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After watching Ashton Eaton win his second Olympic decathlon gold medal at the Rio games, I thought it would be fun to run a quick competition pitting his chart against the charts of the two other decathlon greats who won two Olympic gold medals, Daley Thompson (1980 and 1984) and Bob Mathias (1948 and 1952).
These charts were created by "normalizing" the career statistics of each athlete. It's as if we used a time machine to go into the past, find each athlete at the peak of their career, and bring them into the present to compete against each other in Rio. Of course, the chart for Eaton, who is currently still competing, was not normalized very much.
100 Meters - Thompson took the early lead by edging out Eaton by .05 seconds, finishing in 10.25 seconds compared to Eaton's 10.30. Mathias finished in 10.70.
Long Jump - Eaton went out front with a jump of 26' 8" (8.12 m). Thompson is usually very strong in this event, but he fouled on his first two attempts, so he chose a Safe effort on his third attempt to keep from fouling out of the event. This Safe attempt ended up with a respectable result, tying Mathias with 25' 2" (7.67 m).
Shot Put - Mathias jumped into the lead with a shot put of 61' 2" (18.64 m), followed by Thompson's 51' 1" (15.57 m). Eaton, usually weak in this event, chose an All Out attempt on his third try, giving him a solid result of 47' 10" (14.58 m)
High Jump - Here is where Thompson suffered a major setback. After clearing his first attempt at 6' 5" (1.96 m) he then failed in all three of his attempts at 6' 7" (2.02 m). Mathias won the event and kept the lead by clearing 6' 9" (2.08 m) while Eaton remained in second place overall with a result of 6' 8" (2.05 m).
400 Meters - This is one of Eaton's best events. He won the race and took the overall lead by finishing in 46.80 seconds. Thompson, in an effort to make up some of the ground he lost in the High Jump, used two All Out efforts in the final 200 meters. The results were good, but not great and he finished at 47.05 seconds, just .25 seconds behind Eaton. Mathias finished at 49.10 seconds.
The scores after Day One:
110 Meter Hurdles - Eaton continued to command the overall lead, using his blazing speed to post a result of 13.80 seconds. Thompson came in second at 14.05 and Mathias came in third at 14.30.
Discus Throw - Here is where Mathias began to really shine. While he may not be as fast as Eaton or Thompson, he is better than the two of them in the throwing events. The question was whether he could use his superior throwing skills in the Discus and the Javelin to take the overall lead from his swift competitors. He regained the overall lead when he easily threw the discus 189 feet (57.60 m) while both Eaton and Thompson finished with a result of 142 feet (43.28 m).
Pole Vault - Even though Eaton turned in an amazing run in the Pole Vault, using one final All Out effort to finally clear 17'0" (5.20 m), it wasn't enough to take the overall lead from Mathias, who cleared 15' 8" (4.80 m). Thompson, still stuck in third place overall, finished with a result of 16' 4" (5.00 m).
Javelin Throw - Mathias was expected to win the javelin by a large margin, but Eaton stayed close enough to keep the competition interesting. Mathias threw the javelin only 220 feet (67.06 m), a mediocre result for him. Thompson almost matched him by throwing 219 feet (66.75 m) while Eaton continued his pursuit of Mathias by throwing 209 feet (63.70 m).
1500 Meters - As in all good decathlon competitions, it all came down to the final event, the grueling 1500 meter run. After the Javelin Throw, Mathias had an overall lead of 121 points over Eaton and 306 points over Thompson. Would Eaton be able to catch Mathias? In order to win the competition, Eaton would have to beat Mathias by a full 19 seconds, a nearly impossible task. Eaton was not up to it. He trailed Mathias for the entire race. Thompson finished first at 4:32, Mathias finished at 4:41. Eaton, exhausted after two full days of competition, collapsed at the finish line, turning in a time of 4:50.
The final scores:
It was a close competition. As sometimes happens in this game, a decathlete from many years ago was able to excel in their best events, in this case Mathias in the Discus and Javelin, to accumulate enough points to defeat athletes from more recent eras. Eaton put up a brave struggle, but ultimately the triumph went to Mathias. Thompson was never able to fully recover from his disastrous High Jump result.