Decathlon 2000 › News › Is a decathlete a real athlete? Commentators, world records, decathlon and prejudice!
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Is a decathlete a real athlete? Commentators, world records, decathlon and prejudice! (5)

May 03, 2011

Part I - Critics

You also feel a  sense of injustice when world records from professionals are compared with the world records from participants of the multi events? Decathletes or heptathletes aren’t  even real athletes some journalists dare to say. They try everything but can’t do good in any particular event! Do people have a right to their own opinion? Of course. Even someone that enters the track and field  arena doing only one event can have an underestimating idée of his fellow athlete. A long distance runner for example maybe thinks that a hammer thrower is not a real sportsperson or vice versa. Nevertheless – we have to say - they owe this to a lack of knowledge.

Narrow mindedness is a pity in particular for journalists. On the other hand the question is do we have to be angry if somebody hasn’t enough knowledge of the combined events when even the official organizations that are in a position to give more credit to the multi events leave this matter often to others? What are a few elements that contribute to that ignorance?

When you look at the “Strongest man” contest on TV, the points system is made very easy. In earlier days there where episodes of “Superstars” in which for example even Daley Thompson participated. The points method in both contests was (or is) as follows, having eight persons that participate, the best result in each event is given eight points, the second  deserves seven and so on. It’s simple and there is not too much to count or to think about. Winning one contest is also not comparable to another but that doesn’t always matter to the public.

In fact to follow a decathlon shouldn’t have to be a problem. Some of the points given for performances should be shown on TV on championships but mostly nobody bothers at the broadcast. That’s a real pity. A simple graphic or points table like this one can be shown and solves the problem for the greater part:


Day 1

500 (points)







100 m








Long Jump








Shot Put








High Jump








400 m








Day 2








110 Hurdles








Discus Throw








Pole Vault








Javelin Thr.








1500 m

5  10.73

4 53.20

4 36.96

4 21.77

4 07.42

3 53.79

3 40.78

Bolt data: the performance has to be counted +1 point, for example: 12.81 s in the 100 meters is in fact 501 points. Bolt and italic: ad 2 points. In the high jump the extra points are not mentioned for 165 (+4points); 189(+5p); 200 (+3p); 211 (+6p).

100, 400, 110H: seconds; 1500m: minutes – seconds; Jumps: centimeters; Throws: meters. Measurements: Shot: 16Lb or 7.257 kg; Discus: 2 kg; Javelin: 800 gr. Height of 10 hurdles: 42 inches or 106.7 cm / 9,14 meters between hurdles.


One reflection (in terms of value and to make it simple) is to compare the points with millimeters in the long jump! 9000 points would then be comparable to a jump of 9 meters and would be approximately of the same value!

Another element that contributes to ignorance is a chicken-and-egg situation. Popularity!

First, the public never heard of it. Second they have no idée of what the points total means, and not every article in a newspaper shows the ten or seven specific performances. It often leaves the reader unaware of how special the result was. It means that in most country’s you have to be a real fighter to endure in combined events. Apparently it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. They don’t know about it, so it’s not popular and it’s not popular, so they don’t know about it.

For a journalist to have information on the personal bests of ten long jumpers means he knows ten results (ten times one result). To know the same about ten decathletes means the journalist knows at least ten results plus (at least) the best points total per athlete. These are a hundred and ten facts (ten times eleven results). If he ‘s not a fan and he has a choice, obviously he chooses to write a story about long jumping rather than one about decathlon. I remember a journalist sitting next to me in Götzis condemning his newspaper that they send him to this multi event competition “because it’s always so much work” to write an article on this particular athletics event.

Let’s examine the question a little further.

The most important mistake certainly is, not to see a decathlon as one event. As a consequence comparisons of the ten events are made with the world records. What commentators don’t realize by doing this, is that they collect ten different people in their mind (the very best in the world) confronting and judging all ten of them as an elite group against one person, the decathlete.

In fact they compare each outcome of the multi eventer  with that of their set of best athletes in the world and their once in a life time best ever result. Each event requires a lot of skill resulting from training, practice and natural ability. This specialists worked for years, eating, training, sleeping, gaining or losing weight and doing everything to be the best in that one and only particular event! Ten people, weighing from 58 kg (El Guerrouj)[1] to 137 kg (Randy Barnes)[2]. We rather have to ask ourselves a question. What happens if for example the best discus thrower in the world would run a 400 meters or vice versa?

In fact training for the shot put (third event in the decathlon) and training to run a thousand five hundred meters (tenth event in a decathlon) is incomparable. To illustrate the problem let’s take two athletes as an extreme example of the difficulties involved. Throwing more than twenty meters in the shot put on national championships will be a good achievement in every country. Running under three minutes and thirty seconds for a thousand five hundred meters is an even better score: it will get you a top twenty position in the world.

If an ignorant commentator compares a decathlete to those two athletes, he compares one athlete to another. But mustn’t he be willing to compare the shot putter then to the runner! If the decathlete doesn’t come up to the expectations, the question is how about the two other athletes compared to each other?

Let us try to imagine the funny sight of two real living athletes standing side by side (although not competing anymore). Dück Oliver from Germany and Laban Rotich from Kenya. In 1998 Dück threw the shot 20.04 meters in Rüdlingen (on august 23). The man’s competition weight was 150 kg and he is 2 m 14 tall[3]. Standing next to him we have Laban with a competition weight of 45 kg and he is 1 m 63 tall [4]. He ran an excellent 3 minutes 29.91 seconds for the 1500 meters (1998 Zurich august 12).

To throw the shot for Laban means to throw 1/6th of his own body weight while Dück throws about 1/20th of it. On the other hand to run a 1500 meters is a hell for Dück. He drags more than three times the bodyweight of the runner across the track! More than a hundred kilograms extra[5]. So let us imagine a decathlon with both athletes! It’s doubtful if they can make a hundred or two hundred points in each other’s events! Running 6min 16.84 sec for a 1500meters equals 200 points whereas 5 meters 15 has the same value in the shot put. While on international level, doing “only” 500 points in each event (in a decathlon) is already considered as a relatively bad performance among decathletes!

Dück will have a problem with the 400 as well and he needs strong vaulting poles. Laban has no problem with the 400 but the 1m07 hurdles are a little bit high for him! Dück threw 60 meters 60 [6] with the discus but Laban says it’s not his thing.

[1]  World record holder 1500 meters

[2] World record holder shot put.

[3] 331 pounds ; 7 foot    ¾ inch

[4] 100 pounds ; 5 foot 4 ¼ inch

[5] This article is not meant to be unrespectful towards  this athletes or their performances, it’s all about comparisons made by certain commentators.

[6] 9 july 1995 in Planegg

Next time Part II - The Hingsen Combination: A challenge!


Chris Vlamynck & Janek Salmistu for Decathlon 2000

Comments (5)

Dale Harder wrote on May 04, 2011
Personally, I hold the decathletes in very high esteem. I love the idea of earning points in each of 10 events representative of track & field overall and designating the winner the one with the most acquired points. It's a matter of opinion and cultural upbringing perhaps as which track & field athletes are the best. My guess is that the majority of people favor the winner of the 100 meters in the Olympics. Others might favor the marathon, the pole vault, the javelin throw, etc. What it comes down to is not the event itself but how well it is done. A 6000-point decathlete is not as good an athlete as an 8' high jumper. I've developed a set of tables in a book called "Sports Comparisons...You Can Compare Apples to Oranges". If you don't mind the gentle plug you can read more on Keep up the great work on this site.
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B.J. Parish wrote on May 04, 2011
I like the points u make in this article very much! These things are very true commentators are the problem and here in the USA our stupid commentators I will not mention any names (dwight stones) is always comparing event results to other open athletes and is always talking about what he jumped in high jump in comparison or judging their technique, it is very annoying! I think you can not compare any 2 athletes example, 1500 runner to shot putter, but i do think you can in some ways compare a decathlete to another athlete because for example erki nool was a very good long jumper 8.22m and that is a very good world class jump, he also had a very good pole vault. however all decathletes do have some type of week event, then i think it is unfair to compare.
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JumpersDecathlon2010 wrote on May 12, 2011
Decathletes are the best and most well rounded athletes!
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ChrisB wrote on May 16, 2011
For the points table in this article:
are supposed to be Bolt and italic (ad two points):
LJ: 695;816
HJ: 177
PV: 430;464
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Illimar Pilk wrote on Sep 01, 2011
They are the best athletes
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