The men’s indoor heptathlon (what decathletes do during the indoor season) list makes for great reading at present. Of the world’s top nine scores so far in 2014, five have been achieved by British decathletes. With the only athlete to better any of the British contingent’s scores being Russian Ilya Shkurenyov, the future looks bright for British decathlon.
Two of the leading lights on that list are John Lane and Liam Ramsay, ranked at number two and eight respectively. Both men recently competed at the British Athletics Combined Events Match in Sheffield at the end of January, where they smashed their best ever scores. Lane, in particular, was impressive as he notched five personal bests in individual events and scored a British record 5,982 points. Ramsay, meanwhile, won the Under-23 competition with 5,700 points and moved up to ninth on the all-time list.
We caught up with the pair following their achievements at the weekend and asked them to give us their thoughts on what they put their success down to, the coming outdoor season and what it takes to be a decathlete.
JL: “A PB in any event is a great feeling but to do five in one heptathlon feels amazing. I’ve had good winter training and knew if I could be relatively in one piece by the time the international competition came around I could score a big PB. And breaking the British record is an amazing feeling. The fact it’s stood for so many years and knowing the calibre of athletes who’ve competed for Britain makes it even more special to be at the top of the rankings.”
LR: “I think when people around you are doing well it forces you to raise your game as well. Everyone competed really well at the international and I think it created a good atmosphere where everyone was fired up to do well. Hopefully the success can continue in the decathlon outdoors.”
Training for the ten-events is very gruelling. The decathlon requires you to be able to run, jump and throw to a world-class standard and mix up explosive, technical and endurance events in a short space of time. So what training would you typically undertake to take on such a tough discipline?
JL: “Every decathlete I’m sure has different training schedules and programs, but I’m almost certain every one of them is pushing themselves to the limits! A typical training day for me consists of two training session a day, 9:30 – 12.00 and 2.00-5.00. During a training week I will do three weights sessions, two running sessions, and then the rest of the week will involve technical sessions covering all the decathlon disciplines at least once.”
Liam agrees the decathlon is tough, not only to train for but also to learn. He feels the only way to get better at it is to compete in it regularly.
LR: “I’m definitely still learning the decathlon; I don’t think there’s a decathlete in the world that would say otherwise! I’ve always done combined events from a young age, but have started taking it a lot more seriously in the last few years. After suffering from a couple of injuries I have only completed three senior Decathlons, one of them being while I was still an U20. Because of this I don’t think my current score reflects what I can do and I’m hoping I can prove that this year!”
Still on the theme of training, we asked both men what their opinion was of former decathlete Daniel Awde and current world and Olympic champion Ashton Eaton’s decisions to concentrate on one event for 2014.
LR: “It’s obviously hard training for 10 events but I wouldn’t want it any other way, I find the variety fun. One of the things about training for so many events as well is that if one event isn’t going well on a particular day you can always do a different event and put the other one behind you. This winter as well, I have incorporated more weights sessions and I love trying to get PBs in the different lifts. While training for a single event might be easier, personally I think I would find it boring. “
JL: “There is no secret to why Ashton Eaton is the decathlon world record holder. He is the most all round gifted athlete on the planet. In my opinion it wouldn’t surprise me if he comes out and runs 47-48 seconds over the 400m hurdles, especially with his flat speed and hurdling technique. Me on the other hand…no…I’m happy with pursuing the decathlon and trying to take it as far as I can. Plus 400m hurdle train sounds horrendous!”
This year British athletes have a choice whether they’re going to focus on competing at the Commonwealth Games or the European Championships. Some may opt for both. What are John and Liam concentrating on for the outdoor season?
JL: “Both the Commonwealths and Europeans, if selected are competitions I would love to compete at. With the Commonwealths being in Glasgow it makes it even more special to be a part of. The main priority this year is to score a personal best and get as close to 8200 points as I can. Decathlon in Britain is lucky to be able to have so many young and talented athletes coming through the ranks. It’s great to be able to compete against them on a regular basis. All I can do is focus on my own training and try and keep improving my personal Bests, and if it’s good enough to be GB’s number one then that would be amazing”
LR: “I’m aiming to qualify for the Commonwealth Games and I am confident I can gain the qualifying score, however, that might not be enough, as at the moment there are a lot of good guys in England that are aiming to qualify as well. So I think the hardest thing about qualifying for the Commonwealths will be beating other people’s scores to gain one of the qualifying spots. I would never rule out qualifying for the European Champs but the Commonwealths is a more realistic target at this moment in time.”
GB has a rich tradition of multi-eventers, from Daley Thompson to Denise Lewis. So who do the decathletes view as their biggest inspirations in the event, and athletics in general?
JL: “Any athlete would want to train with an Olympic champion every day, which I do with Jess Ennis. I’m extremely lucky to train under a coach as experienced as Toni Minichiello and am learning all the time. He has done fantastic things with Jess and has a fantastic group based in Sheffield, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Liam also sees his coach as the greatest influence on his athletics career.
LR: “My coach Mike Corden has definitely been the biggest influence. He’s been the main reason for my improvement in the decathlon. Having done decathlon himself he knows what it takes and is as dedicated as I am to improving my decathlon score. His encouragement caused me to take decathlon seriously and I have a really good relationship with him, and this helps massively when I am with him nearly every day for training!”
Finally, we asked Liam and John what their favourite event within the decathlon is, if any. Both were in absolute agreement here.
LR: “My favourite event tends to change depending on what’s going well at the time! At the moment its pole vault as it’s been going well and I got a 20 cm personal best at the weekend. My coach and I have been working with the current British record holder in the pole vault, Luke Cutts, and his coach Trevor Fox and they have really helped me a lot.”
JR: “Pole Vault would have to be my favourite event. When you get a jump right it is an amazing feeling.”
The future of British decathlon certainly looks bright. Not only are John and Liam looking to take their superb indoor form outside when the season starts, they’re backed up beautifully by fellow Brits Richard Reeks, Ben Gregory and Ashley Bryant. All these athletes are ranked in the top ten in the world currently, and hopefully there could be another wonderful summer for British multi-eventing.