Whether it’s the six global titles, the multiple world records, or his status as the world leader heading into Rio; there are numerous reasons as to why Ashton Eaton is the overwhelming favourite for the decathlon title.
Discounting his incomplete decathlons, Eaton’s last defeat in a combined events competition came five years ago at the 2011 IAAF World Championships. One year on from that loss, Eaton broke the world record with 9039 and then won Olympic gold in London.
Since then, he was won four more world titles – two indoors and two outdoors – and has upped his decathlon world record to 9045 with his scintillating victory in Beijing last year.
His one decathlon of 2016 was at the US Olympic Trials, where he won comfortably with a world-leading score of 8750, the fifth-best mark of his career.
Eaton hasn’t yet set any outdoor PBs this year, but his season’s bests in many of the individual disciplines are similar to the marks that he carried into last year’s World Championships.
But for all the reasons why Eaton may be considered the favourite, the decathlon by its very nature presents 10 different opportunities for things to go wrong. Should that happen, there are several men poised to strike.
Canada’s Damian Warner leads the list of challengers. The world silver medallist is cut from the same cloth as Eaton and has comparable PBs in many of the events; the only significant difference is in the pole vault and 1500m, in which Eaton is stronger.
Nevertheless, Warner will have gained confidence from setting PBs in five of the 10 decathlon disciplines this year – including a 100m decathlon world best of 10.15, improving on Eaton's previous best of 10.21 – as well as taking victory in Gotzis.
European indoor silver medallist Artur Abele leads the German challenge. The 30-year-old added more than 100 points to his lifetime best when winning in Ratingen with 8605, thanks in no small part to the PBs he set in the three decathlon throwing events.
Abele is joined on the German team by world bronze medallist Rico Freimuth and World Championships sixth-place finisher Kai Kazmirek, but neither of them have been in quite the same form as last year.
Kevin Mayer of France finished second to Warner in Gotzis with a score of 8446, but the 2014 European silver medallist appears to have the potential for a much higher score.
Lindon Victor is the biggest breakthrough performer in the decathlon this year. The Grenadian, who studies at Texas A&M University, added almost 1000 points to his PB in May, scoring 8446. He then came within 100 points of that mark to win the NCAA title. He will be joined in Rio by his brother Kurt Felix, the Commonwealth bronze medallist.
Belgium’s Thomas van der Plaetsen, who returned to action last year after recovering from testicular cancer, showed that he is back to his best when winning the European title last month. His winning score of 8218 was just 37 points shy of his lifetime best and there looks to be room for improvement.
US duo Jeremy Taiwo and Zach Ziemek both surpassed 8400 at the US Olympic Trials and look to be on an upward trajectory. Cuba’s Leonel Suarez also cannot be discounted, having scored 8347 earlier this year with a series that included a 78.29m throw in the javelin.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF