25 June, 2014

On women’s decathlon

Back in the days when there was no pole vault for women I was dreaming about the day that event would be introduced making it possible for women to compete in decathlon. Alas, the introduction of pole vault did not change much the situation, as far as decathlon is concerned. Women do still compete in this half-baked event that is the heptathlon and the idea to bring women’s combined event to the level of the men’s seems to have been shelved for good.

The IAAF homologated the first decathlon World record in 2004. M. Collonvillé of France was the first record holder with a total of 8150 points and a great series of performances: 12.48 (100 m), 34.69 (DT), 3.50 (PV), 47.19 (JT), 56.15 (400 m), 13.96 (100 m H), 6.18 (LJ), 11.90 (SP), 1.80 (HJ), 5:06.09 (1500 m). 

This record was a short lived one since the next year A. Skuyte of Lithuania improved by more than 200 points, with a total of 8358 points and performances: 12.49 (100 m), 46.19 (DT), 3.10 (PV), 48.78 (JT), 57.19 (400 m), 14.22 (100 m H), 6.12 (LJ), 16.42 (SP), 1.78 (HJ), 5:15.86 (1500 m).

 In 2006, Skuyte tried to improve upon her previous performance but without success. Since then there has been no high quality decathlon competition for women.

What is happening? I must admit that I am perplexed. A decathlon for women makes great sense. From an organisational point of view it would create no problem whatsoever in particular since women's first day's field events are the second days’ events for men’s and vice versa. From a technical point of view a special effort would be necessary for the pole vault (and for the discus as well) but this does not look as an unsurmountable obstacle. There are rumours that top heptathletes are hostile to the idea of a decathlon replacing the event they are accustomed to but is this a valid reason for shelving this fascinating event?

My greatest regret is that C. Klüft did not try a decathlon ever. Has she done so when she was in her top condition we would have today a world record of over 9000 points. Here is why. Klüft’s best performances, as given in the ATFS annual, are

100 m 11.48
400 m 52.98
800 m 2:08.89
100 m H 13.15
HJ 1.95
PV 3.16 (2001)
LJ 6.97
SP 15.05
DT 33.96 (2000)
JT 50.96

However between 2001 and 2004-5, when she was at her maximum, she did improve by roughly 20 %. For instance in Long Jump she progressed from 6.26 m to 6.90 m. So one would be tempted to apply the same 1.2 factor to both Discus and Pole Vault. Of course in a decathlon one cannot hope at maximal performances at every event and so it is reasonable to apply a 0.95  factor to the best performances. Finally for the 1500 m one can only extrapolate from 800 m obtaining something around 4:50.00 and 900 points. Here a generous reduction is mandatory, bringing down to number of points for 1500 m to 830. We are now ready to calculate C. Klüft’s total in an imaginary decathlon. We find

100 m  1000
400 m  950
1500 m 830
100 m H 1050
HJ 1100
PV 750
LJ 1020
SP 820
DT 650
JT 830

and a total of 9000 points. Why, oh why, didn’t C. Klüft compete a single decathlon?