Ashton Eaton in the decathlon javelin at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)


How it works

This is the men’s ultimate all-round test, a 10-event contest covering the whole range of athletics disciplines spread over two days.

Competitors earn points for their performance in each discipline and the overall winner is the man who accrues the most points.

The first day consists of (in order): 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m. The second day’s events are 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m.


The forerunner of the modern decathlon was the pentathlon, a regular feature of the Ancient Olympics that comprised the long jump, discus, javelin, sprint and wrestling.

Various versions of the event re-emerged in the 19th century to determine all-around prowess and a combined events competition was held at the 1904 Olympic Games. But the first decathlon that resembles the current format was held in 1911, with the inaugural Olympic Games decathlon – famously won by the legendary Jim Thorpe – taking place a year later in Stockholm.

There is also an official world record for the women's decathlon but this is not contested at major championships.

Did you know

The scoring tables that determine how a many points a performance is worth have actually been adjusted six times since they were established in 1912, because of athletes' ever-improving abilities, equipment changes and to equate the events more accurately. The changes happened in 1920, 1934, 1950, 1962, 1977 (to take account of the growing use of electronic timing) and, most recently, 1985.

Gold standard

Ashton Eaton's victory at the 2016 Olympics was the 14th decathlon gold medal for the USA, who have been the most dominant nation in the event by a long way as no other country has won more than two gold medals. In similar fashion, the USA has been the most successful nation at the IAAF World Championships with nine gold medals in 15 editions.


Bob Mathias

Mathias was just 17 when he won the Olympic title in 1948, and he still remains the youngest ever winner of an Olympic decathlon medal.

Four years later in Helsinki, after setting his first world record in 1950, he won by the astonishing margin of 912 points with a world record tally of 7887 to become the first man to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title.

Later in life, he became a successful politician and served eight years as a congressman in the US House of Representatives. He died in 2006 at the age of 75. 

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