Decathlon 2000 › News › All-time Decathlon rankings
 4 votes

All-time Decathlon rankings (8)

Clay Parker
July 27, 2011

Also includes the All-Around Event, which was the forerunner to the decathlon. Also, heptathlon and pentathlon marks are factored in as well

Since 1947, Track and Field News, the "Bible of the Sport", has annually ranked the top ten athletes in each standard Olympic track and field event. They have become recognized as the definitive World Rankings. From the magazine itself: "The whole purpose of our World Rankings is to establish relative merit for the single season in question. The Rankings are not reflective of how the compilers feel athletes would finish in any kind of idealized competition. The "best" athlete isn’t always number one."

These rankings are similar to T&F News except I am ranking an athlete's career overall. I am using a similar criteria 1) Honors Won (high placings with emphasis on winning), 2) Win/Loss Record (including head to head matchups against rivals when they apply), 3) World Rankings (as this measures how they match up against their peers) and 4) Sequence of Marks (world records, seasonal bests and barriers broken). The idea for this came from Dale Harder's book Sports Comparisons and from track statistician Jesse Squire, who is working on all-time rankings book, http://personal.bgsu.edu/~jsquire/book.html.

All rankings are from Track and Field News since 1947 (all rankings prior to that are from Dr. Frank Zarnowski's book, American Decathletes). A few athletes competed before rankings were even done so their ranking does not exist and is not included.

1. Daley Thompson

July 30, 1958 Notting Hill, London

One of two decathletes (Mathias is the other) to win 2 gold medals in the decathlon. Daley started young and was able to sustain his greatness into his late 20s. Had a few incomplete years (mostly due to injuries) but otherwise he dominated from 1980-6. Injuries limited him late in his career and possibly cost him a 3rd Olympic title in Seoul as well as a 2nd World Championship in 1987. Defeated chief rival (and excellent performer) Jurgen Hingsen all 9 times they met between 1979 and 1987. During this run (save for a dnf in 1984 when he chose not to run the 1500), Daley won 11 consecutive decathlons. With four world records, two Olympic gold medals, three Commonwealth titles, and wins in the World and European Championships, Daley is considered by many to be the greatest decathlete ever - and we agree, placing the Great Brit at #1.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1976 - 7748 1) AAA Ch, 10) v Neth, Spa & Den, 18) Olympics, 4) Talence

1977 4 8097 3) Gotzis, 1) Madrid, 1) Euro Cup, 1) Euro Juniors

1978 3 8470 2) Gotzis, 1) Commonwealth, 2) European Champs

1979 - - Injured

1980 1 8649 WR 1) Gotzis, 1) Olympics

1981 - 7797 1) v Canada

1982 1 8774 WR 1) Gotzis, 1) European Champs, 1) Commonwealth

1983 1 8714 1) v Canada, 1) World Champs

1984 1 8847 WR 1) Olympics

1985 - - Injured

1986 1 8811 1) v France, 1) Commonwealth, 1) European Champs

1987 - 8124 9) World Champs (injured)

1988 5 8306 4) Olympics

2. Dan O'Brien

July 18, 1966

Won 1996 Olympic decathlon title and was heavily favored to win in 1992 before his historic no height in the pole vault at the US Olympic Trials. O'Brien was a 3-time World Champion and set a WR in 1992, a few months after his no height. O'Brien beat fellow decathlon WR holder Tomas Dvorak at the 1996 Olympic games, 1993 & 1995 World Championships and 1998 Goodwill Games. Other than 1992 and a couple of DNFs, O'Brien lost only twice (both in 1990 - early in his career). O'Brien was undefeated from his WR in 1992 through his Goodwill Games win in 1998, a total of 12 including an Olympics and 2 World Championships. O'Brien attempted to win gold in 2000 but a foot injury ended his bid right before the Olympic Trials. Also, he set a WR (which lasted 17 years) in winning the 1993 World indoor heptathlon. His no height not only probably cost him a gold medal in Barcelona, it also probably cost him the #1 spot on this list. Another example of O'Brien's tremendous talent, but not necessarily his maximum performance level during the decathlon, is his combined PRs equal 9572 over 200 points ahead of the 2nd highest place finish ever.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1989 - 7987 1) San Francisco

1990 4 8483w/8358 1) Pullman, 2) Seattle, 2) Goodwill Games

1991 1 8812 1) US Champs, 1) World Champs

1992 2 8891 11) Olympic Trials, dnf) Stockholm 1) Talence

1993 1 8817 1) US Champs, 1) World Champs

1994 1 8715 1) Knoxville, 1) St Petersburg, 1) Talence

1995 1 8695 1) US Champs, 1) World Champs, 1) Pullman

1996 1 8824 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics

1997 - - Injured

1998 1 8795 1) Goodwill Games

3. Roman Šebrle

November 26, 1974

No one has ever put the sheer number of points and places as Sebrle. Amazing consistency and point production. If this list was purely about scoring points, Sebrle would be #1. Yes, Sebrle has a lot of losses but he's competed so many times and, yes, he does have tons of great wins. Sebrle won Gotzis 5 consecutive times, an Olympic gold and silver, 2 European titles, 1 World Championship and 2 more runner titles. Also, won the World Indoor heptathlon in 2001 and 2004 (along with bronzes in '99, '03 and '06). Won world championship in 2007 at age 32 and an injured hamstring probably prevented him from another medal in Beijing (although he did gut it out to a respectable 6th place finish). Sebrle kept competing after Beijing but lingering injuries prevented him any major titles (save a 3rd place in the '11 Euro Indoors at age 36!) Sebrle has broken 8500 points 20 times and 8800 six. His current WR (9026, the only decathlete to break 9000) has lasted 10 years now. Truly a remarkable career.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1996 - 8210 5) Desenzano, 13) Lange, 1) Praha, 1) Palo Alto

1997 8 8380 6) Gotzis, 1) Tallinn, 9) Athens, 1) Catania, 4) Talence

1998 8 8589 4) Gotzis, 2) Tallinn, 6) Euro Champs, 5) Talence

1999 5 8527 4) Gotzis, 2) Praha, dnf) Seville, 3) Talence

2000 3 8757 2) Gotzis, 4) Talence, 2) Olympics

2001 3 9026 WR 1) Gotzis, 10) World Champs

2002 1 8800 1) Gotzis, 1) Ratingen, 1) Euro Champs, 2) Talence

2003 2 8807 1) Gotzis, 1) Ratingen, 2) World Champs

2004 1 8893 1) Gotzis, 1) Olympics, 1) Talence

2005 2 8534 1) Gotzis, 2) World Champs, 1) Talence

2006 3 8526 dnf) Gotzis, 1) Arles, 1) Euro Champs, 3) Talence

2007 1 8697 2) Gotzis, 1) Kladno, 1) World Champs, 4) Talence

2008 - 8241 2) Kladno, 6) Olympics (injured hamstring)

2009 - 8348 2) Kladno, 11) World Champs

4. Donald Dinnie

1837–1916

Two excellent sports historians, Frank Zarnowski and David Webster, state that Dinnie was, without a doubt, the greatest sportsman of the 19th century. Multi-event competitions were rare in Dinnie's time and many of them included non-decathlon events like weightlifting, caber tossing and wrestling. Dinnie dominated these disciplines as well as athletics ones. It is widely accepted that he won over 11,000 competitions in his long, illustrious career. Those included over 2,000 in the hammer, 1,800 in the shot/stone put, 1,800 in jumping events, 300 in weight throwing and 500 in running and hurdles. Dinnie's competition doesn't quite compare to the specialists in the present era but Dinnie backed down from now one and beat virtually ever multi-event star in his prime. Had these events been standardized, Dinnie would probably have ranked #1 on this list - amazing overall career!

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1860-8 -- 31-28 1) All-Around Athlete Competition at Coatbridge (over John Tait in 1860); two hammer events, caber toss, stone put, 150 yard race and hurdle race

1864 - 1) Perth Highland Society - won 1st place in caber, hammer and high jump, Also won this event in '65 (with hurdles), '69 and '71

1870 - 1) Caledonian Tour - attempted 75 throwing, running and jumping events at annual club meetings, winning 68 and placing in the top 3 of the remaining 7

1872 - 1) Toronto C.C. Games

heavy and light hammer, heavy and light stone, caber toss, wrestling, 100 yds & hj

1872 - 1) Tour of America, defeated William Fleming & all other comers - generally winning at leaping and short distance running averaging from 12 to 16 first prizes at each meaning.

1872 - 1) Caledonian Tour - returned (with arm injured and in sling), won 58 of 75 events including beating American star in events, 15 to 3.

1882 - 1) All-Around Athletic Championship of America 7 events

1884 - 1) Scottish Games (Melbourne)

won 10 events overall including a hammer throw, 2 stone throws, a caber toss, hurdle race, 120 yard race, high jump and wrestling.

Dinnie's best documented marks were: 100 yards (10 2/3), high jump (6'1), long jump (20'1), triple jump (44'), hammer throw (144' 1/2") and 16 lb shot (49'6). In 1871, he put a 16 lb stone 50'6. That put would not officially be surpassed until Ralph Rose in 1909 (Rose's record stood until 1928) so Dinnie's record was not bettered for 37 years and not bettered a 2nd time for a whopping 56! One way to gauge Dinnie's success is the longevity of his best - his shot put mark was not broken for 39 year while his hammer mark lasted 8 and his high jump 8 as well. A

comparison of 5 events common to both men shows Dinnie edging out the great Jim Thorpe: 3 events to 2.

5. Jim Thorpe

May 28, 1888 – March 28, 1953

Hard to rank an athlete on 1 year but it was an incredible year. Thorpe competed in 4 multis: 2 pentathlon, a decathlon and all-around event, set 4 World Records and won 2 Olympic gold medals. Thorpe's decathlon WR lasted for 15 years. His decathlon was done in 3 days; however, the first day included pouring rain and he had a subpar high jump on day 2. Thorpe broke Sheridan's all-around record despite only 5 minute breaks between the events. The All-Around was contested on a cold, rainy day yet Thorpe still won 7 events, finished 2nd in the other 3 and won by over 3,000 points! Sheridan is on record as saying, "Thorpe has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today." Thorpe also finished in the top 7 in both the individual high jump and long jump events. Thorpe competed in an era when most decathletes did not have long careers and this might have been the only thing that keeps him out of the #1 spot.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1912 1 6564 WR 1) Oly Trials pentathlon, 1) Olympics (pent & deca), 1) AAU AA

6. Bob Mathias

November 17, 1930 – September 2, 2006

How do you rank the only prominent decathlete of all-time to go undefeated anything less than #1? Bob, through no fault of his own, didn't get a chance to compete against the best at their best (kinda like Rocky Marciano in boxing). For example, he won 3 meets in 1948 including the Olympics but was ranked #2 to Estonian Heino Lipp. However, Mathias won golds at 17 and 21 and would have been in the mix had he competed in 1956 at age 25. The fact that he probably would have lost to Lipp in '48 (and '49) hurts Mathias (a little) but he was only 17 (and 18) at the time. He did defeat a young Milt Campbell in 1952. One of the greatest what ifs in decathlon history had been if he would have competed at the '56 Trials and Games. (He showed at an exhibition decathlon that he still was a force). Separating Mathias, Milt and Rafer is very tough but Mathias was undefeated and gets the slight edge over the other two.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1948 2 6713 1) So Pacific AAU, 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics

1949 1 6944 1) AAU Champs, 1) v Scandinavia

1950 1 7287 WR 1) Stanford Practice, 1) AAU Champs, 1) Swiss Champs

1951 - - Injured

1952 1 7592 WR 1) Olympics Trials (WR), 1) Olympics (WR)

1956 - 6747+ 1) LA Interservice Champs (did not run 1500m)

7. Rafer Johnson

August 18, 1935

Another tremendous athlete. An injury in Melbourne may have cost Rafer a 2nd Olympic gold medal and, perhaps, the #1 spot on this list. That was his only loss (to Campbell) other than a 3rd in the AAU champs in 1954 (when he was only 18). Had a short career and missed 2 years in the middle of it, which hurts his ranking. Also qualified for the '56 Olympics in the long jump but an injury (the same one that hampered him in the decathlon), caused him to withdraw. Rafer has won the Pan Am Games and set a WR in 1955. His 1960 victory over CK Yang is still celebrated to this day as one of the all-time Olympic battles. Most decathlon fans argue that Johnson may be the most talented decathlete of them all; his 3 WRs and 2 Olympic medals certainly support that claim.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1954 - 5877 3) AAU Champs

1955 1 7608 WR 1) Pan Am qualifier, 1) Pan Am Games, 1) Central Cal AAU (WR)

1956 2 7422 1) Olympic Trials, 2) Olympic Games

1957 - - Injured

1958 1 7789 WR 1) Kingsburg Invit, 1) AAU champs, 1) v Moscow (WR)

1959 - - Injured

1960 1 7981 WR 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics

8. Glenn Morris

June 18, 1912 – January 31, 1974

Morris had a very similar career to Thorpe's. Completely dominated one year, won gold and retired (on top) and then headed to the NFL. Morris won all 3 decathlons he competed in 1936 setting 2 world records and winning an Olympic gold. Morris's WR lasted nearly 14 years. The war years did contribute somewhat to the length of Morris's record but his accomplishments in 1936 remain extraordinary to this day.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1936 1 7254 WR 1) Kansas Relays, 1) Olympic Trials WR, 1) Olympics WR

9. Milt Campbell

December 9, 1933

Brief but excellent career. Only competed in 5 decathlons in his career but they were spectacular. Competed against both Rafer and Mathias going 1-3 against the 2 legends but he did beat Johnson for gold in 1956. Milt was 18 when he lost to Mathias, who was 21 at that point. Tied the 120 yard hurdles at 13.4 in 1957. Like Rafer, Milt had tremendous potential had he competed a few more years. His head to head records and his lack of WRs hurt him a little; he still comes in at a solid #9 of all-time.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1952 2 6997 2) Olympic Trials, 2) Olympics

1953 1 7292 1) AAU Champs

1954 - - injured

1955 - - injured

1956 1 7565 OR 2) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympic Games

10. Bryan Clay

January 3, 1980

Clay has had a lot of dnf's (did not finishes) over his career but he has been a great big meet performer since '04 (winning a world championship and 2 Olympic medals). From '03 to '08, Sebrle has a 6-3 lead over Clay. If Clay can medal or win gold in London, he will move up. It will be tough for Clay to leapfrog Sebrle because the margin of victory although Clay's 2 wins are biggies: '05 Worlds and '08 Olympics. Won silvers in the World Indoor heptathlon in 2004 and 2006 and golds in 2008 and 2010. Another World Championship win or Olympic gold would secure him a place in the top 5. Clay's combined PRs equal 9350, 3rd highest total ever.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

2001 - 8169 1) Azusa, 3) US Champs, dnf) World Champs (nh in pv), 13) Beijing

2002 - 8230 3) Berkeley, 13) Walnut (nh in pv)

2003 5 8482 1) Berkley, 2) Palo Alto, dnf) World Champs

2004 2 8820 1) Olympic Trials, 2) Olympics, 2) Talence

2005 1 8732 9) Gotzis, 1) US Champs, 1) World Champs

2006 1 8677 1) Gotzis, dnf) Indy

2007 6 8493 3) Gotzis, dnf) Indy, dnf) World Champs

2008 1 8832 1) US Champs, 1) Olympics

2009 - - injured

2010 3 8483 1) Gotzis, dnf) Kladno

11. Martin Sheridan

March 28, 1881 – March 27, 1918

At age 27, he competed in a duel competition with a 38 year old Tom Kiely - Kiely and Sheridan split the 4 events and both fouled on the 5th. Based on his age, Kiely did a little better; however, Sheridan's career marks are a little higher and that's why he is ranked above Kiely. Yes, Sheridan is 11 years younger but Sheridan's worst mark in his 3 all-around events are better than Kiely's best. Won 3 AAU Championships, setting world records in all three. Sheridan also excelled in other events especially the discus, shot put and stone throw, where he won Olympic medals in all three.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1905 - 6820 1/2 WR 1) AAU Champs 40'1 sp, 5'6 hj, 10'6 pv, 17 1/5 120h, 20'1 1/2 lj

1907 - 7120 1/2 WR 1) AAU Champs 10 5/5y, 43'0 sp, 5'8 hj, 10'6 5/8 pv, 17 120

1909 - 7385 WR 1) AAU Champs 10 3/5y, 43'1 3/4 sp, 10'9 pv, 20'7 1/2 lj, 6:05

1906 - wd dnf) Olympics withdrew

1908 - - 1 (tied) 48'5 1/2 sp and 33'2 28lb shot, 2) 136'11 ht, 33'2 28lb sp

PRs: 48'5 1/2 sp '08. 162'8 ht '06, 5'8 hj '07, 20'7 1/2 lj '07, 10'9 pv '09. 10 3/5 '09. 5:37 4/5 mile '04, 44'0 '08 tj, 124'7 OR dt '08, 120'3 javelin '08, 17 hurdles '07, 34'3 56lb wt throw '08

12. Tomas Dvorak

May 11, 1972 in Gottwaldov, Czech Republic

Was the dominant Czech before Sebrle arrived on the scene a couple of years later broke Dvorak's record and replaced him as the all-time greatest decathlete from Eastern Europe. Dvorak's accomplishments speak for themselves and he deserves a spot among the all-time best. Tomas was a three-time World Champion, who also placed in the top 5 two more times. Also had a 2nd, 4th and 5th in World Indoor Championships. Sandwiched between 2 legends, Sebrle and Clay, Dvorak had a very impressive career himself with four #1 rankings and four other top 6 placings. He also set a WR in 1999 and won the World Championship twice.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1993 - 8054 10) World Champs, 1) Tours, 3) Valladolid, 1) Alzano

1994 - 8313 1) Valladolid, 6) Gotzis, 3) Venissieux, 7) Euro Champs

1995 5 8347 4) Gotzis, 1) Valladolid, 5) World Champs, 9) Talence

1996 3 8664 2) Gotzis, 3) Olympics, 2) Talence

1997 1 8837 2) Gotzis, 1) World Champs, 2) Talence

1998 4 8592 2) Gotzis, 3) Goodwill Games, 5) Euro Champs

1999 1 8994 WR 1) Praha, 1) World Champs, 1) Talence

2000 1 8900 1) Gotzis, 1) Talence, 6) Olympics

2001 2 8902 3) Gotzis, 1) World Champs, 1) Goodwill Games

2002 - 8226 5) Ratingen, dnf) Euro Champs

2003 6 8242 4) World Champs

2004 - 8211 7) Gotzis, dnf) Olympics

2005 9 8105 1) Jyvaskyla, 8) World Champs, 8) Talence

2006 - 7997 14) Gotzis, 12) Euro Champs, 8) Talence

2007 - 8020 dnf) Gotzis, 4) Kladno

13. Tom Kiely

25 August 1869 – 6 November 1951

Kiely won over 70! national titles. He was aided by competing Irish federations offering annual championships. Kiely was perfect in six all-arounds. Despite common knowledge, Kiely did not compete at the 1904 Olympics. Kiely did win the AAU Championships in both 1904 and 1906. At age 38, he competed in a duel competition with a 27 year old Martin Sheridan - Kiely and Sheridan split the 4 events and both fouled on the 5th. Based on his age, Kiely did a little better; however, Sheridan's career marks are a little higher and that's why Kiely is ranked below Sheridan on this list.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1892 - 31 pts 1) Irish Champs 5'5 hj, 20'6 lj, 18 120h, 36'8 sp, 55.0 400, 120' ht

1893 - 29 pts 1) Irish Champs 5'4 hj, 2nd in 100yds, 2) lj 20'6 1/2, 16 4/5 120h

1894 - 21 pts 1) Irish Champs 5'2 hj, 16 4/5 120h, 37'3 sp, 131'7 ht, lj 20'7 1/2

1898 - 30 pts 1) Irish Champs 20'5 1/2 lj, won 120H, 42'9 ht, 131'7 ht, 45' tj

1904 - 6036 1) AAU Champs 35'6 sp, 5'0 hj, 9'0 pv, 19'6 lj, 5:51, 17 4/5 120h

1906 - 6274 1) AAU Champs 37'10 sp, 5'1 hj, 9'5 pv, 19'10 lj, 142'10 ht

1908 - - 1 (tied) 1) 154'3 ht, 56lb wt 34'5, 2) 28 lb shot 31'3, 42'8 sp

PRs: 10.0y (5 yd handicap), 16.0 hurdles '02, 5'7 hj, 9'6 pv, 42'8sp '08. 55 440y, 23'2 lj '92, 49'7 tj '92, 5:51 '04, 31'5 st tj, 38'11 56lb weight, 156'2 hammer WR '99. 5:51 mile '04

14. Vasili Kuznetsov

7 February 1932 – 6 August 2001

Kuznetsov lost golds to the big American legends, Johnson and Campbell, but his longevity alone makes him one of the all-time greats. He won bronze medals in 1956 and 1960 and finished 7th in 1964. Vasily did win 3 straight European Championships, 1954, 1958 and 1962. Also won the pentathlon in the 1959 Universade and the decathlon in the 1961 edition. His longevity is amazing but his inability to beat Johnson, Campbell or even Yang keep him out of the top 10.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1953 3 6696 6) Buchuresti, 1) Odessa, 1) Nalchik, 1) Ashkhabad

1954 2 7224 1) Soviet Champs, 1) Euro Champs, 1) Kiev

1955 2 7427 1) Warsaw, 1) Tbilisi

1956 3 7468 1) Moscow, 1) Soviet Champs, 3) Olympics

1957 1 7269 1) Moscow, 1) Plzen

1958 2 7653 WR 1) Krasnoder, 2) Moscow, 1) Euro Champs, 1) Moscow, 1) Tbilisi

1959 1 7839 WR 1) Moscow, 1) Philly, 1) Moscow, 1) Yalia

1960 3 7557 1) Tula, 2) Moscow, 3) Olympics, 2) Kiev

1961 3 7611 2) Kiev, 1) Moscow, 1) Sofia

1962 2 7653 1) Palo Alto, 1) Moscow, 1) Euro Champs

1963 2 7610 1) Moscow, 1) Moscow

1964 8 7493 1) LA, 3) Kiev, 7) Olympics

15. Paavo Yrjölä

June 18, 1902 in Hämeenkyrö – February 11, 1980

One of the most overlooked decathletes in history. Was ranked #1 3 times with 4 world records and an Olympic gold medal. A medal in either the 1924 or 1932 Olympics would have vaulted him into the top 10 and a medal in both or, perhaps, just another gold medal would place Paavo solidly in the top 5. Paavo was a finalist in the shot put in the 1928 Games and he was the first decathlete to outscore Jim Thorpe. Paavo had a good, long career scoring over 6000 points every year from 1925 to 1932.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1922 - 5300 3) Finnish Champs

1923 5 5563 3) Finnish Champs

1924 - 5742 1) Olympic Trials, 9) Olympics

1925 2 6324 1) Finnish Champs

1926 1 6460 WR 1) Finnish Champs

1927 1 6586 WR 1) Finnish Champs

1928 1 6587 WR 1) Kuopio, 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics, 1) Finnish Champs

1929 3 6296 1) Finnish Champs

1930 2 6700 WR 1) Aalborg

1931 6 6465 2) Finnish Champs, 1) Inkeroinen

1932 6 6385 1) Olympic Trials, 6) Olympics

16. Jurgen Hingsen

January 25, 1958

Without a doubt, the greatest decathlete to never rank #1 mostly due to his great rivalry with Daley Thompson in the 1980s. Never won a major title but won a lot of silver medals. Pushed Thompson again and again but couldn't quite beat the legend. Of course, with Thompson ranking #1 on this list, it's not that bad of a thing. Set 2 world records in his prime but both would be eclipsed by Thompson within a year. One major title or a little longer career probably would have bumped Hingsen into the top 10. Hingsen's total PRs equal 9323, 5th all-time and 8 points ahead of his rival, Daley Thompson.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1977 - 7483 1) Pulversheim, 3) Donyetsk

1978 - 7945 12) Donyetsk, 13) Euro Champs, 1) Ahlen

1979 9 8218 10) Dresden, 2) Mexico, 1) Krefeld

1980 3 8409 3) Gotzis, 2) Bernhausen, dnf) Philadelphia

1981 2 8146 1) Krefeld, 1) Leningrad, 2) Lage, 2) Birmingham

1982 2 8741 WR 2) Gotzis, 1) Ulm, 2) Euro Champs

1983 2 8825 WR 1) Bernhausen, 2) World Champs

1984 2 8832 1) Mannheim, 2) Olympics

1985 - inj dnf) Krefeld

1986 2 8730 2) Bernhausen, 2) Euro Champs

1987 - inj dnf) World Champs

1988 - 8360 10) Gotzis, 1) Lage, dnf) Olympics

17. Heino Lipp

June 21, 1922 – August 28, 2006

Likely would have won gold medal in 1948 Olympics (ahead of Mathias) and probably would have won silver in 1952 (behind him). Made world lists in 4 different events: shot put, discus and 110m hurdles. World ranked in shot put 7 times and #1 in 1947. Finished 2nd in his late decathlon in 1953, losing to 21 year old Vasili Kuznyetsov by a mere 18 points. Didn't get a chance to compete on the international scene but won 10 of 12 decathlons that he competed in; losing one early in his career and his last one at age 31.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1944 - 5622 1) Parnu

1945 - 5653 2) Estonian Champs

1946 9 6236 1) Estonian Champs

1947 2 6584 1) Estonian Champs

1948 1 7072 1) Estonian Champs, 1) Kharkov

1949 2 6901 1) Estonian Champs

1950 4 6724 1) Estonian Champs, 1) Kiev

1951 - - injured

1952 - - injured

1953 4 6601 2) Nalchik

18. Bruce Jenner

October 28, 1949

Jenner had a slow steady rise culminating with a huge Olympic victory in 1976. Jenner struggled early in his career but dominated his final three years. He retired at the top of his popularity. Unlike Mathias, Johnson and Campbell, he didn't dominate early in his career and retire at 22 (or thereabouts). He retired at 27 after working his way to the top. Had he done well earlier or continued his success a few more years, Jenner would be in the top 10; nonetheless, he still had a great career and remains one of the most well-known decathletes ever.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1970 - 6805 6) Des Moines, 3) Billings

1971 - 7389 1) Lawrence (twice), 2) Des Moines, 1) Billings, 21) Porterville

1972 - 7699 3) Des Moines, 3) Billings, 3) Olympic Trials, 10) Olympics

1973 - 7621 5) Des Moines, 2) Wichita, 5) Porterville, dnf) University Park

1974 1 8211 1) Lawrence, 1) Santa Barbara, 1) Richmond, 1) Tallinn

1975 1 8429 1) Christchurch, 1) Des Moines, 1) Eugene, 1) Pan Am Games

1976 1 8634 WR 1) Des Moines, 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics

19. Harold Osborn

April 13, 1899 – April 5, 1975

Osborn won gold medals and set Olympic records in both the high jump and the decathlon at the 1924 Olympics. His 6' 6" high jump remained the Olympic record for 12 years, while his decathlon score also set a new world record. The decathlon competition was especially grueling, conducted just four days after the high jump competition, and consisting of ten events run in extremely hot and humid weather conditions over two days at the end of the games. On May 27, 1924, Osborn's 6' 8-¼" high jump set a world record at an AAU meet held at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. He won the AAU outdoor title in 1925 and 1926, the indoor title four years in a row, 1923-26, and he was the AAU decathlon champion in 1923, 1925, and 1926. He also achieved prominence in several events which have since been discontinued, winning the AAU indoor 70-yard hurdles in 1925, and the AAU indoor standing high jump from 1929 through 1931, and taking second place in the standing broad jump in 1930. Osborn was 5' 10 ½" tall and weighed about 175 pounds during his competitive years. Set a high jump world record in 1925 at 6'8 1/2 and finished 4th in the 1928 Olympics in the high jump.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1922 3 5929 2) AAU

1923 1 6247 1) AAU

1924 1 6476 1) Olympic Trials, 1) Olympics

1925 1 6375 1) AAU

1926 3 6021 1) AAU, 2) AAU pentathlon

20. C.K. Yang

10 July 1933 in Taitung, Taiwan – January 27, 2007

Known as the "Iron Man of Asia," Yang won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1954 Asian Games, and he again won the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1958 Asian Games, and in addition, the silver medals in both the 110 meter hurdles and the long jump, and the bronze medal in the 400 meter hurdles. Yang's first Olympic Games competition was at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where he finished in eighth place in the decathlon. Lost an epic duel with Rafer Johnson at the 1960 Olympics. Yang actually topped Johnson in all four track events, plus the three jumping or vaulting events, but the large margins in points that Johnson attained in the three throwing events (the shot put, the discus throw, and the javelin

throw) were big enough to make Johnson the winner, and to put Yang in second place. In 1963, Yang set a new world record in the pole vault among decathlon competitors, and the next year, he competed again in the decathlon in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, finishing in fifth place.

YEAR RANK MARK MEETS, etc

1956 - 6736 1) Taipei, 8) Olympics

1957 - 6616 1) Taipei

1958 3 7407 1) Taipei, 1) Tokyo, 2) Palmyra, 1) El Monte

1959 3 7494 1) Kingsburg, 1) El Monte

1960 2 7839 1) Eugene, 2) Walnut, 2) Olympics

1961 - injured

1962 1 7695 1) Tulare

1963 1 8010 1) Walnut

1964 6 7539 1) Walnut, 1) Toronto, 5) Olympics

Honorable Mention:

Nikolai Avilov, Jim Bausch, Kurt Bendlin, Malcolm Ford, Uwe Freimuth, Eduard Hämäläinen, Akilles Järvinen, Dave Johnson, Alexander Jordan, Joachim Kirst, Guido Kratschmer, Yuri Kutenko, Helge Lovland, J Austin Menaul, Walter Meier, Erki Nool, Tom Pappas, Christian Plaziat, Robert Richards, Christian Schenk, Hans-Heinrich Sievert, Michael Smith, Bill Toomey, Vladimir Volkov, Torsten Voss, Hans-Joachim Walde, Bill Watson, Siegfried Wentz, Hugo Wieslander, Josef Zeilbauer

 

Comments (8)

ChrisB wrote on July 28, 2011
very good article Clay
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 178.116....
Daniel Urien wrote on July 28, 2011
Thanks a lot Clay.
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 89.227.1...
Christoph wrote on July 28, 2011
Thank you very much! Impessive!
To Dvorak: Won WC three times, '97, '99, '01
To Hingsen: Set three WRs
Both you mentioned in the stats section below the comments on the athletes.
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 84.153....
pisk wrote on Aug 04, 2011
Really interesting, useful and easy to discussions: I think Hingsen position is not right at all, 16th. He got silver medal in three consecutive years against your all-time number one (I agree of course about number one) and he got three world records, that, moreover, 27 seven years after remains over 8800 as german (Germany!) record and fifth ever decathlon. If Hingsen had been competing with Sebrle and Clay five or six years ago, or with Nool and Dvorak ten or twelve years ago or Jenner in Montreal..., I think he should be after Daley, O´Brien, Sebrle, Mathias, Thorpe and Rafer, nobody else. He was unlucky about competing against Daley, but Foreman, Frazier and Ali fought one against each other in the three or four best years in heavyweight fights, and probably the three guys would be in the top ten. Anyway, clay, again, congratulations from Spain, great article
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 95.126....
eierluke wrote on Aug 06, 2011
Thank you Clay, very interesting topic and a good article!
When seeing the headline, I almost couldn't wait to read it. I however disciplined myself and tried to make my own list first in order to compare both.
I started in 1912 and have to give that I did not even know anything about Dinnie and Sheridan. Since it is about comparing the best of an era vs another best of his era my main qualifying criteria were:
1.: WR (= nobody had ever been better before) and
2a.: Olympic Champion (could win, when it counted)
2b.: OR (= nobody had been better before when it counted the most)


1) Daley Thompson (best competitor ever, 3 x WR, 2 x OChampion, 1 x with OR)
2) Dan O'Brien (in terms of physics, most gifted athlete ever, 1 x WR, 1 x OC)
3) Roman Seberle (but just by a small margain, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
4) Jim Thorpe (dominated his time so much, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
5) Bob Matthias (and as Clay stated he probably did not even reach his prime in 1952 at age 22, 2 x WR, 2 x OC, 1 x with OR)
6) Glen Morris (not much is known about him, his WR lasted the longest time with 14 years, just three decathlons, might not have reached his prime as well, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
7) Rafer Johnson (like O'Brien, just too much physical talent to lose, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
8) Bruce Jenner (the least physical talent, successful due to ambition, dscipline and in to shape when it counted the most, 2 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
9) Nikolai Awilow (won the 1972 olympics with a WR by more the 400 pts. biggest margain since Mathias 1952, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)
10) Bill Toomey (won 1968 with an olympic record and proved his eligibility on my list with a WR in 1969, 1 x WR, 1 x OC with OR)

From here on the list continues with successful guys who were all winners and hero's, chose whatever you want. But in terms of ranking the all time best of the best they to some degree are losers, since they all faced someone, who had been better in their era, or before.

This definition is very tough especially for:
- Jürgen Hingsen, who made 3 WRs, just to lose to Thompson, the greatest ever. And for
- Tomas Dvorak, who proved his WR with 3 World Championships and just lost his biggest challange in Sydney 2000
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 31.18.5...
Illimar Pilk wrote on Sep 01, 2011
favourite is erki nool
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 84.50.12...
Dale Harder wrote on Oct 17, 2014
Clay, you did an outstanding job incorporating lots of different sources. I like your reasoning for your picks and revealing some little known facts about great decathletes. I expect we'll hear more about Ashton Eaton in the future.
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 107.3.17...
Dale Harder wrote on Apr 11, 2016
Clay, I just re-read your article. Again, fantastic job. I would rate both Thorpe and Matthias higher than Dinnie. Some of Dinnie's marks were suspect due to ground slope and insufficient data on performance. The latest IAAF book on the evolution of world records doesn't count some of the older Dinnie claims based on what I just said. After Rio if Ashton wins I think he should go to the top of the list mainly on honors won and world records set.
Notify us, if you think this comment is inappropriate
IP: 2601:640:4000...

Please log in to add your comment!

Related images

Related videos