With the Games well underway, it’s time to get the dirt on our favorite Olympic events. So far, we’ve covered beach volleyball and the steeplechase. Now we’re taking an in-depth look at the king of multi-events: the decathlon. Check out 15 fun facts about this grueling event that has athletes competing for two days straight.
Run, Throw, Jump — The Need-to-Know
- There’s no faking it. The decathlon is a 10-event spectacle featuring the pole vault, high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put, discus, 110-meter hurdles, 100-meter dash, 400-meter run, and — wait for it — a 1500-meter run.
- Wrestling was once part of the show. The decathlon wasn’t always 10 events long. The sport started in ancient Greece as an all-around test of an athlete’s ability, also known as the pentathlon. The battles: long jump, discus, javelin, sprint, and a wrestling match (pre- pre- pre-WWF style).
- Talk about back-to-back-to-back… Athletes get a minimum of 30 minutes rest in between events. Factor in stretching, refueling, and finding the bathroom, and it can feel as quick as a Formula 1 pit stop.
- Girls sit this one out. The decathlon is still just for the boys. Women compete in their own grueling multi-event competition known as the heptathlon, which includes the same events as the men’s, minus the 1500-meter run, discus throw, and pole vault.
- The score matters most. Decathletes are actually competing against a scoring table — not each other directly. At the end of all events, the athlete with the highest score wins. So a good decathlete must score well in each event rather than just dominating a few (easier said than done, of course).
- Ten thousand is the goal. A perfect score in the decathlon is 1,000 points in each event for a cumulative score of 10,000 points. But don’t be looking for the perfect score card in London — it’s never been done.
- There’s an American on top. Ashton Eaton recently broke the world record with a whopping 9,039-point total in the Olympic Trials (perfect timing). Safe to say he’s the favorite headed into these Games (and representing the USA!).
- Decathletes aim for greatness. In 1912, the USA’s Jim Thorpe became the first winner of the decathlon and was allegedly declared the greatest athlete in the world by King Gustav V of Sweden. Later, it surfaced that he broke amateur rules by playing professional baseball (is there anything this guy couldn’t do?). His Olympic titles were later reinstated after his death.
- Beginners’ luck happens. Bob Matthias, the youngest Olympic champion in the decathlon, was just 17-years-old when he competed for the U.S. in the 1948 Games. Talk about beginner’s luck — it was only his third attempt at the 10-event competition.
- You’ve only got one shot — well, three. For the javelin, discus, long jump, and shot put, athletes only get three attempts each, with the best of those recorded as their final score.
- It’s a marathon of sorts. They might not be traditional endurance athletes, but decathletes can sure go the distance. Decathlons usually run about 6-8 hours for each day of competition.
- Decathletes are fast on their feet. The fastest 100-meter run in a decathlon (non-wind aided) was 10.21 seconds by Ashton Eaton at the 2012 Olympic trials. Compare that to the world record of 9.58 seconds set by Usain Bolt at the 2009 Track and Field World Championships. Not bad for someone who also competes in nine other events!
- One event can cost you — big time. Just ask Dan O’Brien, who was set to go to the Olympics in 1992. In a shocking turn of events, he missed his opening height on pole vault three times in a row, meaning zero points for the event, and the bitter pill of watching his Olympic dreams disappear.
- Talk about some luggage. Decathletes can have up to 5-7 pairs of shoes for their sprinting, jumping, throwing, and running events.
- America’s got talent. The U.S. has had 11 decathlon gold medalists since 1912, including Bryan Clay in the 2008 Summer Games. That’s the most of any country. Watch out, world…
Check out Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee as they represent the USA in London starting on August 8th on NBC. Which event would you dominate in the decathlon, and which would you dread the most? Tell us in the comments below!