The men’s Olympic decathlon expands on the range of contests and skills of the pentathlon and heptathlon. The winner of the men’s decathlon is considered “the greatest athlete in the world.”
The ten events of the men’s decathlon will be contested over two days, Aug. 8 and 9, in the main Olympic Stadium.
For all events, points are awarded based on established benchmarks, with 1,000 points as a base. Times, heights, or distances better than the benchmark earn additional points, with points removed for failing to achieve the benchmark.
The decathlon begins with a 100 sprint. The competitors will face each other in a series of heats. Once all heats are completed, competitors are awarded points based on their finish times, as they compare to established benchmarks.
The second event is the long jump, which has been part of every Olympic Games since 1896. Competitors need speed, strength, and agility, as the timing of the jump matters as much as the speed and the angle of takeoff. Most competitors strive for maximum speed and a jump angle less than 20 degrees. This is comparable to the flight distance difference between a fly ball and a line drive in baseball. Each participant may make up to three jumps, with only the longest distance jumped determining points.
The third event is the shot put. Competitors hold a heavy metal ball tight to their neck. Some competitors choose to spin like a top to generate momentum, while others using a gliding-hop to advance. Either method is acceptable. Each competitor may take up to three throws, with only his best throw determining his points.
Competitors will next move to the high jump. There, they will attempt to clear a horizontal bar. Unlike pole vault, which they will contest on Day Two, this is all about their own leaping ability. Competitors failing to clear the bar at a given height, or who knock down the bar, are eliminated. After all competitors have jumped, the bar is raised, and those remaining try to clear the next height. This process continues until there is one jumper remaining.
The final event of Day One is the 400-meter race. Just as with the 100-meter, the competitors will face each other in a series of heats. Once all heats are completed, competitors are awarded points based on their finish times, as they compare to established benchmarks; 400 meters is one lap around the track at Olympic Stadium.
110 Meter Hurdles
Day Two begins with the 110-meter hurdles. There are 10 hurdles spaced equally over the length of the track, designed to measure not only speed like the prior 100-meter sprint, but timing and coordination. The competitors will face each other in a series of heats. Once all heats are completed, competitors are awarded points based on their finish times, as they compare to established benchmarks.
As with shot put and long jump, discus is an original Olympic event. Similar to the shot put, competitors attempt to throw a Frisbee-like disc (although the discus weighs just over 4 pounds) the longest distance. Each competitor may take up to three throws, with only his best throw determining his points.
Heights cleared in the Olympic pole vault have increased from 10’10″ in the 1896 games to 19’6″ by 2004. The same rules of competition apply as in high jump, except the pole aids your elevation. Jumper may elect to pass at certain heights, however, to save energy for higher jumps. This is risky as only a competitor’s highest jump counts towards points.
The penultimate decathlon event is the javelin. Competitors run and throw the javelin, a 2.5-meter long spear. This requires both strength and technique. Each competitor may make up to three throws, with only his best distance counting towards score.
The final event of the men’s decathlon is the 1,500-meter race. Unlike the sprint-style 100-meter race, or the middle-distance 400-meter, this final competition adds a significant endurance component. Competitors complete nearly four laps of the 400-meter track.
The highest overall score based on combined points earned in each event of the decathlon is the winner.
A fan of the Olympics and frequent writer about the 2012 London Games, Dave will be spending his summer vacation stateside, cheering on Team USA to gold.