Toughest Olympics? Decathletes and heptathletes say probably

Aug 4, 2021, 10:38 PM | Updated: Aug 5, 2021, 10:54 am

TOKYO (AP) — Even for the athletes good enough and brave enough to take on the decathlon or the heptathlon at the Olympics, Tokyo was next-level hard.

Injuries took out world champions, world-record holders, gold-medal contenders and more.

By the end of the two days, which covered 10 events for the men and seven for the women, all in hot, steamy conditions, Damian Warner of Canada had won his first Olympic title and Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium had defended hers.

Was it worth it?

“I was just looking forward to being done with it,” Thiam said.

That she finished was great. Winning gold even better. Even more impressive considering those who didn’t make it to the final tests — the 1,500-meter run for the men, and 800 for the women.

World champion and gold medal contender Katarina Johnson-Thompson of Britain left on the first day with a torn right calf muscle. She waved off a wheelchair and decided that, at the very least, she would finish her 200-meter race before withdrawing. She did, but at a limp, not a sprint and was disqualified from the race for stepping out of her lane.

The decathlon world champion, Niklas Kaul, wasn’t able to do that. He exited on a wheelchair after breaking down halfway through a 400-meter race at the end of the opening day when his injured right foot gave in.

It continued Thursday. World record holder Kevin Mayer hung on for the silver medal despite a back injury, finishing just 77 points ahead of 21-year-old Australian Ash Moloney. He decided, all things considered, he couldn’t be disappointed with second.

“It’s pretty good to have a medal in that condition,” he said, hand on his back and wincing.

Warner dragged himself over the finish line in 4 minutes, 31.08 seconds in the 1,500 to clinch gold. He broke the revered 9,000-point mark and set an Olympic record with total of 9,018, beating the mark of 8,893 shared by Roman Sebrle (2004) and Ashton Eaton (2016).

“It’s one of those moments when all the dreams you had as a kid finally came through and I don’t know how to react to it,” the 31-year-old Warner said.

And then, in a far grittier assessment, the Olympic decathlon champion — the best all-around athlete in the world for some — explained how it really felt to have to race that final four laps having already run and jumped and thrown to his body’s limit through nine previous events.

“I’ve never had fun running the 1,500,” he said. “Not one time.”

Not even this time, when it delivered an Olympic gold to top his bronze from Rio in 2016 and three world championship podium finishes.

This year’s multi-eventers had more than just the typical punishing physical demands to deal with; those come with the job.

Thiam also lost her coach for the crucial final day after he tested positive for COVID-19 and went into quarantine.

“That wasn’t easy,” she said. “That was a hard moment when they told me he wouldn’t be there. It took me a moment to get my mind together and just be fully focused again.”

She refocused well enough to retain her title and there were smiles on the track at the end. But her voice broke and she held back tears when she spoke later, taken to the limit physically but also emotionally.

The last 18 months brought the pandemic, while Tokyo brought another new challenge, as if the multi-eventers needed it. The scorching heat and humidity at the Olympic Stadium had many of the competitors donning ice vests and dumping ice inside and over their hats to try stay cool.

Warner called his ice vest his “life vest.” His “life saver.”

“The heat was spanking, it was spanking today,” said Maicel Uibo of Estonia, the silver medalist at worlds in 2019, who finished 15th this time. But he finished.

“That was hot,” he said.

It all begged the question: Why even take up the decathlon or heptathlon? Some posed that to Warner: Do you regret choosing to be a decathlete?

“All the time,” he said. “We’ve had the unfortunate luck of being good at something like the decathlon.

“As you get near the end, you think, why do I do this? And then you finish, and you’re like, I can’t wait to do the next one. It’s a weird thing.”

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Ohio State's Brice Sensabaugh, right, posts up against Saint Francis' Luke Ruggery during the first...
Associated Press

No. 25 Ohio State has big 2nd half, beats St. Francis 96-59

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Brice Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes with 15 points and Bruce Thornton added 13 as No. 25 Ohio State surged in the second half for a 96-59 win over St. Francis on Saturday. The Red Flash trimmed a 16-point deficit to eight in the first half, with Josh Cohen getting the first […]
1 day ago
Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, right, makes a save in front of Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafi...
Associated Press

Big day at World Cup looms for France, Poland goalkeepers

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It’s a huge day for goalkeepers with big reputations when defending champion France faces Poland in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Sunday. Hugo Lloris will tie a national team record for Les Bleus four years after lifting the trophy as captain. Opposite number Wojciech Szczesny is a […]
1 day ago
Christian Pulisic of the United States is dejected after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match bet...
Associated Press

US knocked out of World Cup, loses to the Netherlands 3-1

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Memphis Depay and Daley Blind scored in the first half and Denzel Dumfries added a late goal as the Netherlands eliminated the United States from the World Cup with a 3-1 victory Saturday that advanced the Dutch to the quarterfinals. Second-half substitute Haji Wright cut the U.S. deficit to 2-1 […]
1 day ago
South Korea's team players wait for the result of their group's match between Ghana and Uruguay, af...
Associated Press

New 48-team World Cup format fails to impress Poland coach

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The high drama of split-screen tension during simultaneous matches in the final set of World Cup group games is now a thing of the past. The next tournament in 2026 will feature 48 teams — 16 more than this year in Qatar — and use a different format that will do […]
1 day ago
Poland's Robert Lewandowski, center, works out with teammates during a training session in Doha, Qa...
Associated Press

World Cup Viewer’s Guide: Rested France faces Poland

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — France, the reigning World Cup champions, has been warned by coach Didier Deschamps not to underestimate Poland and star Robert Lewandowski in the knockout round Sunday. Les Blues breezed through the group stage and clinched a spot in the round of 16 with a game to spare, which allowed Deschamps to […]
1 day ago
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, talks to teammates during an NFL football practi...
Associated Press

Rust issues? Deshaun Watson’s long layoff could be factor

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Aside from battling the Houston Texans and some fans who are likely to taunt him, Deshaun Watson may have another not-so-visible opponent in his first NFL regular-season game in nearly two years. Rust. 700 days worth of it. Watson will make his long-awaited debut Sunday for the Cleveland Browns after serving […]
1 day ago
Toughest Olympics? Decathletes and heptathletes say probably