The Decathlon and Heptathlon -Still the Greatest Litmus Test for Athletes

August 19, 2016

The ten events that are required in the Olympic Decathlon which involve running, jumping and throwing are the only true litmus test to see who stands as the best overall athlete. The Heptathlon is the woman’s version which consists of seven track and field events. The last two weeks has showcased some amazing athletes that are certainly the best in their sport but how many of them can high jump over six feet? Or throw a shot put over fifty feet.  You know the answer. Some can do certain feats but not combine the skills to compete in the Decathlon and Heptathlon.  Of course, sometimes it takes least ten years or more of training and competing just to even sniff an Olympic medal.

There are athletes in professional sports that I have seen that could have been a decathlete. Take for instance LeBron James, probably the closest person in the NBA that could have been a decathlete. There a handful of NFL player that have the right combination of speed, strength and agility that fit the mold. As you see, the test is very select and only a small portion of the athletic gene pool could make it in the decathlon.

In the 1970’s, there was a television program called “Superstars” that was started by ABC sports. The program gathered great athletes from a variety of professional sports to compete in ten events. Of course, they were not all decathlon events except the hundred-yard dash. An athlete could compete up to seven events, but no athlete was permitted to compete in the sport of his or her discipline. Some of the events were weightlifting, bicycling, swimming, bowling, half mile and the obstacle course. The first athlete to win the show was pole vaulter Bog Seagram. I could understand why he won when you see what it takes to be a good pole vaulter. The program ran for almost twenty years and even spun off a British and European version. I believe the show should be revived and have a worldwide drawing to find a unique athlete.

Even though the Superstars were finding good cross functional athletes that had a multitude of skills, they were still limited. There is where the argument usually ends as far as the litmus test, best skilled athlete versus the best overall athlete which is more based on the core athletic abilities.  I personally am intrigued by the three multi events in the Olympics which include the Woman’s Heptathlon and the Pentathlon. The Pentathlon combines shooting, fencing, equestrian, swimming and cross country running. These types of events demand not only great physical training but also keen mental focus.

So, at the end of the Olympics you will see some athletes win a handful of medals, but the Decathlon, Pentathlon and Heptathlon don’t engage in this type of competition, it is one gold, one silver and one bronze. These events are done in one and two days which adds the endurance factor as the great equalizer. There will be only one overall winner and rest of the athletes will remain in obscurity but that is the life of this athlete. They were probably the kids in school who were into everything but never just settled into one thing. Their skill is versatility which is not always rewarded in society and the “jack of trades” moniker is sometimes scoffed at. I think it is highest skill a person can possess that can adapt to anything thrown their way. Salute to the decathletes, heptathletes and the pentathletes.

The winner of this year’s Men’s decathlon is Ashton Eaton, who tied the Olympic Decathlon scoring record and also won his second Olympic title. Eaton joins a list of great American decathletes in Olympic history.  The past American winners are: Jim Thorpe, Harold Osborn, Jim Bausch, Glenn Morris, Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien, Bryan Clay and Ashton Eaton.