WITH 9 PREPARATORY WEEKS until the World Championships decathlon, Garrett Scantling is right where he wants to be, and the three Americans with multiple WC 10-event golds have all touched base to let him know they are in his corner.
Ashton Eaton (wins in ’13 & ’15), Trey Hardee (’09 & ’11) and Dan O’Brien (’91, ’93 & ’95) all conveyed congratulations after Scantling jumped up to No. 3 on the U.S. all-time list with his 8867 USATF title win the first weekend of May.
“I actually talked to every single one of them,” Scantling says, appreciative of the solidarity. “Dan messaged me. Me and Dan go back and forth over text all the time cuz he’s a broadcaster and we always talk about competitions and stuff.
“But Trey Hardee messaged me on Instagram saying how proud he was of my tenacity and my ability to kind of overcome all these obstacles.
And Ashton called me, left me a voice message. I was actually traveling to Canada [for a vacation week with girlfriend Georgia Ellenwood, the Canadian heptathlon Olympian], but he let me know just how happy he was for me and, and just how excited he was for the World Champs decathlon to take place in Eugene.
“It’s just really, really encouraging to hear from those names and those guys who are awesome — and you know, I’ve met every single one of ’em, they’re great people.
“It kind of talks to the fact of how the American decathlon is. Because I think my favorite part of [the Trials] was just the ability to be around my competitors again. I was around most of them indoors [when he won the USATF hept title] and they’re just such a fun group to be around. They’re friends that I’ll have for life. And I think that just goes with the fact of what the decathlon is. It’s one of the most challenging things that you can do to your body, but mentally I think it’s also one of the hardest things.
“But if you have a group of people that you’re going through it with that care about you as a person and you as an athlete at the same time, and it’s not all just arrogance and ego mixed together, I think that that’s the most important thing that comes with the decathlon, it’s the camaraderie.”
The decathlon also is a crucible where the heat thrown off by motivated opponents can supercharge performance. Surely that’s how Scantling’s friend — and current force for Georgia — Kyle Garland operated, leading Scantling from the long jump through the discus on his way to the Collegiate Record before the Bulldog alum and Olympic 4th-placer pulled ahead with the vault.
“It really did take patience,” Scantling recalls. “That was one thing that I noticed: that I just had to be patient and trust in my abilities. You know, Kyle is an incredible talent and he’s got the world at his fingertips if he stays healthy and keeps working hard.
“I knew that coming out of the gun it was just haymaker after haymaker, just Kyle PB, PB, PB. Just the marks he was putting up were ridiculous. But then at the same time I knew that I was ahead of pace on my PB decathlon. So after the first day, I was like, ‘I’m at over 4500 points.’”
Scantling ended Day 1 at 4503, theoretically projecting toward an 8656 tally, 8 points above his Olympic Trials-winning PR. “I’ve been wanting to get over 4500 points since I got into the decathlon,” he says. “I had some of the most confidence I’ve ever had going into a Day 2 after that first day.”
What only Scantling’s training partners, friends and family knew beforehand was that in addition to having been felled at the World Indoor by food poisoning — “I was throwing up a lot, like more than I’ve ever thrown up in my life.” — he contended with an injury.
A week after returning from his DNF in Belgrade to Jacksonville and coach Petros Kyprianou’s multis training group, “We started practicing and I threw javelin one time and I just kind of felt my side,” he says. “I thought it was my rib. It was like a stabbing pain and it kind of got better and better.
“And then three weeks before the Trials I was hurdling and I went over two hurdles and it shot me down to the ground. It hurt so bad that I had to go get an MRI and figure out exactly what it was.
“It happened to be an internal oblique tear. I had a 4cm by 2cm tear so it was pretty significant and it hurt. I couldn’t even cough, I couldn’t sneeze, I couldn’t do any of that. So we had to really dial back my training and just kind of focus on the techniques of it all and try to heal at the same time.
“It was pretty devastating news to hear at first, just because of how immobile I was at the time. Just trying to figure out how the heck I’m gonna compete in a whole decathlon in 3 weeks was kind of unfathomable.
“I just had to do what I had to do, and that kind of came from Georgia.” Ellenwood that is, not Scantling’s alma mater. The ’18 NCAA heptathlon titlist for Wisconsin, she was contesting a pentathlon in late February when she ruptured an Achilles while high jumping.
Says Scantling, “It’s been a tough time, but something that at least I can learn from and she can have someone to go through it with her.”
While Ellenwood, per Scantling, is healing “better and better every day,” she also “kind of gave me perspective on [the oblique injury] and helped me get through it.
“She kind of told me, ‘These are the cards you have and you just gotta go out there and do whatever you can to be the best, in the best shape that you are when the time comes to compete.’”
Physical therapist Tom Gormely at Tork Sports Performance, a strength & conditioning outfit, “pretty much got me ready for the decathlon,” Scantling says, “and I definitely surprised myself with the score that I put out there.
“But I also know about the hard work that I’ve put in to get to this point. Who knows, maybe the rest and the technique training is what helped in the long run.”
Scantling’s torn muscle was “on my right side, my right oblique,” he explains. “It’s kind of whenever I bend over and turn to that right side. So the hurdles was a big worry for me and the pole vault. It was actually back-to-back to back-to-back events. It was the 110H, discus, pole vault javelin, those are the four that bothered it.
“Day 2 was really, really important for me. I think once I hurdled and got that adrenaline pumping, it kind of almost deleted that injury and almost made me not feel anything. I definitely feel it now that I’m done and all the adrenaline is kind of out of my system.
“But at my opening height in the high jump — and high jump was an event where I never really felt it before — I took a weird takeoff and it was almost like it reaggravated the injury a bit. So it kind of worried me.
“Obviously the mental part of the decathlon is probably the hardest. So I was having a little internal battle with myself, but once I got out there on Day 2 and just got that [13.59] PB in the hurdles, it was kind of on from there.”
In retrospect, his repeat as U.S. titlist was great, Scantling says: “I was really excited to be performing basically at the best I’ve ever performed. I mean, it is the best I’ve ever performed, but at the same time I know the way my body felt. I almost could tell you, I felt probably around 80, 85%. That’s kind of what was in my mind.
“At first it was, ‘Let’s make top 3, let’s qualify.’ And then when I started feeling how good I was feeling, I didn’t want anyone to beat me.
“That competitive edge, everyone has it with the decathlon, but it was most important for me to make this team. Yet the more I realized how strong I was getting and how I still had my speed and everything, I think that’s when the confidence came back that I should keep pushing this and who knows what can happen.”
The spirited duel Scantling locked into with Garland arose from a special relationship. After taking a three-season break from his decathlon career to try out for the NFL and work in finance, Scantling returned to Athens and the Georgia campus in ’20 and helped Kyprianou coach Garland through his first pair of collegiate campaigns. The bond they forged is strong to this day.
“I think that is why we put up the scores that we did,” Garland says. “It was a battle and we push each other, we drive each other in ways that that are almost unspoken. But at the same time I consider him one of my closest friends in the decathlon, one of my brothers.
“We were so close for those two years that I think that contributes to how well that we compete with each other — just because we are so used to training with each other.
“Now that we’re in separate training groups, we still have that bond and that same competitive fire that when we see each other, we want to outdo each other, but we want to see the other person do well too.”
Assessing the deca just won and his prospects for Worlds, Scantling says the forced spring dial-back in training “really helped my body recover, but at the same time, with my injury and tailoring my workouts towards it, I missed the valuable top end speedwork. So like in the last 20m of the 100, if I stay strong, you know, that’s a 10.5.
“My shot put was over 16m [52-6], but I did lose a little bit of strength because the lifting wasn’t there. There were just little things here and there. High jump, I finally felt like I was jumping well, and then the bar shook at 2.07 [6-9½] on my first attempt and it almost stayed on. There are so many points I can get back in that event.
“Then, you know, the last three events. In the pole vault, I missed 5.25 [17-2¾] on my second attempt and that’s 30-something extra points, but I think it was the narrowest miss I’ve ever had in my life. The bar shook, stayed up for a couple seconds and then fell. And it was just so crushing cuz of all the energy I wasted on that attempt. I knew I couldn’t get that energy back, basically.”
Scantling’s best javelin mark at USATF measured 220-4 (67.16), off his 227-7 (69.37) best from ’16 and his 226-8 (69.10) throw at the Olympics. “I felt kind of crowded up to the line,” he says. “I had to put the brakes on instead of moving through the throw. So I know there’s more left in that. And then the 1500, obviously I’ve run 10 seconds faster than that.”
Scantling’s event bests, all reached during multis, add up to 9122 on the deca tables, 4 points off Kevin Mayer’s World Record.
Scoring only marks he has put up in ’21 and ’22, Scantling’s theoretical tally is 9025, 20 points below Eaton’s AR.
“There’s definitely in each event something that I can improve on and that’s always encouraging,” he says. “And I think that having these two months to kind of recover and just regenerate these muscle fibers in my oblique, if I can get to Eugene completely healthy, then I think I can finally challenge that 9000-point barrier and actually put U.S. decathlon back on the global map.
“That’s my goal, just to kind of bring light to the decathlon in America and bring it back to where it once was — Dan O’Brien, Ashton Eaton, Bryan Clay, Trey Hardee, all those names, just kind of carry on in their footsteps and bring this tradition back to where I know it can be.”