How do you become the world’s greatest athlete? You train and then train some more, and then don’t stop until your elbow pops or until you’re on top of that Olympic decathlon podium.
The man who wants the title of World’s Greatest Athlete drops his workout bag – it’s black, except for subtle trim in the colours of the five Olympic rings – on the empty grandstands at Mike A Myers Stadium at the University of Texas, in Austin.
Trey Hardee removes a white three-ring binder to refresh himself on his warm-up for the day: a 400m jog, followed by two sets of six sprint drills at 40m each. Then it’s 14 flexibility exercises repeated 10 times. And then, finally, it’s down to the real business for the day: hurdles.
“It’s a good day,” he says. “We’re taking things pretty light.”
So what is a bad day like?
“You start in the weight room at 7am and you don’t leave until after 11,” he says. “You grab a bite to eat, take an hour, and then you’re back on the track.”
Six days a week, Hardee, 28, exhausts himself to be the best in the world at the decathlon, the event that’s the centrepiece of the track and field portion of the Olympics. Its 10 events are held over two days: a fatiguing combination of sprint and distance running, as well as the discus, shot put, pole vault, high jump, long jump, and javelin. It is an entire track meet done by one man.
Hardee is inundated by numbers, figures, measurements and digits – he’s the first to admit he’s anal-retentive about monitoring his training. His vitals can be summed up numerically: he is the two-time defending world champion in the decathlon, he consumes around 7,000 calories a day – that’s the equivalent of the normal daily intake for three men – and he lives 4.47km away from where he trains. When asked how he knows exactly how far the distance is between his home and the stadium, Hardee shrugs. “Track guy,” he responds, pointing to himself. Naturally. For track guys, it’s always about numbers.
But right now, there are only two that really matter to Hardee. It’s two months until the Olympics start in London. And there is only one gold medal up for grabs.
Giving the Olympic decathlon champion the honorary title of ‘World’s Greatest Athlete’ is a tradition that started at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, when King Gustav V of Sweden told winner Jim Thorpe, “You, sir, are the world’s greatest athlete.” (To his credit, Thorpe responded: “Thanks, King!”) On the 100th anniversary of that first Olympic decathlon, Hardee seeks to become the 12th American to bring home the gold, an honour roll that includes stalwarts like Thorpe, two-time winner Bob Mathias, a pre-Kardashians Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien, and 2008 Olympic champion Bryan Clay.
Besides being an athletic endeavour of truly gruelling proportions, the decathlon is a nightmare of multivariable calculus, strategy, and a touch of the butterfly wings of chaos theory – an ever-changing dynamic of measuring your accomplishments in distance, strength, speed and height and receiving a score that is added up against that of your competitors.
Read the full story in June's issue of The Red Bulletin.