Bryan Clay, 2008 gold medalist, in the shot put.
Though the decathlon is not as highly anticipated as other events, it will be the most compelling display of athleticism at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
There was a time when the 10-event competition was the toast of the sports world. Back in the 1970s, Mark Spitz's seven gold medals in Munich couldn't get him on a box of Wheaties, but Bruce Jenner's decathlon win at the Montreal Games did.
Nowadays, NBC's Olympic coverage is live and nonstop, and the current broadcast schedule highlights the sprint events on the track and in the pool. Not only are they electrifying, but they are concise and allow casual fans to bounce from one event to another event with ease.
If you're feeling hardcore, however, the two-day drama of the decathlon offers fans an Olympic experience unlike any other. It won't be the talk of the London Games, but here's why it will be incomparably entertaining for those who give it a chance.
The London Games will mark the 100th anniversary of the decathlon's title as the pinnacle of athletic achievement.
In the 1912 Olympics, the legendary Jim Thorpe dominated Stockholm in the first modern decathlon. Thorpe finished no worse than fourth in any event and won the shot put, high jump, 110-meter hurdles, and the 1,500-meter run. In doing so, he won with ease and set a new world record, leading the Swedish King Gustav V to tell him, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."
That title has endured, passed down from champion to champion.
Bill Toomey earned it in 1968 when he won the 1,500 by just over a second to take the gold. So did Jenner in 1976, as he set a world record of his own in the process. And Daley Thompson broke world records twice to earn the mantle and took home the gold in 1980 and 1984.
Whoever wins the 2012 decathlon will be the latest athlete to take up the mantle of World's Greatest Athlete. This event, which dates back to ancient Greece, remembers its past, and London's champion will follow a legacy of greatness.
Christian Schenk, 1988 gold medalist, in the high jump.
Usain Bolt may have the hype as one of the best runners in the world, but even he does not have the athletic ability to compete in the decathlon.
Each of the 10 events are weighted equally in the decathlon's scoring system, which converts competitors' times, distances, and heights into points.
Were Bolt to compete, he would certainly dominate his signature 100-meter dash, but it takes an incredibly versatile athlete to compete in the decathlon.
Bolt would probably still fare very well in the 400-meter relay and maybe even the longer distance 1,500-meter run, but the list of events he could reasonably compete in ends there. The gamut of hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, pole vault, discus, and javelin requires an array of skills that Bolt lacks.
In order to be a decathlete, one must be able to run with a mix of speed and endurance, to hurdle and jump for both height and distance, and to execute three different types of throws.
It is impressive to compete just in track or in field, but the versatility that one needs to combine each of the different disciplines is what makes the decathlete the greatest athlete in the world.
Ashton Eaton, current world record holder, in the 1500m.
At the United States track trials in Eugene, the decathlon produced two storylines that will make the Olympic competition that much more thrilling.
Bryan Clay will not be going to London, and his absence will be as much of a story as the decathlon itself. The 2008 gold medalist failed to qualify after stumbling over the final hurdle, and he fell short of the 8,200-point mark that USA Track and Field set as the benchmark in order to make the team.
Only two decathletes did put up totals worthy of qualifications, but both of them have legitimate shots at the gold.
Trey Hardee is the defending world champion in the decathlon, but his score of 8,383 was nowhere close to Ashton Eaton's historic output at the trials. While fighting through the rain over both days of the competition, Eaton broke Roman Sebrle's 11-year-old world record with a score of 9,039, and it was only the second time that a decathlete has ever surpassed 9,000 points.
Eaton and Hardee will each be gunning for the gold in their first ever Olympic competition, while the defending gold medalist will be staying stateside. If the decathlon needs some buzz in order to build excitement, it's hard to top these compelling narratives.
Roman Sebrle, 2004 gold medalist, in the javelin.
The decathlon's excitement comes not only from the athletic prowess of its competitors but also from the prolonged drama.
The stakes are from the first event. A decathlete can't win the gold based on the 100-meter dash alone, but he can lose it there if he stumbles at the start.
This tension is unique to an event like the decathlon. Take the 100, on its own, for example. The early heats have the feel that the best of the best are going through the motions somewhat, as the world's fastest runners often do not even approach the 10-second barrier until the quarterfinals.
In decathlon, however, the opening 100 meters are just as important as the closing 1,500 meters. Since the events are split over a two-day period, fans get the drama of watching the scoreboard develop over time. The competition matters from the beginning, and the outcome is still up in the air until the end, and that is what makes the decathlon so captivating.
Bruce Jenner, 1976 gold medalist.
It is fitting that all decathletes who complete all 10 events take the round of honor together.
Rather than only shining a spotlight on the winner following the 1500-meter run, the decathlon acknowledges those who have finished the events at all. It is in the spirit of competition that a winner is crowned, but the round of honor puts the spotlight on the victor and the field alike.
In this way, there are no losers in the decathlon; whatever the outcome, it is a triumph of both the human body and the will to compete on that grand stage.
When Eaton, Hardee, and the rest of the field kick off the decathlon in London, the cheers of the crowd will echo back to Montreal, Stockholm, and ancient Athens. When they take the round to close out the competition, it will be the modern embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
It will be exhilarating.
It will be dramatic.
It might even be historic.
Even though you might not be anticipating the decathlon now, you should be sure to follow along with it once the Games begin.