Decathlon – an American tradition

Aug. 15, 2012 – “You  sir are the world’s greatest athlete.” The words came from King Gustav V of Sweden 100 years ago during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. King Gustav was speaking to American Jim Thorpe who had just won the first-ever decathlon competition at an Olympics games. The decathlon is the most grueling event in sports. Its consist of competing in ten different track events over a two-day period. Each competitor receives points based on their performance in each event. Thorpe would later be stripped of his gold medal when officials found out he competed in a summer baseball league as a professional. Thorpe had no idea that giving his real name while competing when others gave a fake name to maintain their amateur status would cost him so dearly. Thorpe established an American tradition of excellence in the decathlon at the Olympic Games. The tradition continued last week when Ashton Eaton of the USA won the gold medal in the ultimate test at the 2012 London Olympic Games. In all, the Americans have won the decathlon in 13 of the last 23 Olympics over the past 100 years. Other US winners include Harold Osborn in 1924, Jim Bausch in 1932 at Los Angeles, Glenn Morris in 1936,  Bob Mathias in both 1948 and 1952. Mathias won his first gold at the ten-event competition at the tender age of just 17 years old in London in 1948. He was also the first person to ever repeat as gold medal champion in the decathlon. Following Mathias’ back-to-back wins, American Milt Campbell took the gold for the USA in 1956.  Rafer Johnson of the red, white and blue won the gold at the 1960 games in Rome. Bill Twomey took gold at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Bruce Jenner was the gold medal winner for the USA in 1976 in Montreal. After Jenner’s victory, the Americans went through four Olympics without even medaling in the decathlon before Dan O’Brien won gold for the USA in 1996 in Atlanta.  The Americans were back on top in 2008 when Bryan Clay won gold in China. Now, comes 2012 and the impressive performance by Ashton Eaton. He did not break his world record, but his performance was impressive.  So was the work of teammate Trey Hardee who was second.  It was the first time since 1956 that the Americans held down the top two spots in the most grueling of events. The only thing more impressive was in 1936 and 1952 when the USA held down the three top spots in the Olympic decathlon. The words by King Gustav V 100 years ago still echo true today when you can say that “Ashton Eaton you are the world’s greatest athlete.”