The men's decathlon and women's heptathlon are gruelling two-day tests to find ‘the ultimate athlete’.
We will show you the rules and highlights of decathlon and heptathlon in one minute. Whether you are familiar with decathlon and heptathlon or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
The desire to discover the greatest all-round athlete dates back to the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. A five-event ‘pentathlon’ was first held at the 18th Ancient Olympiad around 708 BC. It comprised the long jump, discus, javelin, sprint and wrestling.
The modern ten-event men's decathlon and seven-event women's heptathlon (known as ‘combined events’) derive from this competition. Both contests are designed to cover the whole range of athletics disciplines over two days, including sprints, middle-distance and long-distance track races as well as jumping and throwing events. Women first competed in the pentathlon — five disciplines — at the Tokyo 1964 Games. This became the heptathlon, with the addition of the javelin and 800m, at Los Angeles 1984.
The events also exemplify the celebrated Olympic spirit. The athletes' shared experience creates a bond of solidarity that goes beyond victory and defeat.
Day 1: 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres
Day 2: 110 metres hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, 1,500 metres
Day 1: 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres
Day 2: Long jump, javelin throw, 800 metres
Competitors earn points for their performance in each discipline, based on scoring tables that determine how many points a performance is worth. The overall winner is the athlete who accrues the most points.
Challenging both body and mind
Because the disciplines bring such different challenges, posting top results in all of them is a task of gargantuan difficulty. Athletes must approach the events strategically: some seek to maintain a high level of performance across the full programme, others are gifted in certain disciplines and use superior results in these to counter weaker efforts elsewhere. Many of the world's leading decathletes and heptathletes are capable of competing individually at an elite level in one or more of the disciplines.
A special feature of both competitions is the longest track race: the 1500m for the decathlon and 800m for the heptathlon. This is not only because they conclude the energy-sapping schedule on day two and can have a significant influence on the final standings, but also because they are usually followed by an uplifting display of camaraderie. The finish line is the scene of smiles, handshakes, embraces and a shared lap of honour, while spectators in the stadium shower the exhausted athletes with loud applause and cheers.
Seeking multi-event glory in Tokyo
European and American athletes are consistently strong performers in the decathlon. Ashton Eaton (USA) proved unassailable at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, retiring in 2017 as the world and joint Olympic record holder in the event. Eaton is one of a very small number of men to have achieved a total points score of more than 9,000.
In the heptathlon, a total points score of more than 7,000 is exceptional. Having taken the silver medal at Los Angeles 1984, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) won gold at Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992. She retired having posted the six best heptathlon marks of all time including the world record of 7,291, set when winning her first Olympic title. Joyner-Kersee was also a world-class long jumper, winning gold at Seoul 1988 together with bronze medals at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996.
More recently, European heptathletes including Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill, who triumphed at London 2012, have dominated the rankings. Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam won the gold medal at Rio 2016 and is one of the most exciting talents in Athletics.
The range of disciplines all require specialised shoes, which means that the kitbags of athletes competing in combined events are overflowing with spikes!