BMH AC volunteers step up to 1 hour decathlon challenge

A recent end-of-season multi-event in Basingstoke was a challenge for organisers, athletes and officials alike – but proved a great success.

Basingstoke & Mid Hants Athletics Club has known a wealth of multi-event athletes throughout the age groups and the “speed decathlon” had been tried in a similar format at the club many years before. The driving force behind the resurrection of the event was Geoff Butler (pictured pole vaulting), who worked on the concept that a group of athletes could go around together to complete all 10 decathlon events in the correct order with an aim to start the 1500m before an hour had elapsed from the gun firing for the 100m. Geoff needed to check that he could get enough officials interested, and the response was great.

Top technical officials Darryl Quinn and Peter Nicholson - who had been involved in the original event decades ago - provided support and advice to Geoff in the planning stages and Peter was the Referee on the day. He was joined by a team of technical officials and other volunteers who ensured the day ran smoothly and – more importantly – to time. Marksman Sharon Herbert commented, “Communication between officials was absolutely vital, but it was organised so well that everything went smoothly.” Delhi Commonwealth Games decathlete Ben Hazell said prior to the event, "I hope that this competition will give a good insight to what Decathlon is all about; camaraderie, passion and entertainment.”

Geoff explained his thinking during the planning process, “I thought about how it feels from an athlete's point of view, so I used all the good ideas I have taken from many competitions worldwide to create the 'perfect' event. We used the club's website to keep everyone updated and I found the Cheshire A.A website very useful for multi-event scoring.” The brightly coloured, rip proof numbers including age group, sponsor name and competitor’s club’s logo were admired by many and produced by the parent of a club athlete who owns a printing firm. Other sponsors contributed to a comprehensive goody bag.

On the day there were 9 ‘pods’: 8 groups of three athletes, (sorted by pole vault starting height) and one of four - which included an U20 woman who agreed to compete using male decathlon order. Each pod had a dedicated team of six field judges who officiated the same athletes throughout, while the track and starting team stayed for the other events. Pods began at 40 minute intervals. Once they had completed their pod’s hour, it was onto the next - so what was a 1 hour event for the athletes was a full day marathon for the officials. Field official Paul Rutter noted, “I think the officials ran round as much as the athletes!” while Southampton AC competitor Derek Warn enthused, “The officials were reminiscent of a Formula 1 pit team.”

Each athlete completed the decathlon gaining points equal to their age group, using the proper weight implements and the correct height / distance for the hurdles. There were youngsters to assist with athlete kit, each in charge of a supermarket trolley and assigned to an athlete and they were very enthusiastic - cheering their athlete on. They even saved the athletes some time by performing essential tasks such as setting blocks correctly. Geoff Powley (Lincoln Wellington AC) said, “Thanks especially to the young helpers who accompanied the athletes, they were brilliant - gave me lots of support all the way round.”

The hurdles were left set up in lanes 6, 7 and 8 and sprints in lanes 1, 2 and 3. Pole vault and high jumps only allowed 6 attempts in total with just a few minutes of warm up. Paul Rutter explained, “During the shot put, spare officials would form an advance party to set up the high jump, and then the same from discus to pole vault where the time was the most crucial.” Tape measures were kept in place for quick marking of run ups.

Pods began at 40 minute intervals although next year this will be increased to 45 minutes. As Sharon said, “We used the radio to coordinate the 100m starts and to ensure the athletes were in the right lanes.” Photofinish on the track and EDM measuring on the field was used to speed up the officials’ tasks although the warning horn was omitted because it was felt it would be confusing for other events. Discus and javelin were set up at opposite ends of the arena and with favourable winds, the javelin, pole vault and 1500m start were all in the same corner - reducing time-loss for movement between events.

Darryl Quinn commented, “We learnt as the day progressed; the 40 minute timing for each pod start, caused at times a clash with 1500m races generally halfway through when the following pod were then ready for their 400m.” In this case the stopwatch was paused for those athletes who had to wait. He continued, “If we do it again, we would probably have two starter’s assistants, since our one on the day had two stop watches going to monitor pod timings. I would allocate one assistant to join the field team with the watch and go with the pod for the whole hour, to keep calls for time remaining constant, and perhaps have a track umpire going around with the pod to ensure one always ready on the track stand per track race.”

The event goes to show what can be achieved in a club using an array of volunteers – technical officials, announcer, scorers, caterers, registration, caterers, masseurs and the junior kit carriers. A nice touch which was commented on by many was to have the vest numbers including the competitor’s club’s logo. All athletes thanked the volunteers, and unusually for a multi-event, every athlete finished. Brian Slaughter (pictured above, sprint start) (Eastbourne Rovers) said, "I have competed in many types of competitions all over the world but this one is well up there with the best.” M50 Geoff Powley (Lincoln Wellington AC) added, “One of my best memories in athletics....” Josh Mouland (Sale Harriers) agreed, “It was a pleasure to compete and all the officials really helped it along.”

Meeting organiser Geoff summarised, "Everyone involved loved the day, and everyone left the meeting feeling this was a good end-season bit of fun, although the competition was indeed serious and professionally administered. I had spent a long time listening to fellow veteran athletes talk about when they did a speed decathlon a long time ago. I hope people will be talking about this one in 20 or so years’ time."