Last month I brought to light a proposal for European Athletics to transform the decathlon and heptathlon into a new event: the octathlon. In criticising the plan I noted that it failed because European Athletics doesn’t have a clear idea of what they are trying to fix about the multi-events in the first place. Unlike European Athletics, decathlete Tom FitzSimons has a clear idea of the issues facing the multi-events and as a guest on his podcast this week we chatted about some ways to help the sport.
FitzSimons is an Olympic Trials competitor in the decathlon and host of the Athletic Experience Podcast, where he discusses the decathlon and much, much more. You can listen to the latest episode below, subscribe here, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook. We began by discussing training methods and theory, but then turned our focus to the state of the sport and how to best help support its growth.
While the multi-events are one of the best parts about our sport, I think we can all agree there is room for improvement in how they are presented. The octathlon proposal aims to better present the events, but it doesn’t address the chief problem: multi-eventers often compete just once or twice a year. One thing we need to focus on is getting these fans in front of fans more often. Rather than reinventing a sport that will still be shown to audiences just once a year, why not think of other changes that can bring it to audiences more often? The decathlong and heptahlon have produced some of the biggest stars in recent years in the likes of Jessica Ennis and Ashton Eaton. But how often were they actually put on TV? Or how often did fans get to see them live? Rather than getting the most out of the stars, looking back it seems the sport has tried to hide them from the public.
At the same time the Diamond League has some major presentation issues. I’ve detailed them at different times over the years by looking at field event presentation, engaging fans, talk of cutting events, as well as general comments. The Diamond League itself is trying to address these and unveiled a series of changes for the 2017 season last month. But could we kill two birds with one stone by finding a way to give the Diamond League new stars and give the best multi-eventers easier access to a big stage?
FitzSimons thinks so, and I agree. The multi-events are currently excluded from the Diamond League as it is not possible to host a two-day competition in a few hours. But why not break up the decathlon throughout the season into a series triathlons? Athletes would compete in three-event challenges across the circuit, each with a little different flair. Each competition would feature one running event, one jumping event, and one throwing event, but due to the vast differences in events, each triathlon would allow different athletes to shine based on their strengths and weaknesses. The character of the triathlon would be drastically different, for example, if the running event is the 1500 meters rather than the 100 meters.
Not only would this idea would add suspense to each individual meet, but it could also add a storyline to the season. Over the course of the season multi-eventers would have completed all events on the circuit, and their season score would be used to determine finalists or an overall winner.
It sounds like fun, so why not give it a try? The next project then is to think of an engaging idea for the hammer throw too, however the Diamond League still seems convinced about non-existent infrastructure issues and brought up the same flawed reasoning in an interview with Athletics Weekly this week. That will be a tougher battle to face, but on a positive note the Pre Classic held the hammer again last year and this summer the city of Zurich will once again allow us to throw the hammer in the main stadium, showing that the hammer will not cause irreperable damage to the heating systems under the turf. These are baby steps, but hopefully the message can eventually find it’s way to the powers that be.