A Modest Proposal: A Truly Modern Olympic Decathlon

A worldwide pandemic presents an opportunity to re-think how things have always been done because that’s the way they were always done. Today, can we please re-think how we crown the “world’s greatest athlete” every four years at the Olympics?

“Modern” decathlon was set more than 100 years ago, when Jim Thorpe won the gold medal at the 1912 games in Stockholm. And women compete in only seven events, the heptathlon. I remember when women were not allowed to compete in some events because they were considered too physically frail. Not very modern or equitable in its challenges, non?

Herewith is a modest proposal to create a more modern test, reflecting modern challenges in a way that may appeal to sports fans in unexpected and gratifying ways. Both men and women would compete in 10 events, but instead of being held over the course of two days, they would be held over the course of 10 days, one event per day.

No events would involve judging. All events would measure time, height, distance, or score.

Day One

100-meter dash. Balls-out who can run the fastest. Simple and uncomplicated.

Day Two

Eighteen holes of regulation golf played on the same course as the team golfers. Played from the men’s and women’s tips, respectively. Walking, with caddies carrying.

Day Three

High Jump. You need a jump for this event, and high jump raises the stakes because each contestant must clear a height to earn points. By comparison, long jump is just too easy.

Day Four

100-meter swim. Same balls-out approach to swimming as the dash, but with the added challenge of having to make a turn.

Day Five

Pole Vault. Seriously, do I have to explain why we include pole vault?


Day Six

A new event: summer biathlon. One of the best sports in the winter Olympics is biathlon, where cross-country skiers have to go balls-out, then pause, bring down their heart rates, and shoot rifles with a high degree of accuracy. Missed shots result in penalty laps, which adds time. Pure test of endurance and will. Pure torture. Summer biathlon involves cross-country running (between seven and nine miles over a course of three loops, including a 400-meter penalty loop for each missed shot).

Day Seven

Cycling. Fifty-km time trial, same as team competitors. Time trial reduces the possibility of crashes.

Day Eight

Shot Put. You gotta have a strength event. Discus, javelin, and hammer throw are silly sports (I threw discus in high school, so I know). Weight lifting is something the competitors already do in training, so where is the fun in that?

Day Nine

Basketball. Three-point shooting contest, just like in the NBA and WNBA.

Day Ten

Marathon. Yeah, the marathon. You got a problem with that?

Too bad the Olympics dropped bowling because it could have made the list. Do you have any doubt that the medalists in this decathlon would be truly awesome athletes? No, of course you don’t. You love this competition.

Note: Extending the length of the competition will help ensure that competitors will be able to pace themselves and prepare for the marathon. However, it would be possible to compete in more two or more disciplines (i.e., shot put and basketball) on some days to ensure more rest days before the marathon.

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