2011 World Track and Field Championships Preview: Decathlon

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2011

Pooped (after 1500m run)
Pooped (after 1500m run)

It is the anti-thesis of "team sport."

It is comprised of individual competitors whose greatest challenge is their latest best mark.

It is an entire one-man track meet, camouflaged within the larger backdrop of elite specialists.

It is ruthless. A single falter can outweigh nine successes when the final points are tallied.

It is rewarding. Its champion is crowned as "the world's greatest athlete."

The decathlon is the essence of track and field, reduced to 10 events, contested over two days. It draws on the most primal of human athletic (some might argue survival) instincts—running, jumping, throwing.

The first event, the 100-meter dash, is quick and purely physical and sets the tone, as a brisk, "Thanks, I needed that!" wake-up call.

The final event, the 1,500-meter run, is—when bodies are already depleted physically—a more mental test of overall grit, will and character.

And in between, the contestants will contort their bodies in every conceivable position, wring the energy out of every known muscle and experience pain in every throbbing nerve just to extract an extra centimeter, a quicker micro-second, another precious point.

Ashton Eaton
Ashton Eaton

And they (and we) will love every minute of it.

Let's have a look at the favorites. 

Ashton Eaton, 23, USA

 A year ago, Eaton was considered the future of the men's multi-events. This year, the future has arrived.

Without question, Eaton is the hottest multi-eventer in the world right now. He is young, durable, consistent and hungry. In almost every outing this year, he has improved his PR in at least one or two events.

Apart from being a great all-around athlete, Eaton is on the cusp of "world-class" in three events—the 100-meters (10.26), long jump (26-4) and 110-meter hurdles (13.35). Though he already holds the world record in the heptathlon, Eaton's cumulative score of his personal bests in the decathlon would easily surpass Roman Seberle's world record of 9026.

It seems only a matter of time until he gets that record in the natural way.

It could even happen this month in Daegu.

Trey Hardee, 27, USA

Trey Hardee
Trey Hardee

 This hardened veteran, the defending world champion, will not make things easy for Eaton. Naturally skilled in the sprints and jumps (like Eaton), Hardee has had to work on his throws and is actually superior to Eaton in those disciplines.

The lingering taste of sweet victory at the Worlds in 2009 should be a psychological plus in Hardee's favor.

If we're fortunate, we could see a classic duel between these two good friends, similar to the famous Rafer Johnson vs. C.K. Yang rivalry which culminated at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Leonel Suarez, 23, and Yordanis Garcia, 22, Cuba

 You pick 'em. The two Cubans have not really improved their PRs much since 2009, but in the case of Suarez, that's not necessarily a bad thing. He was runner-up to Hardee at the 2009 Worlds. As for Garcia, it's just a gut feeling. I believe his compatriot will pull him along.

I think they'll both be in the hunt for a podium finish.

Mikk Pahapill, 28, Estonia 

 Pahapill is my wild card. He is the strongest thrower of all the contenders and could score big while the others typically struggle in the shot, discus and javelin. Of course, he needs to step up in the sprints and jumps to have a chance at a medal.


Eelco Sintnicolaas, 24, Neth.: Will it be Christmas in August for Sint Nicolaas?

Edgars Erins, 25, Latvia: Several PR improvements just this year. He's on the upswing.

Given the expected temperature (90-plus degrees F) and humidity (72 percent) of Daegu in August, the decathlon will be a particularly brutal test this year. The athletes are already making  their way to South Korea to acclimate to the sub-tropical conditions. Competition will get under way on August 26, a day before the official opening of the championships.

Red's next preview: women's 800-meter run.

Red's previous preview: Women's pole vault

What: 2011 World Track and Field Championships
When: August 27 - September 4, 2011
Where: Daegu, South Korea
Coverage (Online and TV): details here.

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