28 JUL 2012 Preview

Men's Decathlon - PREVIEW

9039 reasons to smile - Ashton Eaton after his World record in Eugene (Getty Images)9039 reasons to smile - Ashton Eaton after his World record in Eugene (Getty Images) © Copyright
The London Olympics Decathlon competition could be a great one, but not necessarily a tight one. It has been a while since we had a fresh World record holder going to the Olympics, but it will happen this time with American Ashton Eaton entering the London stage as the only favourite for the gold having won the US Olympic Trials with a 9039 WR tally, erasing Czech Roman Šebrle’s 9026 mark, which had stood for more than 11 years since 2001.

Interesting enough, the 37-year-old, who won the Olympic gold in 2004 and was crowned World champion in 2007, is still around and has been entered to compete in London. The previous time the World record was broken during an Olympic year before the Olympics was in 1984 when West German Jürgen Hingsen scored 8798 points in Mannheim to better his own 8779 total score from 1983, but his record was short-lived as Daley Thompson of Great Britain grabbed the record back, his fourth and last WR, to win the gold medal in Los Angeles. This time there is no chance for anyone other than Eaton breaking the record, such is the young American’s current status.

Thinking of a new record in London, however seems unlikely. Eaton did have some events in Eugene, where he could have done better, like the Shot Put, Discus Throw, High Jump and 400m, but none of those events went really badly. Instead he had a few extraordinary performances in the series, which will be hard to repeat. A Decathlon world best in the first two events with a 10.21 100m and 8.23m are at a level unreachable for others in this competition. A 5.30m Pole Vault was also a great achievement and the last event, the 1500m in 4:14.48, was breathtaking considering what Eaton had done before in the series.

The only thing that stands between the 24-year-old from Oregon and Olympic gold is not getting a result at all in one of the events.

Second in the 2012 world lists in German Pascal Behrenbruch, who scored 8558 points to win the European title in Helsinki in June, but that result is almost 500 points behind Eaton’s total. The fight for the other medals will be fierce as the four contenders are within just a 100 points with their 2012 results, all personal bests. Hans Van Alphen won it Götzis in May with an 8519 Belgian national record and Eelco Sintnicolaas scored 8506 NR for neighboring Netherlands for second place in the same competition.

20-year-old Frenchman Kevin Mayer is only in his first senior year in the Decathlon and already looking at an outside chance at a medal. With a perfect junior record having won the 2009 World Youth title (Octathlon) and 2010 World Juniors with 2011 European Juniors as well, Mayer knows what the medal podium feels like. He scored a wind-aided 8447 with a wind-legal 8415 personal best and French U23 record in July.

What’s also remarkable in the competition is that there are only two Americans competing and that the reigning champion from Beijing 2008, Bryan Clay is not one of them. But despite only having a season’s best of 8383 from his only decathlon of the season at the Olympic Trials, winner of the last two World titles in 2009 and 2011, Trey Hardee, will have something to say in London too. The 28-year-old hasn’t quite found his best form yet in 2012, but with his history of medals can’t be forgotten in the competition.

With the World record in total score in sight, the 2012 Olympic competition also has many athletes capable of good results in the individual events. Some of these like Eaton and Sintnicolaas, who has jumped 5.52m in the Pole Vault (indoors 2011), will be fighting for the medals, but some like Damian Warner of Canada can produce some flashy moments down the total rankings list. Warner is a sprints specialist and has run a 13.61 personal best in the 110m Hurdles this season with a 10.41 100m best in 2011. Cuban Leonel Suárez, the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, has thrown 77.47m javelin in 2009 and Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov, European silver medallist from Helsinki, is an 8.04m long jumper (indoors 2010).

All in all it looks like there will be three new Olympic medallists in this event. From the top men, Eaton, Behrenbruch, Van Alphen, Hardee, Mayer and Sintnicolaas will all compete for the first time at the Olympics and the three medals should be shared between these six athletes.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF