Focus On The U.S. Men’s Decathlon

Garrett Scantling & coach Petros Kyprianou had plenty to be jolly about in the Olympic year. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

WITH THE RELEASE of the 2021 World Rankings in the January issue, we saw U.S. men claim 3 spots in the decathlon ratings for the first time since ’16.

Olympians Garrett Scantling (at No. 4), Zach Ziemek (No. 6) and Steven Bastien (No. 9) all earned honors following a trio of shutout seasons for American 10-eventers. Features on each of these men follow.

The last previous season before double Olympic gold medalist and 2-time WR setter Ashton Eaton’s Rio Games swansong year in which 3 U.S. men World Ranked was ’10.

’21 was a banner year, indeed, and the Olympic Trials proved a hotbed as eventual Tokyo 4th-placer Scantling advanced to No. 8 all-time among Americans with his 8647 score and Bastien (8485) and Ziemek (8471) pushed their lifetime bests above 8400.

All three come into the season of the first-ever U.S.-hosted outdoor World Championships (Eugene, July 15–24) revved up for the challenge. The WC dec is scheduled for the meet’s second weekend, July 23–24.

You might guess that with a historic home soil Worlds on the near horizon just 5½ months away, USATF would be eager to springboard off and highlight an auspicious Olympic showing in an event rich with hallowed American names.

Jim Thorpe, Glenn Morris, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien and Eaton are a few on the tips of fans’ tongues.

Historically, Americans have made more than their share of noise at World Championships since the global clash’s advent in 1983. U.S. decathletes have mined gold in the meet 9 times: Dan O’Brien ’91, ’93 & ’95; Tom Pappas ’03; Bryan Clay ’05; Trey Hardee ’09 & ’11 and Eaton ’13 & ’15.

Ahead of Oregon22, however, promotion of the event is on a slow roll stateside. That goes, too, for keeping decathlon (and heptathlon) protagonists informed as they plan their seasons.

As of the first week in February, the site and dates of the U.S. decathlon trials for the World Champs remain mysterious to competitors and fans alike. Various sources, mostly not for attribution, say the meet is expected to take place on April 30–May 01 or May 06–07, either somewhere in Southern California or at Arkansas’s fine facility.

Also as yet unknown is the qualifying standard for the meet — a state of “who knows?” which holds true for all events, not just the multis. To enter the ’19 Trials, decathletes needed a 7800 score. Last year 7900 was the golden ticket.

These unknowns aside, during the seasons of ’19 and ’21 (’20 being the pandemic washout year), an even 10 decathletes besides the U.S. Olympic threesome scored above 8000 points — a number befitting their event.

10 To Watch Out For

Harrison Williams, 25, 8439 (’21). The ’19 NCAA runner-up for Stanford placed 3rd at USATF that year and then 14th at the World Champs in Doha. He jumped his best up by 300-plus points last April, placed 4th in the Olympic Trials (8306). Potential for big numbers in the 400, hurdles, vault and 1500.

Devon Williams, 28, 8345 (’17). The ’17 Georgia grad trains with Scantling in Jacksonville guided by their former Bulldog coach Petros Kyprianou.

Of working alongside his training mate since college days, Scantling says, “Even though we’re not there anymore, the Georgia decathlon tradition is about as rich as you can get in this country. So I think that we have definitely made our mark and it’s still going.”

Williams won the USA title in ’19 and after earning 3rd at USAs in ’17 placed 10th at the World Champs. A hamstring injury scuttled his ’21 OT fight after 4 events. He is now on the rebound and brings notable LJ & hurdles chops.

Solomon Simmons, 28, 8227 (’19). The USATF runner-up in ’19 with his PR, scored 8151 for World Champs 8th in Doha. A ’16 Eastern Michigan grad, at his best captures points across the board and stands out in the javelin.

Kyle Garland, 21, 8196 (’21). Another from the vaunted Georgia corps, the ’21 SEC champ is just a soph this season and placed 6th at the Olympic Trials. Although Garland has new coaching since Kyprianou’s move to the pro arena, Scantling says, “He’s carrying on the tradition. So I can’t wait to see what he does this year.” Started ’22 with a 6163 hept. He is a fine high jumper (7-1¾/2.18) and hurdler (13.94).

Joe Delgado, 27, 8161 (’21). He placed 4th at the ’18 NCAA for Louisville and last season, while a volunteer assistant at Navy, raised his best by more than 300 points to place 5th at the OT. Closes with quick 1500s, including 4:14.34 at the ’17 NCAA while an Oregon Duck.

Markus Ballengee, 24, 8097 (’21). As an Arkansas Razorback earned 3rd at the NCAA last year. Reached his best at the Olympic Trials for 7th. Now a Florida senior, grabs steady points across all 10 events.

Scott Filip, 27, 8094 (’19). After scoring a pair of NCAA 5ths for Rice in ’17 & ’18, he joined the 8000-point club in ’19 and 7 weeks later finished 5th at USATF. An OT vault no-height held him to 13th last summer.

Tim Ehrhardt, 26, 8066 (’19). A Michigan State alum, 5th for the Spartans at the ’15 NCAA, he scored his best at the Clay Invitational 3 years ago and shone in the OT vault with a 17-10½ (5.45) clearance. Has possibly retired amid rumors the Santa Barbara TC, with which he trained, has folded its tent.

Jack Flood, 25, 8038 (’21). A 2-time NCAA Div. III titlist for Cortland State and aspiring TikTok influencer, he pushed his best above 8000 last May and scored just 2 points fewer at the Trials for 9th.

Hunter Price, 27, 8035 (’21). A product of Colorado State, his score above 8000 last May marked a nice improvement on a prior best of 7801 in ’17. He made it through the PV at the OT before having to withdraw.

On Timing Of Their Trials

Although, the site/date details remain opaque, all three ’21 World Rankers are bullish on the prospect of contesting the Worlds Q meet in May.

In comments echoing those made by Bastien and Ziemek, Scantling explains, “I peaked at the Olympic Trials [in ’21] and then I had to peak again a month later. Just having to do that is extremely difficult.

“So [a May Trials] gives us a chance to start a new cycle and then get ready to actually try to contend for a medal at a major championship. I think that was kind of on everyone’s minds and I think this is going to be really good.” ◻︎