FALSE START #F - May 2005 (updated April 2009) by David E. Ortman


Combined-eventers get no respect. Well, maybe a little. After all the Olympic Champion decathaloner is called the World's Greatest Athlete. I suppose that makes the pentathlon champion the Word's half-greatest athlete.

Most people have never even seen a decathlon, or a heptathlon or a pentathlon. Most couldn't tell you the number of events or the events in each competition or the number of days involved (Dec: 10 events, 2 days, five events on each day: D1 100m LJ SP HJ 400m / D2 110mH Dis PV Jav 1500m - Hept: 7 events, 2 days: Outdoors D1 110mH HJ SP 200m / D2 LJ Jav 800m - Indoors D1 60m LJ SP HJ / D2 60mH PV 800 - Pent:. 5 events, 1 day, Outdoors: LJ Dis 200m Jav 1500 - Indoors 60mH, LJ, SP HJ 1000m) so it is no wonder that 99.9% of the public couldn't name the current World's Greatest Athlete. (answer at end). It's even worse for masters.

First, the older you get the harder it is to justify competing in 10 or 5 events for only one medal. Particularly if you plan on completing in individual events later in the same meet.

Second, the masters decathlon is either a completely separate meet or, like the pentathlon, is contested at the beginning of a meet with few spectators, or worse, is contested while other qualifying events on the track or field are taking place, making the dec/pent even longer then it usually is.

Third, marks set in the dec/pent apparently do not count as meet records. The M50 Masters Indoor Championship meet long jump record is listed as 5.86m. I long jumped 5.87m at the 2003 Indoor Championship, but it might as well have been on the moon since the jump occurred in the pentathlon. Come to think of it, if it had been on the moon, it would have been a heck of a lot further.

Fourth, just as most Amercians can't figure out a metric long jump or high jump mark (does a 2.0m High Jump really sound that impressive?? I thought not. Maybe we should give the marks in centimeters. A 200cm high jump sounds much better) very few people can tell you what a good multi-event score looks like. Actually, it's not all that hard. Combined-event scoring is based on a general maximum of 1,000 points per Olympic record (although it is possible to exceed 1,000 points if you are, say, an awesome world-class pole vaulter). The first scoring table was created in 1911 based on the 1908 Olympic records. Therefore, a "top" decathlon score would be 10,000 pts, a Heptathlon score 7,000 pts, and a Penthalon score 5,000 pts.

But here's the catch. The scoring tables keep changing with Olympic records in individual events. That makes sense. If the world record for the pole vault was 16 feet in the 1940's (and given a 1,000 pts), a 19 ft. pole vaulter today could score say 1,400 points. That actually wouldn't have been a bad idea. Instead, the combined-event scoring gods decided that keeping the 1,000 pts per event maximum was more important. What does this mean?

For the Decathlon, it means that between 1912 and 1985 there have been six different scoring tables. What does this mean? It means that it is darn hard to compare combined-event scores between years and sometimes even between meets.

Calculating combined-event scores is a tedious task of properly rounding "down" the measured marks in the field events and then looking up how much each mark scores in the IAAF scoring tables. In order to compare a 1912 score with a 2005 score, you have to obtain the original marks and redo the calculations using the most recent scoring tables.

For masters its worse. You have to take your marks and adjust them with the age-graded tables. So a mark of 56.3 for the M50 400m decathlon becomes the equivalent of a 48.9 open mark. This open mark is then used with the age-graded scoring tables. The advantage is that, assuming that the age-graded factors have been correctly established, you can compare any age combined-event score amongst age groups. The disadvantage is that scoring is within five year age groups so you score the same at 50 and 54 for the same marks.

But, just as the decathlon scoring tables have been modified over the years, so has the masters age-graded tables. The first age-graded tables were issued in 1989. A second revised set were issued in 1994. According to Rex Harvey, long-time combined-eventer and National Masters T&F Chair Appointee, a third revised set of age-graded tables have been available in 2002, at least on the WMA website (we're still waiting for a published edition). What this means is that it has been nearly impossible to compare combined-event scores from one decade to the next, without having the original marks, the current age-graded tables and the current combined-event scoring tables.

Still, you would think that everyone in masters track & field should be on the same page, or at least on the same scoring system. Apparently, not. The 2004 WMA World Indoor Championships at Sindelfingen, Germany reported wildly inflated indoor pentathlon scores.

According to Harvey,

"WMA made it very clear to Sindelfingen that they must use the 2002 WMA Age Grading as is required by WMA rules. Sindelfingen. . .did what they felt like doing. And that was that they wanted to try out a new German Combined events scoring method, supposedly in parallel. I have not double checked, but I think they may have used, not the old 1994 tables, but a scoring method developed by Bernd Rehpening a German Masters Combined Events person and respected longtime statistician. One of the basics of his system is that one can never score better as a Master than he did as an open athlete. It might have been a mistake, or it might have been on purpose that the wrong Sindelfingen scores got published (if indeed they did, as I have not checked what they did). It doesn't matter much what they did as I assume that places that were awarded will not change even with the correct scoring. And all past performance are being rescored to the 2002 factors, including the Sindelfingen results, just like every other time (probably 30 times) that the Combined Events scoring has changed in the last 93 years. That is why it is so important that Combined Event performances are recorded and not just points as the points themselves will change in the future when the tables are updated either by IAAF and/or WMA."

"And the 2002 WMA Age Grading, in general, does lower the scores for younger people (say 30-45) and up them for older people (say 70 and up). The 2002 Age Grading update was not done on popular opinion, but based on all the cold, hard performances that we could find. And younger athletes are getting better and older athletes are not performing as well as some thought they should in earlier age grading efforts."

In summary, the continued rejiggering of the age-graded tables makes it very difficult to determine if a combined event age group record that has been in the books since the 1990s is the score achieved at the time of the event, or whether it represents an adjusted score based on the current scoring tables.

At one time Ian Thomas had posted an all-time best Pentathlon scoring list. (Presumed Adjusted scores using 2002 age-graded factors). I've used this list, plus more recent meet results to list the United States all time best combined Indoor and Outdoor Pentathlon scores over 7,000:

Boo Morcom      OM55  4227 ('77)
		IM65  4164 ('87)        8391

Emil Pawlik	OM60  3889 ('00)
		IM70  4314 ('09)	8203

Robert Hewitt   OM75  3766 ('08)
                IM75  4437 ('09)        8203          

Gary Miller	OM50  4155 ('88)
		IM50  4027(?)('88)	8182

Bill Murray     OM50   3557 ('05)
                IM55   4384 ('09) *WR   7941   

David E. Ortman  OM55  3559 ('08)
		 IM50  4126 ('09)	7684

Dale Lance	OM45  3632 ('88)
		IM55  4032 ('93)	7664

Ken Ellis       OM45   3498 ('04)
                IM45   4001 ('04)       7499   

Philip Byrne    OM60  3666 ('00)
		IM60  3724 ('02)	7380

Gregory Foster  OM40  3439 ('02)
		IM40  3924 ('04)	7363

Michael Janusey  OM45  3799  ('98)
                 IM45  3505  ('03)      7304

Bill Angus	OM65?  3229 ('98)
		IM75   3940 ('09)	7169

Rex Harvey	OM40  3657 ('86)
		IM40  3487 ('90)	7144

Jim Russ	OM45 3376 ('02)
		IM45 3751 ('03)	        7127

Robert Baker	OM55  3436 ('02)
		IM55  3663 (01)	        7099

Jeff Davison provided a list of the U.S. Masters decathlete records from the National Masters News website:

35-39 7117 Rex Harvey IA (35) 6/20/82 

40-44 7326 Stan Vegar CA (42) 9/20/97 

45-49 7502 Rex Harvey IA (45) 7/18/91 

50-54 7771 Gary Miller CA (51) 7/27/89 

55-59 7835 Dale Lance OK (57) 7/14/95 

60-64 8352 Phil Mulkey GA (60) 10/7/93 

65-69 7240 Denver Smith OH (67) 9/11/93 

70-74 7524 Boo Morcom PA (70) 6/23/91 

75-79 6778 Denver Smith OH (77) 7/2/03 

80-84 3868 A.E. Pitcher IN (84) 7/27/86 

85-89 6242 Bob Boal NC (85) 9/20/97 

(Answer: Roman Sebrle, Czech, 2004 Olympic Decathlon Champion and only athlete to exceed 9,000 pts.)

Copyright 2005, David E. Ortman

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