By Pascal Edouard, MD, PhD, @PascalEdouard42 and Jacques Pruvost, MD
9126! The total points Kévin Mayer, a French decathlete, scored just two weeks ago at the Decastar meeting in Talence, France, breaking the decathlon world record with 4563 points on the first and 4563 on the second day. Mayer’s win illustrates the important and delicate balance decathletes need to reach peak performance.
Two days. Ten events. Total of points.
The decathlon, a combined event in athletics, consists of ten track and field events over two days. The events include in the following order: (1) 100-m, (2) long jump, (3) shot put, (4) high jump and (5) 400-m on the first day; and (6) 110-m hurdles, (7) discus, (8) pole vault, (9) javelin and (10) 1500-m on the second day.The International Association of Athletics Federations(IAAF) describes a decathlon as ‘the men’s ultimate all-round test, a 10-event contest covering the whole range of athletics disciplines spread over two days’. Performance at a decathlon is measured using a points system using the IAAF scoring table.
Kévin Mayer and his ‘double victory’
Under the points system, the decathlete has two aims. The first is to finish the decathlon by completing all 10 events, and the second is to score points at each event. These aims seem to be a ‘fight against oneself’ for a decathlete.[1,2] In completing these aims, the decathlete must then focus on scoring the maximum points at each event to beat his own record and/or win the competition. Kévin Mayer experienced a double victory last month: he not only finished the decathlon, he broke the decathlon world record with 9126 points.
Decathlons see the most drop-outs in athletics
To complete the decathlon, the decathlete must avoid pitfalls like the “no point mark” and injuries,[3–5] which are major reasons for a decathlete to dropout.[3,4]Almost a quarter (22%) of decathletes do not finish the competition. Some events are reported to be at higher risk of “no point mark”: especially pole vault (6%) and long jump (2.3%). Injuries represent one-third to half of dropout causes during decathlon competition,[3,4] and through-out 14 international athletics championships, the decathlon has the highest injury rate. A decathlete must be physically ready to achieve a high performance, stay injury free, and maintain a strong mental focus over the two days of competition. In a nutshell, decathletes must have “mens sana in corpore sano” (in a healthy mind, a healthy body).
The importance of monitoring training load
In some cases, a decathlete may not even be able to start the competition because of an existing injury. The training workload needed to prepare for 10 events can lead to high injury rate during the season.[6,7] Kévin Mayer experienced this in 2015 when he was not able to participate in the IAAF World championship. It is fundamental for decathletes to find a perfect balance of training load to manage and decrease the risk of injury as best possible. Care should be taken when training for high-risk events. Training should be individualized and favor quality over quantity.
Injury prevention for the win!
Kévin Mayer regularly says “I’m at 100%, I have no injury” implying that avoiding an injury is at the fore-front of his mind and most likely his training too. Athletes dislike injuries, but do they do enough to prevent them? We can assume that Kévin Mayer and his staff take his health into account, and train to prevent injuries. Athletes must be at the centre of the health-related strategies and decisions. Decisions must have an appropriate benefit/risk balance, and the athlete must be provided with clear evidence-based information before making any decisions related to their training. Indeed, at this very high-level performance, athletes know the workings of their bodies and are likely to take into account the sensations they feel to optimize the training and avoid risks as best they can. Kévin Mayer and his staff seem to have optimized his training, using a winning balance of long-term injury prevention and health protection management.
Achieving a perfect balance between all the components of training ie, injury prevention and health protection, is a secret success for a decathlete. Kévin Mayer experienced this two weeks ago. Mayer’s health-oriented and injury-prevention approach as a decathlete (no illness, no injury, no pain) is a poster illustration of a win-win performance-prevention strategy.
Conflicts of interest
Pascal Edouard, MD, PhD, IOC Diploma Sports Physician, is an assistant professor and works as sports medicine physician at the University-Hospital of Saint-Etienne, and as researcher at the University of Lyon (Inter‐university Laboratory of Human Movement Science EA 7424), France. His main research interests include sports injury and illness prevention, especially in athletics.
Jacques Pruvost, MD, Sports medicine physician, in charge of the follow-up of the French combined events team.
- Zarnowski F. The nature of decathlon. In: Horn GM, Gardnerr C, eds. A Basic Guide To Decathlon. Torrance, CA: : Griffin Publishing Group 2001. 27–37.
- Edouard P. Frequency of dropouts in decathlon: An epidemiological retrospective study. Sci Sport2011;26:97–100. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2010.11.002
- Edouard P, Pruvost J, Edouard JL, et al.Causes of dropouts in decathlon. A pilot study. Phys Ther Sport2010;11:133–5. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2010.07.004
- Edouard P, Samozino P, Escudier G, et al.Injuries in Youth and National Combined Events Championships. Int J Sport Med2012;33:824–8. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1301332
- Edouard P, Feddermann-Demont N, Alonso JM, et al.Sex differences in injury during top-level international athletics championships: surveillance data from 14 championships between 2007 and 2014. Br J Sports Med2015;49:472–7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094316
- Mayr B, Paar O, Bernett P, et al.Mayr 1988 Schweiz Z Sportmed_[Sports injuries and sports damage in decathlon competitors].pdf. Schweiz Z Sport1988;36:39–45.
- Edouard P, Kerspern A, Pruvost J, et al.Four-year injury survey in heptathlon and decathlon athletes. Sci Sport2012;27:345–50. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2012.04.002
- Soligard T, Schwellnus M, Alonso J-M, et al.How much is too much? (Part 1) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of injury. Br J Sports Med2016;50:1030–41. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096572
- International Olympic Committee. Olympic Movement Medical Code. force as from 31 March 2016 https//stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/IOC/Who-We-Are/Commissions/Medical-and-Scientific-Commission/Olympic-Movement-Medical-Code-31-03-2016.pdf. 2016;:1–11.https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document Library/OlympicOrg/IOC/Who-We-Are/Commissions/Medical-and-Scientific-Commission/Olympic-Movement-Medical-Code-31-03-2016.pdf#_ga=1.202686996.406591911.1477335095