"Once more into the breach, dear friends,
once more, or fill the web up with our English LiveJournal entries."
No? No. Never mind.
It should be clear by now that I'm a bit of a number fetishist. My spectator sporting interests largely lie in fields where there are lots and lots of nice numbers to be had. So it was a huge thrill to see someone do an 88-point dive in the Commonwealth Games today. (*) Happily, it looked every bit as exciting and spectacular as you might expect an 88-point dive to look. For instance, it would not have been out-of-place on one of those "World's Greatest Stunt" specials. (And wouldn't they benefit from their own scoring system?)
However, in six hours' time, the granddaddy of all scoring-system-o-stat-o-sports starts within this year's Commonwealth Games; namely, the decathlon. I think that the decathlon is the event which turned me on to spectator athletics more than anyone else. You've got to respect any sport where the competitors train for twelve months just to participate in one single competition - and that's it for a whole year. It's one of the few events where I'm going to set my alarm clock to get me up in time to watch it.
Tonight, I've been searching for decathlon previews and goss. Alas, I haven't found much informed analysis, but I have found two wonderful sites:
They're jam-packed with facts, statistics and miscellaneous fascinating analyses - assuming you like That Sort Of Thing, and I very much do. It is reassuring to know how seriously people take the fascinating, awesome concept.
The most eye-popping new idea I found on the site was that of the One Hour Decathlon. Now in normal decathla, the ten events are spread out over two days; while this isn't stated explicitly anywhere, I presume the analogue for the 1HD involves cramming all ten activities into sixty minutes. Zoinks, Shaggy! Not only must this take a pretty special sort of person to attempt - even among the specialised, self-selecting breed of decathletes - it must be quite a feat to try to organise.
Naturally, I feel a sudden desire to participate in a 1HD myself.
The obvious question that arises is "if I did participate in a One Hour Decathlon, would I manage to score a single point"? I am horribly, horribly unfit, so the prospect of ten events and ten zeroes looms large. A completed decathlon with a score of zero would be a more impressive sporting failure than the score of zero I managed to once achieve in a ten-pin bowling game. (I was only ten at the time!)
OK, let's check the events off one at a time. Just what do you need to achieve in order to score one point in each of the ten disciplines?
- 100 metres: 17.83 seconds. Er, nope.
- Long jump: 2.24 metres. That's almost seven feet, isn't it? I'd have thought that this one would be odds against.
- Shot put: 1.52 metres. Ahh, now we're talking. I think this would be my banker event.
- High jump: 0.76 metres. Should be able to do this. After all, the hurdles will be taller than that.
- 400 metres: 1 minute, 21.21 seconds. Never in a month of Sundays.
- 110m hurdles: 28.09 seconds. I'd fancy my chances at this one - and not just because it doesn't say anywhere that you can't just push all the hurdles over.
- Discus: 4.09 metres. Even a, ahem, highly unorthodox style should be enough to propel a big heavy frisbee four metres away. My plan would be to "get a safe result on the board" before trying out any of that tricky "spinning around before you throw" stuff.
- Pole vault: 1.02 metres. Ha ha. Hahahahahahahahaha. I shall take my statutory three failures on this one and be done with it.
- Javelin throw: 7.11 metres. Don't know about this one. I'd have liked to have thought so, but...?
- 1500 metres: 7 minutes, 54.11 seconds. Obviously, on a good day, I am a 5'30" man (a big fat lie - doubling that would be considerably closer) but with nine gruelling events under my belt it might just slip out of my grasp.
So, all told, I would be happy to quote a spread on my 2002-07-27 One Hour Decathlon score of 350-400. There. Now all I need to do is improve this by a factor of about 20 and I'll be up there with the best of 'em!
Has anyone ever proposed an icosathlon - twenty athletic events for the price of ten? The word is unknown to Google, so perhaps I am the first to do so. In these days of Ultra Endurance Racing and Ironman Triathlons, maybe there would be the demand for it. Unfortunately there aren't very many more throwing or jumping events you could add apart from the hammer throw, the triple jump and, at a real push, the 3000m steeplechase. This would tend to destroy the intended symmetry of emphasis on runs, jumps and throws. Perhaps we could reintroduce the "throwing the cricket ball" (or the tuna fish, or the wellington boot) event and the "double jump" event to even matters up.
I actually met a legitimate decathlete once. It was the first time I went to Hall (formal dinner) at Keble College and people were actually talking to people they didn't already know. I was sat next to a big South African guy named Pierre (from an eight-year-old memory, his surname might have been Coetzer or Coetzee or something). I asked him what his PB was and he said it was... well, again, I can't remember specifically, but something like 7800-8100. It only turned out that he was the holder of the SA Decathlon record!
Quite an introduction to the sort of person you might meet at dinner at an Oxford college. However, I never actually found out whether the guy was telling the truth or not - I'm not sure I ever met him again. A quick search doesn't reveal any trace of him, and the SA decathlon record I've seen quoted on a site dates back to 1983, at which point he would have been a wee babby. However, I think he ended up playing rugby for the university at some point, so he was probably legit. (I can remember that I asked him how he trained in the winter, saying that some of the top British decathletes practiced their strength and explosiveness on the bobsleigh runs, but he said that he had only ever seen snow once.)
Another obvious question which arises is "Who is the best decathlete ever?" Given we have a consistent scoring system - or, rather, that we can massage performances rated under old scoring systems into New Money - then there's an argument to say "whoever's scored most ever is the best and be damned with history". This would then be yer 9026 point scorer, Roman Šebrle.
However, when I say "Who is the best decathlete ever?", what I really mean is "How can I argue that Great British Sporting Hero Daley Thompson is the best decathlete ever?". It's interesting - if, quite possibly, completely irrelevant - to note that Daley held the world record from the '84 LA Olympics to late '92, plus nearly a month in 1980, two and a half months in 1982 and a nearly-nine-month stretch from late '82 to early '83. Add it all up and you get a tiny shade over nine years.
Unfortunately some bugger called Glenn Morris's 7254 reigned unbeaten from 1936 to 1950. However, if we take some years off Glenn for the lack of organised sport during WW2 and add some years to Daley for his smiley, chirpy attitude, his whistling the National Anthem, his appearances in the 100m relay team, his abortive professional football non-career, his very decent job hosting "Under Pressure" (Muscle Top Rankiiiiiiing!) and his fantastic computer game licenses then we have a measure by which Daley is Officially The Man - and that's good enough for me. (Next time, we use cold hard science to prove Steve Davis was the best snooker player ever and Steve Cram the best middle-distance runner.)
Incidentally, there's a town (in PA, I think) called Jim Thorpe after the 1912 US decathlon Olympic champion, but there is not yet a British town called Daley Thompson. Why has this startling omission been permitted to continue for quite so long?
The answer is, I think, because the Brits are rather more reticent about naming things after people than the Yanks; we don't want to name something after someone and then in just a few years regret the move when we discover they turned out to be an adulterer on the side. Because our history is much longer than that of the USA, we can afford to take our time before judging someone's true worth in the greater state of affairs. There are exceptions, though - Victoria station, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, the city of Milton Keynes (two for the price of one there) and the nearby town of Peterlee.
Incidentally, I suspect that if they do build a great big airport on Cliffe Marshes then it'll get called London Elizabeth II, with the highly tasteful abbreviation LEZ. After all, by the time it would actually open, the Queen will be starting to approach her Mum's age and she'll near enough have been the longest-serving monarch ever. This surely qualifies to have something pretty impressive named after her - or failing that, an airport. (Will we eventually refer to the second half of the twentieth century as the Elizabethan period, I wonder?) Certainly London Elizabeth II has a lot more going for it than, say, London Blair, London Thatcher or - perish the thought - London Beckham. Manchester Beckham has a certain ring to it, though - most likely, a ring of inevitability.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the extent of my decathlon fandom runs to having picked up a copy of the Avalon Hill game, "Decathlon". A word of advice: avoid like the plague. I've bought it, so you don't have to. It is distressingly bereft of meaningful decisions and is a dice-rolling fest of the worst order. I think the major source of fun to be had is generating your own decathletes. (Anyone playing the "Chris M. Dickson" character in the game gets a +8200 point handicap to make him competitive.) In honour of the Commonwealth Games event tomorrow I feel tempted to generate a Dean Macey character. This would have otherwise similar characteristics to Daley Thompson, but start with an extra 1d4 rolls on the injury table at the start of the event.
OK, time to call it a day. (Specifically, 2100+ words of time.) Only four and a half hours until the decathlon starts, after all...
Footnotes in LJ entries? Now I'm just getting silly. However, hyptertext is hypertext and this is as good a point as any to go off at a tangent while hopefully finishing this LJ entry as a one-dimensional reading experience.
It was also very interesting to see that one of the divers cross-trained by doing a lot of boxing. His physique was chiseled, really buff. Just goes to show that divers are excellent all-round athletes (now watch me launch into a "Superstars" entry some other time!) and that the backstory I cooked up ten years ago of a light-heavyweight pro wrestler whose background was that of a didn't-quite-make-it Olympic diver has turned out to be surprpisingly plausible.