decathlon (dĭkăthˈlŏn) [key], in modern Olympic games, a contest for men held over two days and composed of 10 track-and-field events. It consists of the long jump; the high jump; the discus throw; the shot putt; the javelin throw; the 100-, 400-, and 1,500-meter races; the 110-meter hurdle race; and the pole vault. The decathlon became an Olympic event in 1912. The winner is popularly regarded as the "world's greatest athlete"; noted among these are the Americans Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, and Bruce Jenner and the British Daley Thompson. The ancient pentathlon, a five-event contest, resembled the modern decathlon.
The heptathlon is the equivalent modern event for women, consisting of seven track-and-field events. Begun as an Olympic pentathlon in 1964, it was expanded in 1984 and now includes the long jump; the high jump; the shot put; the javelin throw; the 200- and 800-meter races; and the 100-meter hurdles. Like the decathlon, the heptathlon is held over two days. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who dominated the heptathlon during the 1990s, is the best-known athlete in the event's relatively short history.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.