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Tom Fordyce | 15:29 UK time, Tuesday, 28 April 2009

If you want to put yourself off your breakfast one morning, type the words "pole vault accident" into a well-known video-sharing website.

If you really want to put yourself off your breakfast, type in those words having just agreed to take part in a decathlon, with no prior experience of pole vaulting - or indeed shot putting, high jump, discus and 110m hurdles.

When I took up UK Athletics' challenge - completing an entire decathlon in an hour, by the end of August - it seemed somehow possible that I could learn 10 entirely new events in less than four months, and then do them all back-to-back in a very short space of time with at least a limited degree of success.

Among the significant issues I'd ignored were the following:

1. It's extremely hard even walking slowly while holding a pole in the right position
2. Shots are much heavier than they look
3. Throwing a javelin is not the same as throwing a cricket ball
4. I am not Daley Thompson
5. Or Jurgen Hingsen, or even Siggi Wentz


Daley, bless him, was full of encouragement when I put my fears to him.

"A friend of mine died while doing the pole vault," he told me, matter-of-factly. "Have you ever done anything like this before?"

The answer is simple: no. Triathlon doesn't count, since - as Daley happily pointed out - it is both seven disciplines short and over-reliant on swimming and cycling. Even the running bit in decathlon is the reverse of my usual - too fast, too explosive and way, way too short.

I vaguely remember being shown how to sprint start once by my PE teacher, and later the same term being shown how to carry a javelin to the school playing-fields without blinding the chap next to me. That - plus the usual spontaneous Beach Olympics when on holiday with mates - is about it.

Still - I've got four months. And while I've barely got room in my flat to swing a kitten, let alone a discus, I have got myself a coach.

Ian Grant was a contemporary of Daley's (he once beat him in a high jump, which Daley has certainly not forgotten) and as a coach has masterminded the careers of more than 40 international athletes. Like all good coaches, he's got a knack of making you feel good about your limited ability.

"We'll get you through this," he said confidently, even if his initial assessment of me also included the phrase "lacking natural spring".

Were Tomas Dvorak or Dean Macey noticeably lacking natural spring? Probably not, I reflected, as Ian set me a weights programme to daunt Conan and a series of medicine ball drills that make it clear how that particular piece of equipment derives its name.

The plan is simple. Each week, Ian will take me through a different event. I'll blog each week on how I'm getting on (unless I've fractured my hand or skull pole vaulting) and tap up as many current GB internationals for tips and training sessions as possible. Competition day is 30 August, at Gateshead International Stadium, the day before the British Grand Prix.

Feel free to pile in yourself whenever the mood takes. If you've competed in any of the 10 disciplines, give me all the advice you've got. If you're still doing them, let's see if we can hook up for a training session or two over the next few months. And if you simply want to cast scorn and derision, you should know that Daley's given me his number should I want assistance. And he's still a very, very strong man.

Why have I said yes to all this in the first place? Easy.


For starters, for the same reason that any right-thinking, red-blooded sports fan would. Who wouldn't want to be trained up by an expert in 10 new sports?

Then, of course, there are the legendary deeds and derring-do of Daley.

For a child growing up in a Britain starved of sporting success, the sight of him thrashing all and sundry on the way to successive Olympic gold medals was as inspiring as it was delightfully inevitable.

Here was a sport that seemingly required the ability to morph from one body shape to another for the different disciplines - light, lean and lanky for the high jump, short, squat and stocky for the shot; an explosive ball of muscle for the 100m, a study in stamina for the 1500m - and still do them all to a staggering standard.

Decathlon is the biggie, the ultimate athletics test. Other sportsmen could claim to be great at one event, but the title of "greatest athlete in the world" has always been reserved for a decathlete, from Jim Thorpe in 1912 and Bob Mathias in 1948 through Daley, Dan O'Brien and Roman Sebrle.

And the one hour bit?

I'm still not entirely sure. I think it might be partly as an extra (and somewhat unnecessary) element to the challenge, and partly because they need to clear the Gateshead track and infield for the proper athletes.

The one-hour world record is currently 7897 points, set by Robert Zmelik in 1992. To give you an idea of how much tougher it is, that's 1129 short of Sebrle's two-day record.

What will my target be? I'm open to ideas. When I asked Daley whether he'd ever done a one-hour competition, he fixed me with the sort of look that used to turn Hingsen and Wentz to jelly.

"No," he said, and then winked. "I did one in half an hour."

Next week: pole vault lesson no.1


  • Comment number 1.


    If you fancy a warm-up challenge I will be at the Scottish Decathlon Championships in Pitreavie on July 18th-19th. Although with 2 whole days to get through the 10 events it may just be too easy for you.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good luck!! You're going to need it!!

    I'm a former decathlete who still dabbles in a bit of athletics these days. Pole Vault was my best event and I would suggest that you should probably dedicate as much time as you can to it. It requires elements of other events (speed, power, upper body strength) so general training will help, but when it comes down to the technical side, I don't think there is any other event like it!!

    I hope your general fitness levels are pretty high as well because to complete a decathlon in an hour will some feat. The joy of doing high hurdles about 10 minutes after a 400m is going to take some beating. I did a decathlon in a day once and that was bad enough!!

    Anyway, if you get anywhere near 4000 points, I will be suitably impressed.

  • Comment number 3.

    You are very lucky.

    I would love to be in your position of having the opportunity to perform with a top coach. Being a Sports Hypnotherapist you may need some relaxation techniques to help!

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice... I now want to do this... where can I sign up to do a decathlon?

  • Comment number 5.

    Good luck! I used to do the decathlon but gave up a few years back due to injury. Do not under estimate it is my advice! It is most likely to make you physically sick. For me, Pole Vault was the hardest yet most exciting event to do - on the end of a small tube of fibre glass, how ever many metres up in the air...What a rush! I don't envy you trying to complete it within an hour - 2 whole days is hard enough, but you have the best mentor there could be in Daley, I look forward to the blogs!

  • Comment number 6.

    You could be the stupidest man alive. I truly hope you can arrange to put the videos on youtube for us all to enjoy.

    But seriously, it sounds like a challenging and rewarding project, good luck.

  • Comment number 7.

    Well the very best of luck to you. The only thing that I can compare this to is when our athletic club had their annual end of season club pentathlon championships held in one afternoon. I know, only 5 events and all afternoon to do them in. The trouble is, you work so many muscles that you don't usually it is absolutely killing. I actually used to win them, not because I was any good at the long jump, Discus, Javelin or 100m sprint, but because I was a good 1500m runner and was able to make up a 300m deficit on that event alone. What will be your best event Tom?

  • Comment number 8.

    What a great challenge - If someone was willing to pay me my salary then I'd take four months off work and I'd do it with you.

    Tom, perhaps you could arrange it?!

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Tom,

    What you have taken on is herculean.

    I'm a decathlete who has competed internationally and currently train with 5 other internationals in London. Would probably give you a good idea of what you've taken on. But having completed many 'normal' decathlons, there is no way I'd try finishing one in an hour!

    Fancy joining us for a few sessions?

  • Comment number 10.

    One word of advice.....don't pose Daley style on a beach, nobody wants to see this and the BBC will be flooded with complaints from upset and angry license payers.

    Good luck, this will hurt far more than 44 days in a camper van with Mr Dirs.

  • Comment number 11.

    "short, squat and stocky for the shot" oh dear, you have got alot to learn. I dont know how tall you are but 6 foot is considered short for a shot putter, 6 foot 4 inches plus is preferable, same goes for Discus.
    You main problem is not going to be the physical fitness, which is just a matter of putting the work in, but in leaning the alot of technical events in such a short time. Of the running events only the 100m requires some techenical training and to a lesser extent the 400m. All the other events (that includes the shot) require a vast amount of techeque.

    Good Luck

  • Comment number 12.


    I think you're forgetting how much technique it takes to sprint flat out over 110m whilst negotiating the small matter of 10 3'6" hurdles.

  • Comment number 13.

    Tom, remember you only need to clear 1.1 metres in the pole vault in order to score your first six points. At that level, just carry the pole, vaguely prong it into the box, drop it and just high-hurdle the bar. Now I say that almost tongue-in-cheek but I once spectated at a decathlon meeting where the competitors had a very mixed range of abilities and one of participant needed two goes to achieve even that without the pole dislodging the bar.

    Here's a name for you: William Wuth of the Atlanta Track Club. Born in 1940, he still completed a double decathlon (look it up) a month after he turned 65. Now there's a manly man as a role model. (Oh, and he pole-vaulted a metre 60 as well as doing nineteen other disciplines...)

  • Comment number 14.

    Fearless or stupid, thats the question that needs answering, from our mere mortal pedestal, row 1 minute flat out and then recover, say times 3, and feel the pain of doing 320 metres, then280 metres then 250 metres, ..and you'll have an idea of the muscle pain, that'll you experience coming off the sprints into the 400m,...running a 60 second 400m would be awesome from a civilian like your good self and a 13 second 100m, but that alone in one hour would break most people, i,e rest and recovery , just the additional 8 events to go, not least 1500m, which again , even with that awe inspiring view of daley standing where all else were 'broken', think 7 hrs jordan marathon running...,

    I suggest you ask daley if you can have a trot out with his group of civilians, and ex pro's on a saturday.., and just 1 hr track side and 30 minutes circuit training...will open the window to your soul, in readiness for the pain , that'll your experience..trying to 'compete' in 10 events..

    so fearless or just stupid, i wish you the best of luck.


  • Comment number 15.

    mind you 2hrs 6 for the upton tri victory, you love the 1500m, maybe ask them to move that to first event...


  • Comment number 16.

    Hesperian, thanks for your comment.
    No I hadn't forgotten about the Hurdles. When I said running I was referring to flat running, sorry to all those hurdlers if I didn’t make it clear in my post.
    There is of course a lot of technique required for Hurdles.
    As with all the technical events the pros make it look easy, almost as if there's no technique involved at all.

  • Comment number 17.

    I really admire your commitment and will follow your progress with interest. I was school 100m champion but found running 200m almost impossible without wanting to throw up. Not lanky enough for distance!

  • Comment number 18.

    Gulp, shudder. I'm starting to worry now...

    tomisme123 - I think you're spot on about the pole vault. Coach has already said the 1500m might have to take care of itself, so I can dedicate enough time to the vault. And as for going straight from the 400m into the hurdles - there's some chat that I should cruise the former, just to make sure I've got some gas left for the latter. Thoughts?

    AdrianClarkCHt - all relaxation techniques much appreciated. Anything I can start work on now? I'm guessing sitting on the sofa with a cold lager-beer won't cut it?

    tinyMagicDragon - you're probably right. I hereby promise to post videos on the blog.

    Andyspur37 - I'd say the 1500m would be my best/least bad event, since it's the only one I've done before - I have to do 1500m and 1000m reps for triathlon training. Trouble is, by the time I get to it, I'll be in bits from the nine other events.

    Hesperian - would love to join you and the cru for a few sessions. Let me know where you train and when and I'll get on over.

    shirphunter - you ever seen Dirs first thing in the morning after an England quarter-final win over Australia?

    kjh777 - "fearless or stupid"? I can feel a tattoo coming on...

  • Comment number 19.

    Good luck ya maniac!

  • Comment number 20.

    Ahhhh Tom

    Very brave and possibly very foolhardy! This takes me back to all the training and even worse the diet...the Kill Bill training that Uma Thurman had to endure was easy compared to your challenge!

    So on behalf of all the creaking bones and grimaces that I know are accompanying anyone who has had anything to do with this great event...


    Keep us posted.

  • Comment number 21.

    ...oh and by the way - with the pole vault please don't do what I did the first time I did it. In trying to emulate the great Daley himself - held the pole at the very end, sprinted down the track, planted the pole and shot straight up vertically (much higher than the bar I might add) and straight back down onto the track...painfull.

    All that to clear 1m 80...after that I asked if I could high jump it instead as I knew without the pole I could clear it - embarassing but we all have to start somewhere!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Like gladiators of old, they enter the arena!!!!!

    Bets of luck Tom! for decathlon news and info if anyone is interested in the event

    having organised over 50 decathlons and 4 double decathlons plus 4 one hour decathlons, (including competing in 1 as I organised it scoring 5200 in 1 hour), you'll get my respect.

    Remember don't go hard in the 400m otherwise the 110h and the PV will be tough - legs will be full of lactic.

    all the best

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Tom,

    I'm a decathlete at Oxford Uni. Have done 4 decathlons so far. They definitey get easier, so I'd recommend doing some practice ones before your 1 hour one.

    I've only ever done the 2 day sort, but a 1 hour one sounds like good fun, if a little tough.

    A word of advice for the pole vault (definitely the most fun event of the lot). Start with a low hand grip and don't increase it by too much in one go. I definitely find it the easiest as I'm not the tallest person about, but it's very techincal and has taken years to get to some vaguely reasonable height.

    Also as said above, I wouldn't recommend doing that much 1500m training. Any training you do for it will ruin your explosiveness for the speed/power events that make up the rest of the decathlon.

    Good luck with it, I'd be impressed if you got over 4000 points.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thinking about this a bit (and only a bit), I reckon lactic acid build-up could be your worst enemy, assuming you've a good level of fitness anyway.
    There are so many sprint events in the decathlon that clearing the lactic acid from your muscles won't be easy, and you'll be hurting a lot.
    I'd suggest a LOT of sprint training. When I was in my athletics heyday, I used to run about 8 x 120m sprints with a jog back during training for the 100m and long jump.
    Mind you, with your top quality coaches, I assume the training will be somewhat more scientific.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Tom....I am soooo proud of you! After seeing the blood drain out your face when I sat next to you in studio on the 'London Calling' programme when Daley told you his horror stories, I am glad to see the determination and madness is still there!
    Take in all the advice the posts offer.....and enjoy the first couple of events as you may not remember much past that point with the pain!
    I will be up in Gateshead that weekend working on the British Grand Prix and am very much looking forward to having our rehearsals interupted for an hour whilst you attempt your mission!
    From one athlete to another....Train well, stay strong and enjoy!!

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Tom,

    I am a decathlete at Oxford Uni. I have done 4 decathlons and they definitely get easier, the more you do. I'd recommend doing at least 1 practice one before you do the 1 hour one. I have only done the 2 day sort, but a 1 hour sounds fun, if tough.

    A word of warning for the pole vault. Don't hold too high to start with, and only increase your grip gradually, else you could end in the box (which is not good, I can say from experience). It is the most fun event of the 10 though, and I think probably my best (as I'm quite short, especially for a decathlete), although it is very technical and has taken me years to get to a vaguely reasonable height.

    As said above, you probably don't want to do a lot of training for the 1500m, as any endurance gained from it will result in lost points in the other events (largely speed / power based). I'd say concentrate mainly on the technical events (jumps / throws and hurdles). There are more points to be gained here than from the running (although you need to be a good runner to do these).

    Good luck, will be impressed if you get over 4000 points.

  • Comment number 27.

    Oops, seems as though I have posted the same message twice, anyone know how to delete one of them?

  • Comment number 28.

    Well done. My mates think I'm brave for posing naked in the Sunday Times! This will be something but I'm sure you're up to it.

  • Comment number 29.

    Why not monkey tennis? probably more realistic, without making yourself look a complete p***k.

    Either way, whether you are an Olympic hopeful or a BBC Journalist, you are well supported financially.

    Would it not be better during these hard times to let someone bloke on the dole with a bit more natural spring have a go?

    Then you can then get back to covering sport rather than yourself.

  • Comment number 30.

    Yer nuts, but you should really try an Iron Man

  • Comment number 31.

    You posed a question. The simple answer is Yes. I did my first (2 day) decathlon at 47 at 15 minutes notice from a very modest background as a MD runner (the 1500m was a doddle). One hour events are not common or I would have tried one; despite my age. Advice - when you have found out how to do each event look at the points table and see which events offer you the most points for improvement which you and your coach believe is attainable in the time available to train. Most likely HJ and LJ, don't worry about the shot. Discus is easy to improve on without bulking up. Only spend time on PV if you really can improve quickly - I have taken 5 years and dozens of seeions to improve from 1.80m (first time out) to a 2.40m PB. With your running background you will enjoy the last event (1500m) more than anyone else in the competition - a chance to win and score big points. Next challenge for you a double decathlon; very hard but great fun and 12 events on the track (but 4 involve hurdles/barriers!) Very envious of the support you will get from coaches as I have had to be book/self taught on most. Enjoy and good luck.

  • Comment number 32.

    nmfmultisvet - great advice on the points tactics.

    lukeathlete - I'll be starting the PV with my right hand really low, I reckon.

    TeamDecathlon - it'll be so hard keeping it chilled on the 400m - the temptation to blast it and pick up some points will be immense. What's your thoughts on a target time?

  • Comment number 33.

    Why not come along to a real decathlon over 2 days at oxford
    The British masters decathlon championships for men over 35 years old ( there's also a heptathlon for the ladies )
    With age groups every 5 years ( e.g. 35,40 45 and so on last year we had a man over 90 !!! )
    There is also an open event for any seniors who might like to compete
    With 10 events over 2 days you will receive lots of tips and advice and a camaraderie that’s lost in many sports these days
    You never know you might enjoy the experience

    all the best
    john m

  • Comment number 34.

    Tom, I can't offer you any constructive advice or become a training partner but I'd like to come over and see you do a bit of your training. That'd be very interesting and will hopefully help you relax in front of the larger crowd on the big day. Whad'ya say?!??!

  • Comment number 35.

    Rather you than me.

  • Comment number 36.

    John M - sounds good. When's the meet?

    ThomThomTiger - it'll certainly give you a laugh. I'll keep you posted...

  • Comment number 37.

    decathlon is sept 12th/13th at oxford
    details on the masters web site
    you would be more than welcome and anyone else who maybe reading this blog !!!

    good luck with your training

    John m

  • Comment number 38.

    My thirteen year old son has just taken up the pole vault despite watching aforementioned video streams! After two lessons they've not got around to putting a pole in the way yet but if he can clear 2m he'll make the track and field squad this season! Best of luck.

  • Comment number 39.

    Good luck Tom,i use to participate in the decathlon whilst at Oxford,
    and now i try and teach children here in Brasil to enjoy the benifits of a great sport.
    If i was you i would concentrate on the running and jumping elements and just go for it in the technical parts.
    Latic acid will be your real problem.
    Good luck, please film all you can it will be a great motivator for the kids here.


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