World's Greatest AthleteAUGUST 23, 2008
- Charlie takes a break in the middle of the 1500m.
- (Justin Lukach)
- View the Slideshow
I recently interviewed Bruce Jenner and was surprised to hear that he didn't think I knew what the decathlon was. When I told him it was ten events over two days and the winner was considered the world's greatest athlete, he was surprised, impressed even.
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"Very good, very good," he said. "That's better than most people."
Most people? When it comes to the games of the summer Olympiad, I am not most people. In fact, every four years, I get so inspired by the Olympics, I actually get off my couch and exercise. Take 1996 for example. I started running after I watched Michael Johnson set the world record in the 400 meters. In 2004, who wasn't moved by the young swimmer Michael Phelps? I certainly was. And to prove it, I bought a Speedo - and wore it - in public. So when Jenner assumed I didn't know what the decathlon was, well, I was kind of offended. But then I asked myself, do I really know what the decathlon is?
There was only one way to find out. I actually had to do the decathlon. Which involved training.
I ran for four days, which felt like one of those dreams where you run but don't get anywhere. (Probably because I haven't run in years and have absolutely no leg muscles.)
My training abruptly ended after only four days, when my left knee gave out. But like my elite athlete peers, I wasn't about to let a little pain get in the way of my quest. Heck, if Tiger Woods can win the U.S. Open with a double stress fracture, I could surely manage to compete in ten events with a bum knee.
Great athletes always set the bar high for themselves, and I'm no different. My goal was simple: beat Jenner's marks.
My first race was the 100 meters; a seminal event for Jenner when he won the decathlon.
"I felt like I won in the first event, the 100 meters," he said. "If my speed is on, I'm ready. The rest of it is going to happen."
Like Jenner, I'm a decent sprinter. In fifth grade, I won the 50-yard dash, so when I got to the starting line, I felt like my speed was on. It wasn't.
I crossed the finish line in 17.22 seconds, 6.67 seconds slower than Jenner.
Nevertheless I felt as though there was plenty of time to make up ground, like in the long jump, where I planned to fly past Jenner's mark of 7.22 meters.
But again, I was mistaken. I jumped a measly 8 1/2 feet.
That first day, I ran half as fast and jumped half as high as Jenner, and after only five events, had to admit to myself what I'd secretly known all along, that I'm half the man Bruce Jenner is.
With no chance of catching Jenner or anybody else in the history of the sport, I showed up on day two to do it all over again.
I did the 110-meter hurdles, or as I called them after landing on my face, the 110 meter "hurtles." I also did the discus, the javelin and the 1500 meters. It was a blast. Not really. I was so slow in two events that I failed to earn a single point. I nearly decapitated a friend of mine with the discus. And with only one event left, I did something I promised myself I wouldn't do: I hired a coach to help me compete in the decathlon's most dangerous event, the pole vault.
The man I called on was Brooks Morris. He trains the U.S. decathlete Bryan Clay in pole vault, so I was confident he could make me fly.
"What do you think the chances of me being able to beat Bruce Jenner are?" I asked Brooks. [Jenner vaulted 4.8 meters.]
"If we go four-foot-eight and convert it that way. We spot you meters for feet…" he replied.
I got the gist of what he was saying. There was no chance I'd surpass Jenner's mark.
I trained with Brooks for two days, but time after time I just couldn't clear the bar. Once I even came down with my legs on either side of it, and nearly ended my chances of becoming a father.
On my last attempt, I held the pole aloft and stared 47 feet away at the bar, then I took off down the runway, planted the pole in the box…and soared.
On my final attempt I cleared the bar. All five feet of it. At that moment I felt confident that, should the need arise, I could easily vault over Prince…but not if he was wearing heels.
I had finally finished--7,969 points behind Bruce Jenner--but, yes, I'd finished and could say with confidence--not to mention a bum knee, twisted ankle and sore groin--that I do indeed know what the decathlon is.