For the first time, women will be able to compete in an indoor heptathlon at the X-Athletics event in Clermont-Ferrand on 27-28th January 2024.
The French athletics federation had already set out their intention to create an opportunity for women to compete for an official national decathlon title in 2024.
And now the land of Marie Collonvillé, the first world record holder in women’s decathlon, has created the opportunity for the first world record in women’s indoor heptathlon.
OUTDOOR HEPTATHLON V INDOOR HEPTATHLON
In 2023, France was at the forefront of creating opportunities for women to compete in decathlon. Ten events were included in the schedule for women at the Open de France meeting in Évry-Bondoufle in July, where the decathlon was won by 8000+ decathlete and pioneer Jordan Gray. The federation signalled its intent to upgrade the meeting to provide an opportunity for women to win an official national decathlon title in 2024.
For those not familiar with combined events, the indoor heptathlon – usually for men – is different from the outdoor heptathlon in which women compete.
The women’s outdoor heptathlon consists of the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m on the first day, and the long jump, javelin and 800m on the second day. Typically, the indoor event for women is the pentathlon, dropping the 200m and javelin and turning the 100m hurdles into 60m hurdles.
Likewise, the “men’s” indoor heptathlon is a truncation of the decathlon. The seven events are the 60m, the long jump, the shot put, and the high jump on day one; and the 60m hurdles, pole vault and 1000m on day two.
While the first unofficial world record in men’s indoor heptathlon is attributed to Hans-Joachim Walde in 1970, the first IAAF-ratified record came in 1986 to the legendary German Siggi Wentz. The current world record belongs to Ashton Eaton, although Kyle Garland came within six points of it with 6639 during the 2022-23 indoor season.
It is this event at which women will have the opportunity to compete in Clermont Ferrand in January, over and above the usual one-day pentathlon. The meeting organised announced this week that six women will compete, and the goal is to set an inaugural world indoor heptathlon record.
Curiously, elite men have also been able to compete in indoor pentathlon, and the most illustrious athlete in recent years has been the Asian Games decathlon silver medallist Tejaswin Shankar. But the indoor heptathlon for women is, perhaps, the rarest opportunity of all.
SCORING TABLES FOR THE 1000M
While the opportunities for women to compete in decathlon and create a portfolio of scores are growing year on year, there is one particular barrier that prevents the same from being true with the indoor heptathlon. World Athletics’ scoring tables make provision for all ten events of the decathlon for women, and of course the 800m of the indoor pentathlon, but they do not include scores for an indoor 1000m.
In an interview with Decathletes of Europe last year, US decathlete Hanna McPhee highlighted the issues with scoring for indoor heptathlon. ““There was one situation where I was doing an indoor heptathlon, instead of the pentathlon, as a warm-up for a decathlon. And we were trying to debate whether we should run an 800m or a 1000m at the end of the heptathlon. It’s supposed to be a 1000m but there’s no points table!”
The current iteration of combined events scoring tables date from 2001, albeit with more recent reprints. They still contain, in the introduction, a provision that the field events should be reversed in the women’s decathlon, because of “problems when these two events should be organised at the same stadium at the same time.”
Such words, deeming the women’s event an inconvenience, would never survive for inclusion in the equivalent documentation if published today, given World Athletics’ otherwise commendable work on gender equity.
But the scoring tables remain frozen in time, without a women’s indoor 1000m, or indeed a 60m.
The combined events world is not short of statisticians and other numerate professions, including among the female decathlete community. So, the problem seems to be one of motivation, rather than one of capability.
Thankfully, the momentum is growing to correct this remaining anomaly, and the X-Athletics organisers are pursuing a solution to the women’s scoring tables with the French federation. The aim is to create the conditions for the first ever women’s indoor heptathlon world record in Aubiere next January – another step forward for female decathletes.