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Jenner Saddened by State of Decathlon

September 12, 2000|MIKE PENNER

Their rivalry was silenced by painful events at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Sacramento, injury wiping out what would have been one of the most significant one-on-one showdowns at the Sydney Summer Games.

Sorry, there will be no confrontation between Dan O'Brien and Tomas Dvorak for the Olympic decathlon gold medal.

Knocked out of the trials by a foot injury, O'Brien was deprived of a chance to defend his 1996 Olympic gold medal against Dvorak, the Czech Republic decathlete who broke O'Brien's world record in the event by scoring 8,994 points last year in Prague.

Together, on the same marquee in Sydney, it seemed inevitable that one would push the other over the once-unthinkable 9,000-point barrier.

Instead, O'Brien was a no-go at the trials, creating a vacuum in the U.S. Olympic track and field team no one seemed willing to fill. Chris Huffins staggered down the stretch, Tom Pappas chugged past him for the victory, but the final numbers do not lie about the opportunity that had just been lost.

Pappas defeated Huffins, 8,467 points to 8,285.

"They scored less than I did 24 years ago," says 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, and that's no brag, just fact. Jenner produced 8,618 points, then a world record, en route to his gold medal in Montreal.

A quarter-century's worth of advances in weight training, conditioning and athletic science and the best able-bodied decathletes in America couldn't come within 150 points of Jenner.

"I was looking at their scores," Jenner says, "and I said, 'Wait a second, I won the trials with 8,500 points [8,542, to be exact] 24 years ago.' I'm going, 'Maybe I should come out of retirement, I don't know.' "

Huffins, who won the bronze medal with 8,547 points at the 1999 world championships, was the up-and-comer "everybody said was going to be the next big guy," Jenner says, "but he just hasn't done it."

Jenner faults Huffins, along with the latest generation of American decathletes, for falling into a speed trap--concentrating too much energy and training on the more glamorous 100-meter sprint at the expense of the longer runs, the 400 meters and the gut-grinding final act, the 1,500.

"The next great decathlete is going to be a runner," Jenner says. "I still feel that a Dan O'Brien, if he was a runner and not a sprinter, could have gone over 9,000 points. But, you know, these guys like Huffins, running five-minute-something in the 1,500, just can't do it. You can't do it that way.

"You've got to be able to run a 10.5 100 meters--and all these guys today should be able to do that running backwards. And then be in phenomenal shape and run low-46s in the 400 and run 4:20 in the 1,500 and you'll break 9,000 points. But the guys aren't doing that. They're running a 10.2, 10.3 100 meters. They're not in that great of shape, so they're running 47.0 400s--48.0 in some cases--and by the time they run the 1,500, they're dying.

"Actually, if you take my scores at the ['76] Games, I ran a 10.9 100 meters, a 47.5 400 meters and then I ran a 4:12 1,500 meters. I beat Dan O'Brien in the running [events] by, like, 100-something points.

"Granted, speed is more important than endurance in the decathlon. The long jump, the speed you need getting off the ground in the high jump. But the next great one is going to have that good speed, but he's not going to be afraid to run."


Jenner believes the decathlon changed, and not necessarily for the better, when Great Britain's Daley Thompson won consecutive Olympic gold medals on the strength of his sprinting.

"I called Daley Thompson after the Games of '84, when he won," Jenner says. "He'd had this phenomenal decathlon for nine events--and then he went out there and jogged the 1,500 meters and missed the world record by, like, three points.

"I called him up and said, 'Daley, that was the most anticlimactic finish I've ever seen to a great decathlon in my life!' You know? Everybody has that sprinter's mentality. They love to go fast. 'Wow, look how fast they ran the 100 meters!' But, when they get to the 1,500 meters and they're dying, it becomes a joke. They're literally jogging around the track. It's embarrassing.

"I love the 1,500 meters. I knew that, if I had to do it to win, I'd run under 4:05. That means I could pick up 100 points, maybe even 150 points, on anybody in the world. A Dan O'Brien, he could pick up 200 points--in one event. You just can't give that away."

The next great one, Jenner says, will be able to run the 1,500 in 4:20.


En route to his world-record 8,994 points, he ran the final 1,500 meters in 4:37.20.


Michelle Smith is acutely aware of the math:

Three gold medals in Atlanta + a four-year suspension by FINA = no trip to Sydney.

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