American Dan O'Brien, three-time world champion (Tokyo 1991, Stuttgart 1993, and Göteborg 1995), 1996 Olympic Champion, and former world record holder, had every reason to believe that he would be the first decathlete to surpass the 9,000-point barrier based on the IAAF 1985 scoring tables. But at age 34 and suffering injuries and long periods of idleness, O’Brien missed his chance at last year’s summer Olympics and is all but retired from the sport.
Then came Czech Tomaš Dvorak, 28, the two-time world champion (Athens 1997 and Sevilla 1999) and 1999 IAAF World Combined Events Challenge champion, who broke O’Brien’s record in 1999 at the European Super League meet with an 8,994 total before an enthusiastic home crowd in Prague. Being the only man to reach the 8,900 barrier—and he did it twice— Dvorak would be a smart bet as the man to break 9,000.
A Classic Meeting Gone Astray
And why not at the Hypobank Meeting in Gotzis, Austria? This meet has become an international standard of excellence for the multi-event discipline over the past 22 years. This year, 24 of the world’s best decathletes from 15 nations were registered to compete. (In all, 21 actually did participate.) The world record had been broken there twice, in 1980 and 1982, by another decathlon giant, Briton Daley Thompson. And Dvorak has had amazing success in Gotzis since 1995, taking second place three times and first place the last two, most remarkably with his 8,900-point meet record performance in 2000.
These days, however, a betting person would put even money on the amazingly consistent Estonian, Erki Nool, the 2000 Sydney Olympic champion, European Champion (Budapest 1998), two-time IAAF World Combined Events Challenge winner (1998 and 2000), and himself a two-time Gotzis champion (1995 and 1998). Before Gotzis 2001, the 30-year old Nool had exceeded 8,000 points in 19 of his last 20 decathlons, and he had gone over 8,500 points 10 times. And as a sensation in his home country and beyond, he holds court to a zealous legion of fans that follows him wherever he competes and cheers wildly as he pole vaults in a class all his own (personal best, 5.60 meters/18' 4½").
So the stage was set for Dvorak and Nool, who would meet yet another time on May 26-27, 2001, in Gotzis, and all eyes would be on these two decathlon legends for a classic match.
However, Roman Sebrle, Dvorak’s compatriot, had designs of his own. The 26-year-old Czech made history when he became the first decathlete to shatter the elusive 9,000-point barrier. Incredibly, the 6' 1½", 185 lb. nouveau titan won the competition by a staggering 422 points over Nool. (Dvorak took third.)
Actually, no one should have been surprised that Sebrle had a good chance to win. After all, he was ranked third behind Dvorak and Nool, he was the silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, and he had a career high of 8,745, when in 2000 he took second place at, of all places, Gotzis. He too had crossed the 8,000-point barrier numerous times (18 since 1996), and 8,500 points 5 times. Furthermore, he had been the runner-up both times that Dvorak surpassed 8,900 points. In the indoor heptathlon, he is the reigning world champion, with a score of 6,420 points (Lisbon 2001), just shy of Dvorak’s European record (6,424, Gent 2000) and O’Brien’s world record (6,476, Toronto 1993). So if Sebrle surprised anyone, he certainly didn’t surprise himself.