that Moloney jumped off his ‘wrong leg’ in both the long jump and high jump and still won the U20 world title. After his brilliant 100m he fouled his first two long jump attempts and a third foul would have been the end of his campaign.
“His first jump (foul) in the long jump was probably 7.80, he’s a big long jumper, but then he just totally lost it,” Brown explained.
“In the third jump, he came running in and jumped off his wrong leg and still jumped 7.06, 20 centimetres off the board. I knew he could do that because at Trials he jumped off his wrong leg in one of the jumps because we weren’t able to do a lot of jumping off his correct leg.”
His high jump was even a surprise for the coach who has guided him since he was 15.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my coaching career, how anyone can jump off their wrong leg and win an international high jump competition and jump 2.10 and set a meet record - is just off the scale.”
“I’ve had Ash since he was fifteen and a half, or fifteen. He’s gone from not being able to throw or jump or do anything and in two and a half years he’s gone from 4300, to nearly 8300 so he’s improved nearly four thousand points.
“He and Cedric are both following the same pattern together in probably the same time gap as well. They’ve both excelled in that period of time.”
So what does the coach predict for his new U20 World Champion?
“Well he’s going to go open next year. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s going to qualify for the world championships next year and be at the world champs as a 19-year old and then he’ll go to the Olympics as a 20-year-old.
“This young guy has got his whole career. He’s a superstar; he’s going to do some special things. He and Cedric together will be a bit of a force. They’ll sort of lead the way in multi’s in Australia for a few years and hopefully drag a few other kids along with them.”
When the standard is higher, the competition improves and the people behind you get better as well. It’s good for the sport. “
The one key piece of advice that Cedric has given him was to not lose sight of ‘the big picture’ and not do too many junior comps in individual events, to stay healthy and injury free.
“Decathletes are literally always pushing the limits of exhaustion, because we train for so many different events. And we don’t want to skip out on training so we train until we can’t train anymore and that is often when injuries come. That whole education piece for Ash has been really important.”
Dubler has also benefited greatly from the banter and competitive rivalry at training. “One occasion that springs to mind was in our off-season together. We were doing a session of 10 x 200s and midway through the last rep he came up on my inside and said, ‘is that all you got?’ in a joking way, just throwing the challenge out there.
“He sped up, and then I sped up, and we ended up sprinting hard to the line and ran some ridiculous time on our last rep just because we didn’t want to let each other win. It creates a good environment at training and has worked really well for both of us.”
The colourful socks in Tampere were nothing new for Moloney but he was keen to see if anyone would notice overseas. “Ash has had weird socks this entire year in training,” Dubler laughed.
“Honestly every time he rocks up at the track we just crack up with what he is wearing. Caitlin Seargeant who competed at the Olympics and world champs in the 4x4 from our squad just finds Ash hilarious, with some of the stuff he does and says.”
“Ash wants to have some fun, not take things too seriously and bring profile to decathlon in Australia, and get some sponsors, just like I do.
“Ash won’t go around flaunting the fact he is world champion. What he will do is rub in my face that he has broken my Australian record.
“We are always pushing each other harder and harder, and when Ash finally broke my 100m personal best I would still have the excuse that I had the best total score and was better at other events but it is getting harder and harder now. The banter is always in good spirits and a lot of competitive fun.”
Dubler bet Moloney that if he broke 47 seconds for the 400m and beat his Australian record, then he would be ‘treating him a few milkshakes’ when he got home. “Milkshake bets are another thing we do each week in training. And after our hard track session on a Sunday we go and cash those milkshakes in and spend some time together away from the track.”
Dubler, like his coach, believes Moloney will be adapt very well to the senior implements and he is excited to be able to compete against each other for once. It is the hours and hours each week spent training with Eric, Cedric, their squad and the support from the Queensland Academy of Sport, that has provided the foundation for his miraculous feats.
The colourful socks on his feet helped attract the much-deserved media attention. And the celebration with chocolate milkshakes sums up this colourful yet humble world U20 champion.
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia
Main image: Ashley Moloney and coach Eric Brown
Images courtesy of Alyson Moloney