A silver medallist in the decathlon at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Frenchman Kevin Mayer went one better at the World Athletics Championships in London last year to claim gold. Here, he explains what it’s like to train for one of the Games’ most diverse disciplines.
Training for a decathlon can be frustrating. There’s simply no time to improve in all your events, and it’s impossible to fit all the events into a day’s training so you have to take some shortcuts. Usually, I practice two events a day, five days a week – which means I can cover all the disciplines regularly.
Holding back to move forward
To help improve my individual disciplines I train with other specialist athletes, but that can be really difficult because the competitive instinct kicks in and you want to train more than the others you’re with, which isn’t possible. Take the pole vault, for example; as it’s not your specialist event, you might only do five jumps when the other guy is doing twenty jumps. But the thing is that you want to try to improve at the same rate as they are, which can be quite tough.
If you push too hard it can lead to a lot of injuries, so you have to be very focused when you practice. Concentrate on yourself, and try not to get distracted by things that are out of your control.
People often ask how many coaches I have, but I actually have just one coach who organises all my training and a conditioning coach who prepares me physically. It’s quite a small team, but I prefer to have a good relationship with people I trust rather than have ten people I don’t know that well all providing input, and then ending up being surprised when it comes to the competition if something goes wrong. I prefer to have those close relationships.
Of course, I do spend some time with specialist trainers, maybe two days at a time. In addition, if the best hurdlers in the French team are available and I have the opportunity to join them, I’d definitely want to train with them for a bit.
Getting race-day ready
Everybody has his or her plans, but, in short, there’s nothing special you can do to prepare yourself for a competitive decathlon. It’s like a marathon – marathon runners will rarely run 26 miles in training before a race, and it’s the same in the decathlon in that you’ll never do a whole practice event in training.
I think it’s all in your head. You have to do what you have to do and be focused on what’s in front of you, not on your body or how you are feeling.
It is certainly a diverse event – but I don’t necessarily think that it’s harder than any other event. What’s hard is to be focused on just one thing in each discipline and not be thinking about the other events. One bad discipline could ruin the competition for you.
You can’t think about the other events when you’re competing because you need to focus entirely on the one you’re doing and make sure you do what you need to do. You have to trust in your technique and know that if you can make the most of it then you can do something great.
Everybody has a favourite
I think most decathletes definitely have a favourite discipline. They are all equally important, of course, but personally I love the pole vault. It is the most ‘freestyle event’ of all the disciplines, the one you have the most flexibility with. For me it’s a bit like skiing! Maybe after my career I’ll focus just on the pole vault.