Virtual Icosathlon

Photo Credit: Vinh Lam

How do you pronounce it? And what is it? Nicola Barberis explains the competition and fun of completing all 20 track and field events.

“How do you pronounce it?” This is probably the most frequent question I have been asked, even more often than “How does it work?” So, just to get things right straight away, it is spelt ICOSATHLON and pronounced I-coz-a-tlón (aɪ- k-o-s-a- θ-lɒn). Ok, fine, what is it then? From Wikipedia: the Icosathlon “is an ultra multi-event of track and field competition consisting of 20 events contested over two days”. In 2016 Serpentine introduced a virtual competition over the summer that mirrored the official one, but that happened over the entire outdoor track and field (T&F) season. And at the end we crowned the Serpie men’s and women’s Icosathlon champs.

Icosathlon history

How did all this start in the real world? Apparently, the idea was born in Finland in the early 80’s when, while preparing for the 1st IAAF World Championship, a local athlete (Finnish decathlete Risto Karasmaa) decided it was time to see if it was possible to combine all 20 T&F events in one single competition. The very first Icosathlon was held in September 1981 in Helsinki: nine men took part and five finished (survived?). For the following 10 years, all competitors remained pretty much local to Finland, until 1990 when the first Icosathlon World Championship was held (guess where? Yes, Helsinki). Since then, world champs have been held around the globe (Europe, US, Australia), every year alongside regional events with growing interest and popularity. Currently, world records are held by US icosathlete Joe Detmer (14571 points) and Briton Kelly Rodmell (11091 points) for men and women respectively. Of course, there are also variations of it: Tetradecathlon (14 events), Icosathlon in one day, indoor versions, etc. Points are calculated based on official point tables and full details can be found on the icosathlon official website.

And how does it work? This is very simple: starting with the 100m on day 1, the athletes competes in all 20 events that can happen on a track or field (from 100m to 10,000m, long jump to shot put, or high hurdles to steeplechase) over two days with the grand finale on day two being the 10,000m (nothing beats 25 laps of the track with achy muscles, does it?). Fun facts: athletes are allowed a one hour break each day. The winner is of course whoever scores the most points across the 20 events.

Serpie Icosathlon

Photo Credit: Vinh Lam

How does this fit with us? Last year we decided to add a bit of spice to our T&F season and included a virtual competition alongside our normal championships. In the past the club had a virtual decathlon, but it has always been biased towards those who specialise in sprints and field events, and few Serpies are really into them. But when we looked at the Icosathlon format, we thought that it was perfect for Serpies: all decathlon events were there, but then all longer races on the track were also included, pleasing any taste. And once we set the rules, it was downhill from there. You can read more about how it works on our webpage, but in short, these are the key aspects:

  • Compete in at least 12 out of the 20 events from April to September
  • Final score is calculated on as many events as each athlete competes in (up to 20 – the best performance is used if more than one result is available for an event)
  • Any race (league, open meeting, club championships) counts, as long as it is competed in as a Serpie athlete
  • Two rankings are calculated: one overall and one age graded

Last year’s summary

And how was it? Possibly one of the funniest things I have done on a track. Many people engaged with it pretty much as soon as the season kicked in. You could be at a Rosenheim competition in the middle of the week with five Serpies trying to stick a javelin in the ground or assist at a Southern Athletics League 3,000m steeplechase, where of the ten competitors, seven were Serpies because “it was the last chance to get points in this event”… as proved in this hilarious video from Vinh Lam. We had to negotiate with race officials to allow more of us to throw or jump in an event, in spite of the maximum number of competitors being reached; or try to see how to squeeze in a long jump between a 200m and a shot put attempt. You could see one Serpie teaching another how to throw the hammer without risking strangulation and ten minutes later the same two Serpies trying to outperform each other in the same event. At the end of the summer, after many laughs, a healthy level of comradeship and fierce competition, seven men and three women managed to score in at least 12 events. Overall winners were Richard Taylor (who competed in 18 events and scored 7,844) and Eryn Lowell (with 6,061 points in 14 events). You can see the full results and final ranking on our website.

So, are we going to hold this again this year? Of course we are! Some people have taken their training “very” seriously over winter and are going to give Richard and Eryn a run for their money. In the hope to inspire more people to take part, as this is not for specialists only (you can see some interesting “hurdling” techniques in the video above), all Serpies can take part, all you need is some enthusiasm.

Get in contact if you are interested and would like to have some questions answered.

Photo Credit: Vinh Lam

Nicola Barberis has been the senior men’s team Track & Field captain since 2010, competes across a wide range of our activities and also coaches the Thursday session at Battersea.