30 November, 2013

On combined events

Combined events are par excellence most fascinating to both participants and spectators.
They are associated to the idea (the myth?) of the complete athlete. 

The, historically, first combined event was the Pentathlon of the ancient Olympics. It comprised long jump, discus and javelin throws, a stadium race as well as wrestling. A previous blog entry deals with classification procedure in the ancient Pentathlon.


By the way here is the proper naming of combined events (no mixing of greek and latin please):

diathlon
triathlon
tetrathlon
pentathlon
hexathlon
heptathlon
octathlon
enneathlon
decathlon

Combined events were introduced as soon as sports started making their come-back. For a short historical account you can read the article by Gaston Meyer 


in the superb Encyclopedie du Sport of Jean Dauven (1961).



Combined events exist in various sports. Some are absurd, like Modern Pentathlon: why on earth introduce a combined event with the same drawback as wrestling in the ancient one (I am talking about fencing) and which moreover is not used for a tie break? Some are naive, like Triathlon: why have a continuous running time forcing technical decisions that have nothing to do with athletic value. 

But the king of all combined events is the Decathlon.
It's creation is totally arbitrary. Gaston Meyer explains that had we wished to test the overall value of a sportsman we should have created a tetrathlon (which he, erroneously, calls quadriathlon : 100m, high jump, shot put, 1000m. It would have been a drab choice indeed! Decathlon has magic. You have to compete in one to feel it (or experience one on the stadium). Since the introduction of women's pole vault I am waiting for the women's decathlon to pick up speed but in vain. 

Decathlon is at the origin of one of the things that have always fascinated me: scoring tables, a subject we are going to encounter frequently in this blog. 

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