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Decathlon is an athletic event combining 10 track and field events. Events are held over two consecutive days and the winners are determined by the combined performance in all events. Performance is judged on a points system in each event, not by the position achieved. The decathlon is contested by male athletes, while female athletes contest the Heptathlon.

Traditionally, the title of "World's Greatest Athlete" has been given to the man who wins the decathlon. This began when King Gustav V of Sweden told Jim Thorpe, "You, sir, are the World's Greatest Athlete" after Thorpe won the decathlon at the Olympics in Stockholm in 1912. The current holder of the "title" is Czech national Roman Šebrle, who has held the title five of the past seven years as well as the highest score ever.

The decathlon is a menu of athletic events, testing an individual’s speed, strength, skill, endurance, and personality. The word is of Greek origin (deka [ten] +athlon [contest]). The decathlon includes five events on each of two successive days. The first day schedules the 100-metre run, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400 metres. It is a day of speedy movement, explosive power, and jumping ability. Day 2 consists of the 110-metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500 metres. The importance of this day is on technique and endurance.


Day one:

  • 100 m
  • long jump
  • Shot put
  • high jump
  • 400 m

Day two:

  • 110 m hurdles
  • discus throwing
  • pole vault
  • javelin throwing
  • 1500 m


The event sprouted from the ancient game pentathlon. Pentathlon is a game that was played at the ancient Greek Olympics. Pentathlons involved five games – long jump, discus throw, javelin, sprint and a wrestling match. Introduced in Olympia during 708 BC, the game was extremely popular for many centuries. By the sixth century BC, pentathlons became part of religious games.

Gorgos, from Elis town near Olympia was a four-time pentathlon winner during the period. Another key player was Lampis, a young Spartan who was the first Olympic winner. Automedes was also a known player of the time. The last recorded game winner was Publius Asklepiades of Corinth in AD 241. Roman Emperor Theodosius I officially put an end to the game in AD 393 by closing down all the sanctuaries including Olympia.

From the mid 1700s various versions of the game emerged. The 1948 Olympics endorsed a new implication to the game. Seventeen-year-old Bob Mathias emerged as the then decathlon winner, banishing the myth that decathlon was a game for the old and the experienced. Mathias still remains the youngest decathlon sports champion in Olympic history.

Modern standardization

In 1964 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) laid out new scoring tables and brought about some standardization in the game. The 1970s saw the game spreading to the Eastern European nations, mainly the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany.

The first decathlon competition was held on a single day, October 15 1911, in Gothenburg, Sweden. This was technically not the first decathlon, but one of the first two, as Germany also held a decathlon on the very same day. The Germans contested their events in the same order but with a different scoring table. So, the first decathlon world-record holder was the winner of the first completed meet. Karl Hugo Wieslander, a Swede, and Karl Ritter von Halt, a German, were announced world-record holders.

The decathlon was added to the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. After experience, the following order was chosen: 100 m run, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400 m run on the first day; 110 m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500 m run on the 2nd day. The Swedes also developed a set of scoring tables, based on the 1908 Olympic records. After the 1912 Stockholm Games, the tables were updated to include many new Olympic records.

The 1912 Olympic decathlon has become legend because of the presence of Jim Thorpe. Jim had a terrific 1912 spring track season, winning as many as six events per meet. Thorpe made the U.S. Olympic team in four events: decathlon, pentathlon, high jump, and long jump. The Russian czar donated a Viking ship as a prize for the decathlon champion. Thorpe won the decathlon by almost 700 points over his closet opponent, Hugo Wieslander of Sweden. Because of the unexpected large number of entries, the decathlon was held over 3 days. The first day they held the 100 m run, long jump, and shot put. The second day consisted of the high jump, 400 m run, discus, and 110, hurdles. The third and final day consisted of the pole vault, javelin, and 1500 m run. Thorpe’s 8412 points converts to 6564 points on the current tables, still a very respectable score three quarters of a century later. Swedes: Hugo Wieslander, Charles Lomberg, and Gösta Holmér captured the next three spots.

Thorpe’s score was not beaten for another 15 years. In his absence, there was little decathlon activity for the remainder of the decade. Only in Sweden was the decathlon often contested. The Swedes managed to stay neutral during World War I, which forced the cancellation of the games of Berlin in 1916. Fascinatingly, decathlons were held as part of the Far Eastern Games in 1913, 1915, 1917, and 1919.

The average good decathlete competes at most three or four times a year, the less talented even fewer. Bill Toomey’s nine great efforts back in 1969 were very unusual. The Decathlon is the least common Olympic event.

The decathlete does not have to be amazing in any event to be a champion in the 10 events. But he must range from adequate in his weak events to good or better in the other skills. Because he must do well in the four runs and six field events, he has little opportunity to perfect any one event. His training is necessarily different as he strives to improve all techniques, gain strength without losing speed, and acquire the stamina to perform through a competition that lasts anywhere from 4 to 12 hours per day during the Olympics. As a reference point, a performance in the (non-decathlon) world record class would give somewhere between 1100 and 1400 points per event, totaling almost 12500 points for a full record-breaking decathlon. When compared to the 6-7000 points that a good decathlete would usually get, or the world record of slightly over 9000 points, this illustrates how much specialization must be sacrificed to become a good all-round athlete.

The decathlon is the only event in which it doesn’t matter if the athlete finishes first, second, or third in an event. The score is the thing, and for the most part decathletes compete against themselves, while watching their opponents. It is also the only event with an arbitrary scoring system and thus the only one in which personal performance and records can be broken as new scoring tables are adopted. Under the original scoring tables adopted in 1912, Akilles Järvinen of Finland finished second in both the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, but the new scoring system introduced in 1934 gave Jarvinen higher converted totals than both the men he lost to. World-record holder C.K. Yang lost 1032 points when his 1963 performance was converted late in 1964 to the new tables first used in the 1964 Olympics. His top rivals lost only 287 and 172 points when their bests were converted, and Yang dropped from the favorite to third on the pre-Games ranking, finishing a disappointing fifth.

The arbitrary nature of the scoring tables can work in the opposite direction as well. In 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Great Britain’s Daley Thompson missed the world record by one point on then-used 1962/77 tables. The tables were changed a year later and Daley’s score in Los Angeles converted to a best-ever mark.

One hour decathlon

One hour decathlon is a special type of decathlon, in which the athletes have to start the last of ten events (1500 metres) within sixty minutes after the start of the first event. The world record holder is a Czech decathlete Robert Změlík, who achieved 7897 points at a meeting in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia in 1992.

World Records

7485 Aleksander Klumberg-Kolmpere  EST 1920-07-05 Tallinn
7710 Harold Osborn  USA 1924-07-12 Paris
7820 Paavo Yrjölä  FIN 1926-07-18 Viipuri
7995 Paavo Yrjölä  FIN 1927-07-17 Helsinki
8053 Paavo Yrjölä  FIN 1928-08-04 Amsterdam
8255 Akilles Järvinen  FIN 1930-07-20 Viipuri
8462 James Bausch  USA 1932-08-06 Los Angeles
8790 Hans-Heinrich Sievert  GER 1934-07-08 Hamburg
7900 Glenn Morris  USA 1936-08-08 Berlin
8042 Bob Mathias  USA 1950-06-30 Tulare
7887 Bob Mathias  USA 1952-07-26 Helsinki
7985 Rafer Johnson  USA 1955-06-11 Kingsburg
8014 Vassily Kuznetsov  URS 1958-05-18 Krasnodar
8302 Rafer Johnson  USA 1958-07-28 Moscow
8357 Vassily Kuznetsov  URS 1959-05-17 Moscow
8683 Rafer Johnson  USA 1960-07-09 Eugene
8206 Yang Chuan-Kwang   TPE 1963-04-28 Walnut
8230 Russ Hodge  USA 1966-07-24 Los Angeles
8319 Kurt Bendlin   FRG 1967-05-14 Heidelberg
8417 Bill Toomey  USA 1969-12-11 Los Angeles
8454 Nikolay Avilov  URS 1972-09-08 Munich
8524 Bruce Jenner  USA 1975-08-10 Eugene
8538 Bruce Jenner  USA 1976-06-26 Eugene
8618 Bruce Jenner  USA 1976-07-30 Montréal
8622 Daley Thompson  GBR 1980-05-15 Götzis
8649 Guido Kratschmer   FRG 1980-06-14 Filderstadt-Bernhausen
8704 Daley Thompson  GBR 1982-05-23 Götzis
8723 Jürgen Hingsen   FRG 1982-08-15 Ulm
8743 Daley Thompson  GBR 1982-09-08 Athens
8779 Jürgen Hingsen   FRG 1983-06-06 Filderstadt-Bernhausen
8798 Jürgen Hingsen   FRG 1984-05-15 Mannheim
8798 Daley Thompson  GBR 1984-08-09 Los Angeles
8891 Dan O'Brien  USA 1992-09-05 Talence
8994 Tomáš Dvořák  CZE 1999-07-04 Prague
9026 Roman Šebrle  CZE 2001-05-27 Götzis
8366 Austra Skujytė  LTU 2005-04-15 Colombia

NOTE: Skujyte's marks total 6333 using the men's scoring tables

National records

  • As of 2007-09-06
9026  CZE Roman Šebrle 2001-05-27 Götzis
8891  USA Dan O'Brien 1992-09-05 Talence
8847  GBR Daley Thompson 1984-08-09 Los Angeles
8832  GER Jürgen Hingsen 1984-06-09 Mannheim
8815  EST Erki Nool 2001-08-07 Edmonton
8735  BLR Eduard Hämäläinen 1994-05-29 Götzis
8730  FIN Eduard Hämäläinen 1997-08-06 Athens
8725  KAZ Dmitriy Karpov 2004-08-24 Athens
8709  UKR Aleksander Apaichev 1984-06-03 Neubrandenburg
8698  RUS Grigori Degtyaryov 1984-06-22 Kiev
8644  JAM Maurice Smith 2007-09-01 Osaka
8626  CAN Mike Smith 1996-05-26 Götzis
8574  FRA Christian Plaziat 1990-08-29 Split
8573  ISL Jon Arnar Magnusson 1998-05-31 Götzis
8566  POL Sebastian Chmara 1998-05-17 Murcia
8554  HUN Attila Zsivóczky 2000-06-04 Götzis
8526  ESP Francisco Javier Benet 1998-05-17 Murcia
8490  AUS Jagan Hames 1998-09-18 Kuala Lumpur
8447  NED Robert de Wit 1988-05-22 Eindhoven
8445  UZB Ramil Ganiyev 1997-08-06 Athens
8437  LTU Ryszard Malachowskis 1988-07-02 Staiki
8403  SWE Henrik Dagård 1994-09-11 Talence
8359  NZL Simon Poelman 1987-03-22 Christchurch
8334  SUI Stephan Niklaus 1983-07-03 Lausanne
8320  AUT Gernot Kellermayr 1993-05-30 Götzis
8291  ARG Tito Steiner 1983-06-23 Provo
8290  CHN Qi Haifeng 2005-05-29 Götzis
8288  MDA Valeri Kachanov 1980-06-21 Moscow
8271  LAT Janis Karlivans 2007-05-27 Götzis
8266  BRA Pedro da Silva Filho 1987-04-23 Walnut
8257  CUB Yordanis García 2007-09-01 Osaka
8213  POR Mario Anibal Ramos 2001-07-01 Kaunas
8199  BUL Atanas Andonov 1981-06-21 Sofia
8169  ITA Beniamino Poserina 1996-10-06 Formia
8160  NOR Benjamin Jensen 1999-08-01 Greve
8069  GRE Prodromos Korkizoglou 2000-07-02 Ibach
8057   YUG Saša Karan 1990-07-01 Ljubljana
8047  BEL Hans van Alphen 2007-08-13 Bangkok
8023  TUN Hamdi Dhouibi 2005-08-10 Helsinki
8009   TPE Yang Chuan-Kwang 1963-04-28 Walnut
7995  JPN Munehiro Kaneko 1993-05-14 Shanghai
7994  DEN Lars Warming 1988-06-19 Götzis
7934  ALG Ahmed Mahour Bacha 1985-07-09 Algiers
7882  IRL Carlos O'Connell 1988-06-05 Emmitsburg
7846  TJK Igor Sobolevski 1982-07-16 Leningrad
7834  ROM Vasile Bogdan 1975-06-08 Paris
7824  KOR Kim Kun-Woo 2006-05-26 Gongju
7802  CYP Georgios Andreou 2000-08-12 Volos
7799  SVK Peter Soldos 2001-06-10 Arles
7777  BAR Victor Houston 1997-08-06 Athens
7757  TUR Alper Kasapoğlu 1996-04-19 Azusa
7756  GEO Juri Dyachkov 1968-06-16 Tbilisi
7734  VEN Douglas Fernández 1983-08-27 Caracas
7730  QAT Ahmad Hassan Moussa 2004-06-27 Ratingen
7704  PUR Luiggy Llanos 2003-08-06 Santo Domingo
7698  SLO Damjan Sitar 2006-05-28 Maribor
7674  RSA Joepie Loots 1983-04-16 Bloemfontein
7667  IRI Hadi Sepehrzad 2007-07-28 Amman
7659  CRO Joško Vlašić 1983-06-25 Izmir
7632  LCA Dominic Johnson 1998-03-27 Tucson
7614  MEX Alejandro Cárdenas 1996-05-11 Medellín

Seasons best

  • As of 2007-09-06
2007 8676   Roman Šebrle (CZE) Talence
2006 8677   Bryan Clay (USA) Götzis
2005 8732   Bryan Clay (USA) Helsinki
2004 8893   Roman Šebrle (CZE) Athens
2003 8807   Roman Šebrle (CZE) Götzis
2002 8800   Roman Šebrle (CZE) Götzis
2001 9026   Roman Šebrle (CZE) Götzis
2000 8900   Tomáš Dvořák (CZE) Götzis
1999 8994   Tomáš Dvořák (CZE) Prague
1998 8755   Dan O'Brien (USA) Uniondale
1997 8837   Tomáš Dvořák (CZE) Athens
1996 8824   Dan O'Brien (USA) Atlanta
1995 8695   Dan O'Brien (USA) Göteborg
1994 8735   Eduard Hämäläinen (BLR) Götzis
1993 8817   Dan O'Brien (USA) Stuttgart
1992 8891   Dan O'Brien (USA) Talence
1991 8812   Dan O'Brien (USA) Tokyo
1990 8574   Christian Plaziat (FRA) Split
1989 8549   Dave Johnson (USA) Houston
1988 8512   Christian Plaziat (FRA) Talence
1987 8680   Torsten Voss ( GDR) Rome
1986 8811  Daley Thompson (GBR) Stuttgart
1985 8559   Torsten Voss ( GDR) Dresden
1984 8847  Daley Thompson (GBR) Los Angeles
1983 8825   Jürgen Hingsen ( FRG) Bernhausen
1982 8774  Daley Thompson (GBR) Athens
1981 8334   Rainer Pottel ( GDR) Birmingham
1980 8667   Guido Kratschmer ( FRG) Bernhausen
1979 8476   Guido Kratschmer ( FRG) Krefeld
1978 8493   Guido Kratschmer ( FRG) Bernhausen
1977 8400   Aleksandr Grebenyuk (URS) Riga
1976 8634   Bruce Jenner (USA) Montreal
1975 8429   Bruce Jenner (USA) Eugene
1974 8229   Ryszard Skowronek (POL) Montreal
1973 8163   Lennart Hedmark (SWE) Bonn
1972 8466   Nikolay Avilov (URS) Munich

Other multiple event contests

  • Biathlon
  • Duathlon
  • Triathlon
  • Quadrathlon
  • Pentathlon
  • Modern pentathlon
  • Heptathlon
  • Octathlon (primarily a youth or junior event although logistical problems have seen senior octathlons contested, for example at the 2007 South Pacific Games)
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