AskDefine | Define decathlon

Dictionary Definition

decathlon n : an athletic contest consisting of ten different events

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Greek stem dec meaning ten


  1. an athletic contest consisting of ten events which includes sprinting, hurdling, jumping, and throwing over a span of two days
  2. a contest in science and math proving skill


athletic contest

Extensive Definition

This article refers to the sporting contest. For the sports store chain of the same name see Decathlon Group. For the aircraft see American Champion Decathlon. For the American academic competition see Academic Decathlon
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 word decathlon is of Greek origin (deka [ten] +athlon [contest]). The contest is a menu of athletic events, testing an individual’s speed, strength, skill, endurance, and perseverance; it includes five events on each of two successive days. The first day is one of speedy movement, explosive power, and jumping ability; the second emphasizes technique and endurance.


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, a 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 Association of Athletics Federations (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 closest 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 Olympic event least commonly seen in non-Olympic meets. 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 one of the few events 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 Thompson’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

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

National records

Season's best

Other multiple event contests

decathlon in Catalan: Decatló
decathlon in Czech: Desetiboj
decathlon in Danish: Tikamp
decathlon in German: Zehnkampf
decathlon in Modern Greek (1453-): Δέκαθλο
decathlon in Spanish: Decatlón
decathlon in Estonian: Kümnevõistlus
decathlon in Finnish: Kymmenottelu
decathlon in French: Décathlon
decathlon in Hebrew: קרב רב
decathlon in Croatian: Desetoboj
decathlon in Italian: Decathlon
decathlon in Japanese: 十種競技
decathlon in Dutch: Tienkamp
decathlon in Norwegian: Tikamp
decathlon in Polish: Dziesięciobój lekkoatletyczny
decathlon in Portuguese: Decatlo
decathlon in Russian: Десятиборье
decathlon in Serbian: Десетобој
decathlon in Swedish: Tiokamp
decathlon in Turkish: Dekatlon
decathlon in Chinese: 十項全能

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

bout, contest, double-header, doubles, event, foursome, game, games of chance, go, match, meet, pentathlon, play, play-off, race, runoff, singles, sport, threesome, twosome
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