The first week of Rio is moving to a conclusion and it has been mesmerising. Athletic brilliance, high drama, joy, years…Bondi Rescue pales in comparison! The events that have taken my eye have been those that combine various events that comprise other events. These multi events combine each of the major skills within a sport to see who is the greatest all-rounder. All-rounders can be seen as generalists, a veritable ‘jack of all trades yet master of none’; Michael Phelps of course may beg to differ.
This touches on the great specialisation debate for sportspeople and at Millfield we have this debate constantly with pupil athletes and parents. Development may occur by nurturing sporting ability through a diverse, generalist background focused on FUNdamentals. Conversely an early specialisation phase will often favour competition, pressure, and training over multi-dimensional skill and general physical attributes-often leading to high drop out rates. The oft claimed, yet subsequently refuted, 10,000 hour rule can direct much activity. The generalist can however, be seen as a derogatory classification for someone less skilled in a particular discipline. Yet this fails to understand the integrity of the discipline. These generalists have included the winners of the 3 day event, the Individual Medleys, and the individual all round gymnasts.
But wait there is more! Track and Field is one of the ‘pure’ Olympic disciplines and the all-rounder events are the heptathlon and decathlon. In mentioning this I declare my hand as one that competed (badly) against the great Daley Thompson, and had a conversation on a bus with Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner! The multi events require speed, power, and endurance and a level of skill in the technical elements of each event. The preparedness to measure oneself against an absolute scale—time, distance and then have it rated against a table that benchmarks each performance is intriguing. Measurement in a closed environment, where the conditions do not change attracts a special type of athlete. The great American decathlete Ashton Eaton said ‘There’s never going to be a decathlon that you’re going to have 10 events that your satisfied with. You’re always, always going to be dissatisfied in something, and that always draws you back to try to retry that the next time you do a decathlon. It’s like you go for the perfect 10’.
Are we yet to see the greatest athletes at Rio? Surely the winning heptathlete and decathlete can claim to be the greatest athletes in the world? I am sure many felt that when Daley Thompson was competing for GB. Long live the queen/king!