Report from 'The Age'
A man for all disciplines
January 29, 2012
Leap of faith: Steve Cain is
focused on qualifying for the London Olympics.
A ticket to London could be decathlete Steve
Cain's biggest jump yet. ON WINNING the gold medal in the decathlon
at the Stockholm Olympics a century ago, Jim Thorpe was given the
rarest of compliments by the King of Sweden. ''You, sir, are the
greatest athlete in the world,'' he said, to which the American
replied, ''Thanks, King.'' Whether it was humility or exhaustion
that prevented much more, it's unsure.
''World's greatest athlete'' is the title still reserved for the
Olympic decathlon champion but that doesn't seem to capture it all.
Add ''maths star'', ''multitasker'', ''mind guru'' and ''shoe
lover'' and you're getting closer, although inscribing all of that
on one medal is a challenge as worthy of the event itself.
Melbourne's Steve Cain competed in his first decathlon more than a
decade ago, has won two national titles and harbours dreams of
representing Australia at this year's London Olympics. But even he
admits he's yet to master the complexities of an event comprising 10
disciplines, from the intricacies of the pole vault, the power
behind hurling a javelin and the speed needed for various running
distances. ''I'm still trying to get my head around it,'' he says.
Even as a full-time decathlete, Cain finds he can often go days
without practicing events while working on others. He has a team of
three coaches behind him (head coach Efim Shuravetsky oversees his
entire progress) and divvies up his time to a couple of events a
day. But he must be conscious of where best to devote his energy.
Improving in one event must be weighed up against refining another,
as to maximise point scoring in competition.
''At the moment my pole vault earns me the most points. You jump
five metres you get 910 points. To jump 5.20, you weigh up how much
training you need to get to that performance and there's another 60
points,'' he says. ''In an event where you're not quite as good, say
shot put, to get that same 60-point difference might mean you have
to train and train and train and to get that [muscle] bulk might
mean it's detrimental to the other events. ''It's a mathematical
balance. I'll get a few here and a few there and if I run faster my
hurdles, long jump and high jump will all get better. It's that sort
Those considerations occur across the world in decathlon, depending
on a competitor's technique, physique and skill. Cain, a tall, rangy
athlete, found the high jump and hurdles his calling as a junior but
admits mastering 10 disciplines is beyond most mortals. Czech Roman
Sebrle came closest, when he accumulated 9026 points at Gotzis in
2001, but even the likes of past world champions Daley Thompson and
defending Olympic champ Bryan Clay could not get everything right,
often labouring in the 1500 metres.
''One of the top guys in the world is awesome at nine events but he
can't throw the javelin, meaning no disrespect, but if the best are
throwing 70 metres and the best you can get is 50 that's a very big
gap,'' Cain says of the challenge.
The devotion required for the decathlon means a special bond exists
among competitors and an appreciation from followers. The masochism
of such a tough competition draws a respect through meets, which
usually end with decathletes collapsing in physical and mental
exhaustion after the long run.
''To get through one is a big deal and to get through one well is
another step on top of that,'' says Cain, 27, who is one of just a
handful of Australian decathletes with a personal best above 7000
points (his is 7734, set last year).
''There's a great camaraderie you build among the competitors
throughout a weekend. You start at nine or 10am one day and finish
at seven or 8pm the following day. You spend two days in battle, I
guess, with however many guys there are, but everyone seems to be
there to support each other.
''It's not competing against you, we're all competing together - I'd
like to beat you and you'd like to beat me but we'd prefer to beat
ourselves. You know how good you are based on your previous
performances and you want to get better than that.''
The logistics of
staging a decathlon mean competitors can go anywhere from 30 minutes
to three hours between disciplines and multi-sport events require
strict mental focus, resisting looking ahead but also moving on
Then there is the equipment. Cain takes about 12 pairs of shoes to
an event - everything from soft soles for the discus to various
running spikes - and has about 80 pairs sprawled across his Box Hill
home. Sometimes he takes his own javelin, always his own vaulting
pole. He found out the hard way he couldn't carry a discus as hand
luggage on aircraft, and doesn't bother with a shot put. ''When
weight is an issue an extra 7.26 kilograms will weigh you down a
fair bit,'' he says.
Cain was sidelined by knee and ankle injuries for five years after a
bad fall in 2003, but since returning to competition he has steadily
improved over the past three years. But he admits earning an Olympic
berth in 2012 would require ''another two steps forward'' and most
likely for Athletics Australia to use its discretionary powers
favourably. Attaining the magic number - 8200 points - at the
national championships, which double as Olympic qualifiers, in April
is possible but everything would have to click . ''Nailing all 10 is
every decathlete's dream,'' he says.
Courtesy The Age