Focus on: The decathlon

Think the decathlon sounds interesting but not sure on the basics? Here’s all you need to know…

Posted on February 21, 2013 by
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Daley Thompson (Mark Shearman)

This is a ten-event challenge, but which events and in what order?

The decathlon kicks off with the 100m, then the long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m – all in the first day. The second and final day starts with the 110m hurdles, then the discus, pole vault, javelin and, lastly, the 1500m. The decathlon is contested mainly by male athletes, while the female equivalent is the heptathlon.

Has it always been like this?

The event has developed from the ancient pentathlon, which involved a sprint, long jump, discus, javelin and wrestling. In the modern era, the decathlon made its Olympics debut in 1912 and was won easily by American Jim Thorpe. But the inaugural event was full of controversy as Thorpe was disqualified for being a professional and his medal was not restored to his family for 70 years.

What is its appeal?

With such a mix of classic athletics events – involving running, jumping, hurdling and throwing – the world’s best decathlete is often regarded as the world’s No.1 all-round sportsman.

How does the scoring work?

Each athlete is allowed three attempts in the long jump and throwing events and also a special rule applicable to the decathlon (and women’s heptathlon) is that one false start can be committed per race without leading to disqualification. Scoring tables are used to tot up points, with every centimetre or tenth of a second leading to a better mark. The best decathletes, therefore, are often good at lots of events rather than great at some and poor in others.

Who are the best?

The current Olympic champion is USA’s Ashton Eaton who won in London with 8869 points. Eaton is also the world record holder in the event, thanks to his dominating performance at the 2012 Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, where he secured 9039 points.

Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic was the first man to break the 9000-points barrier back in 2001. Over the years, Bob Mathias of the US won Olympic titles in 1948 and 1952 (his first came aged only 17) and this feat was matched by Britain’s Daley Thompson (pictured) in 1980 and 1884. Another American, Dan O’Brien, won three world titles in the Nineties and he was followed by another three-time world champion, Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic.

What kind of training is needed to be good at the decathlon?

Lots of it! Preparing for 10 events takes a huge amount of time and needs massive dedication. Strength, speed, flexibility and stamina are needed, in addition to superb technical ability in order to master events as varied as 110m hurdles, javelin and pole vault.

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