"Greatest Woman Athlete" and USA record assault set for College of San Mateo on June 23

Jordan Gray of Kennesaw State earned All-America honors in the heptathlon at this year's NCAA Div. I Championships. She'll compete at San Mateo in the decathlon on June 23. (Courtesy Kennesaw State)
Jordan Gray of Kennesaw State earned All-America honors in the heptathlon at this year's NCAA Div. I Championships. She'll compete at San Mateo in the decathlon on June 23. (Courtesy Kennesaw State)


SAN MATEO - The greatest woman athlete?

Bay Area sports fans will have a unique chance to weigh in on that subject over the next two weekends when “candidates” appear in Silicon Valley.

Contenders will compete on consecutive Sunday afternoons at Peninsula colleges. College of San Mateo hosts the first standalone Women’s Decathlon National Championships Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23, and will crown American’s “greatest women’s athlete” at approximately 3 p.m. on Sunday. Competition each day begins at 10 a.m. Admission is free.

On the following Sunday, June 30, top Olympic and World Championship athletes will gather at Stanford University for the Prefontaine Diamond League Classic, the only major international track meet in the USA this year. (They will use CSM’s facility as their pre-meet practice track. The events are not related.)

Three-time Olympian Pat Daniels Connolly, out of Capuchino High (San Bruno) and College of San Mateo,

has been a women’s decathlon advocate for 55 years – since being “relegated” to the 5-event pentathlon (in 1964) and limited to running no further than 800 meters as a pioneer American multi-sport star (and 1967 Pan American Games gold medalist). Still the American Record holder in the Pentathlon, she currently resides in Half Moon Bay and plans to attend the weekend competition.

(Her comments appear at the bottom.)

Although the women’s 10-event decathlon has been an official “IAAF” event for 15 years, it has not yet replaced the 7-event heptathlon at Olympic Games and World Championships. Hence only the men determine a “world’s greatest” with a 10-event competition at those meets.

There is an official American Record in the women’s decathlon, 7,577 points. One of the more than a dozen entrants in this weekend’s meet projects to score close to the 8,000 point range, factoring her season bests in each event.

Jordan Gray just completed her eligibility at Kennesaw State University with an All-America (seventh place) performance in the heptathlon at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas (June 7-8). She scored  a personal best 5,846 points. Gray is an “instant” decathlon candidate, having also placed in her conference championships in the discus and pole vault – the two primary additional events in the decathlon. Adding the scores from Gray’s season bests total 7,917 points. Her personal bests total 8,313.

Official Women’s Decathlon World Record: 8,358 points by Austra Skujyte of Lithuania in 2005, set in Columbia, Mo. She is a Kansas State grad and a 2-time Olympic medalist in the heptathlon.  

American Record: 7,577 points by Tiffany Lott-Hogan in 2000, set in Lage, Germany.

EVENT CHANGES: The addition of the pole vault is a key change from the heptathlon to the decathlon and provides a major scoring opportunity. The other added field event is the discus throw. Changes in the running events include: replacing the 200 meters with both the 100 meters and 400 meters; replacing the concluding 800 meters with the 1,500 meters. Event order will be the same as for the men’s decathlon: Day 1 – 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters; Day 2 – 100 hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, 1,500 meters.

IRONY: Although women could not run a distance longer than 800 meters at the Olympics until the 1970’s, they now contest every individual event as the men -- including the 10,000 meters, the marathon, and more recently the 50K walk. Ironically, they still cannot run a distance longer than 800 meters in Olympic multi-event (heptathlon) competition!

AnnaLee McGregor of San Francisco holds the women’s decathlon world record in the 1,500 meters, 4:50.8, set in 2014 (and which is worth 888 points on the decathlon table). She is entered in the competition at San Mateo this weekend and ranks No. 7 on the all-time American decathlon list with her score of 6,110 in 2014.

Note: San Francisco has also produced 3-time Olympic 1,500 meter runner Shannon Rowbury, who holds the American Record at 5,000 meters.

A 2018 COMPETITION: An inaugural women’s decathlon championship competition was conducted in 2018, added to the annual Sierra Gold Master’s meet in Grass Valley. It included both open and master’s competitors and was won by Kansas University senior Morgan Griffiths. She scored 5,930 points (which ranks No. 11 on the all-time American decathlon scores list). Griffiths defeated a pair of San Francisco athletes, AnnaLee McGregor (5,786) and Hanna McPhee (5,503), who are entered in this year’s meet. (Seven of the 12 finishers in that competition were from the “local” Pacific Association of USATF, which encompasses Northern California and Northern Nevada.) McPhee’s score last year places her No. 22 on the all-time U.S. list.

Highest Event Scores: The Women’s Decathlon Association maintains all-time lists of top scores; also, world and American records for each of the ten events in the competition. Highest point total achieved in an individual event is 1,108 for a 14-1 1/4 pole vault by Breanna Eveland of the USA in 2006, which supplanted the 1018 total achieved by the first Olympic pole vault champion, Stacy Dragila, who cleared 13-5 1/4 in her one decathlon in 1997. DragiIa started her career as a heptathlete at Yuba College in Marysville, earning a scholarship to Idaho State, where she took up vaulting and became the world record holder.

Women have scored more than 1,000 points in other events on rare occasions:
1054, 6-1 1/4 in the high jump by Austra Skujyte during her world decathlon record in 2006;

1040 for a 13.57 time in the 100 meter hurdles by Tiffany Lott-Hogan during her American decathlon record in 2000; 1027 for 13.66 in the hurdles by Mona Steigauf of Germany in 1997; and

1024 for a 191-8 javelin throw by Barbora Spotakova of Czechoslovakia in 2004.  

--Steignauf has the 100 meter event record of 12.15. Skujyte has records in the shot put,            54-0; the high jump, 6-1 1/4; and discus throw, 161-5.

Other event bests (not included above): long jump, 20-3 1/2, Marie Collonville, France, 2004;

400 meters, 54.0, Ester Goossens, Netherlands, 1997.  


55 Years Overdue: Below are recent comments by Pat Daniels Connolly:
Perhaps, as the first American Olympic Pentathlete, I can add some perspective to the issue of a women's decathlon. In the following quote from my forthcoming book you can see that I wanted it as early as 1964, when the following paragraph was composed:  

 "The Greatest Athlete in the World" is a title given to the Olympic Decathlon Champion.  The decathlon consists of ten track and field events, contested over two days, for men only.  The pentathlon -- five events for women, is on the Olympic schedule for the first time, but it is a patronizing gesture -- as if women are only half as good. The first event is 80 meter hurdles, but they're only 30 inches high and spaced close together and favor short women.  No one wants to see us hurt ourselves on the 42 inch hurdle of the Men's 110 meter race. But a foot lower, come on. Once when there was a tailwind, I caught my toe on the second hurdle, landed on the third and broke my arm on the fourth."

My first pentathlon came at the 1960 US Championships held in Emporia, Kansas during the U.S. Women's Olympic training camp.  I was given permission to enter only if I also ran the 800m race on both days in an attempt to make the Olympic standard. Although I had never hurdled, tossed the shot, or run 200 meters, I took 2nd place and ran 2:14 for the 800 in the middle of pentathlon events -- on both days. That time is still good for a heptathlete and proves a 16 year old girl would have no problem with the 1500 meters of the decathlon!

Before Munich in 1972, officials changed the hurdles to 100 meters and raised them to 33 inches. But the pentathlon still was no test of all around ability and gained little attention.  Then, with specious incrementalism, the javelin and 800 meters were added for seven events.  Why not ten? 

Throughout my 11-year career I had only four opportunities to compete against the best in the world: Tokyo Olympics (8th) and Mexico City Olympics (6th), Pan Am Games (gold medal), 1 pre-Olympic meet in Mexico City (2nd, ranked 3rd in world.) 

I set the American Record several times and it was never broken — even with the later benefit of the 100 meter hurdles and the Fosbury Flop that added centimeters to everyone’s high jump! I was an Olympic finalist, and no one gave a damn.  The point is that USA officials were not about to push for what they considered would be even more embarrassment and a drag on Olympic schedules.

Now that women field-eventers are as good and as entertaining as their male counterparts,  especially in the pole vault, it is time for the decathlon to be the ONLY MULTI-EVENT for women!”  

Hopefully, Pat Daniels Winslow Connolly, 2 time USA National 800m champion and coach.

Decathlon meet director is Becca Peter of Lopez Island, Wash., co-founder of the sponsoring Women’s Decathlon Association (along with Dimitry Yakoushkin of San Francisco). The local organizing committee is directed by College of San Mateo’s Fred Baer, second vice-president (and a past president) of USATF’s Pacific Association.

(Fred Baer, College of San Mateo Athletics)