Feature30 Jun 2022

Collegiate decathlon record-holder Kyle Garland ready to compete on the big stage at WCH Oregon22


Kyle Garland

Kyle Garland had big expectations when he headed to Arkansas in early May for the USA Track and Field Combined Events Championships. 

A year ago, Garland was in second place after seven events in the decathlon at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field when a hamstring injury over the final three events cost him a shot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

This year, when Garland got in the starting blocks for the 100m, the opening event of the decathlon, at the U.S. Championship meet at the University of Arkansas, he was confident he was ready to make the U.S. team for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. 

What happened over those two days and 10 events sent shockwaves throughout the sport. 

Garland, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, and former Georgia standout Garrett Scantling put the world on notice that the United States will again be a major factor in track and field’s most grueling discipline in a global major championship. 

Scantling won the competition with a world-leading 8,867 points to become the No. 3 American all-time behind only Ashton Eaton and Dan O’Brien, and the No. 7 performer in world history. Garland crushed the collegiate record with a score of 8,720 points, making him the No. 7 American all time. Garland briefly was ranked No. 2 in the world and remains No. 3 in the world rankings. 

Scantling, Garland and Zach Ziemek, the third-place finisher with a personal-best 8,573 points, will be the three U.S. representatives in the decathlon when the World Athletics Championships are contested on U.S. soil for the first time at the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon from July 15–24. 

“I definitely had really high expectations for that meet," Garland said. “I wouldn’t say that 8,720 was at the forefront of my mind, but at the same time I knew I was capable of something big. I just locked in on another level.” 

Garland opened the decathlon with personal bests in the 100m and long jump, and led after the opening day with a first-day personal best of 4,660 points. Then he closed the competition in style, recording personal bests in four of the five second-day events, including the final three events. Added all up it meant 8,720 points as Garland easily broke the collegiate record of 8,528 points set three weeks earlier by Ayden Owens-Delerme of Arkansas and Puerto Rico. When Owens-Delerme broke the collegiate record, he eclipsed the mark of Garland’s former teammate, Karel Tilga, who tallied 8,484 points last year. 

“I definitely think that was by far my best decathlon that I executed both mentally and physically,” Garland said. "But I don’t think that’s where I’m stopping. I have a lot of room to improve. There’s some things I’ve looked back over after I kind of came down off that high of just making the team and excitement. There’s definitely a bigger score coming for sure.” 

A month before the U.S. Championships, Garland scored 8,133 points at the Tennessee Relays, just shy of his then-PR of 8,196 points set at last year’s Southeastern Conference championships. Heading to the USATF Combined Events Championships, Garland made all the right changes for his breakout performance in May. 

“I knew there were some things throughout the indoor season and early outdoor that I wasn’t doing to the best of my abilities, with my diet and some of the mental preparation that I put into the decathlon," Garland said. “I think I was kind of selling myself a little bit short, so I locked in over that month from Tennessee to the U.S. Championships and when I got in, I had no doubt I was capable and ready to make the team.  

“Once I got out there on the track and the first couple of events started, it was just on from there. I just ran with the energy I was bringing. Nobody could tell me I wasn’t going to make that team after I started.” 

The performances of Scantling and Garland give the U.S. the most hope it’s had in the decathlon entering a major global outdoor championship since Eaton retired after winning his second straight Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Since then, the U.S. has been shut out of the medals at the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships and the 2020 Olympics. Scantling was fourth at the Olympics in Tokyo, and Ziemek was sixth. 

World record-holder Kevin Mayer of France and Damian Warner of Canada will be the favorites at WCH Oregon22. Warner became the fourth member of the 9,000-point club when he scored 9,018 points to win the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and ranks second in the world this year with 8,797. Ziemek is ranked fourth in the world with Owens-Delerme ranked fifth. Also in the hunt will be Australia’s Ashley Maloney, the bronze medalist from Tokyo. 

O’Brien said he’s excited to see what the American decathletes can do on home soil. 

“When (Scantling and Garland) scored that high, I think they instantly became medal contenders,” O’Brien said. “You look at the scores and who can beat them. Kevin Mayer from France and Damian Warner from Canada, but if those guys can go to the World Championships and score that, both of them will be in medal contention all the way through.” 

In some ways the World Athletics Championships are an overdue major global championship for Garland, who at last year’s Olympic Trials, looked like he was on his way to making the Olympic team. He had personal bests in the first three events of the Olympic Trials, added a season's best in the high jump and concluded the first day with 4,424 points, 70 points back of Scantling. He was still in second place through seven events, but a hamstring injury slowed him down over the final three events and he finished in sixth place with 8,140 points. 

“I definitely knew I was in a good position to potentially make that team, but unfortunately an injury kind of stopped me from showing my full potential last year," Garland said. “I was really using last year’s Olympic Trials as an experience meet. It was my first major Trials, and I just wanted to get that exposure, compete against a lot of the best guys in the U.S. and guys that I knew would be in that conversation for a very long time. Just kind of show my talents as much as I could last year, kind of get myself comfortable with how competition would be with these guys and getting ready for the following year.” 

Before getting ready for this season, Garland had a decision to make following the Olympic Trials when Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou chose not to return to the Bulldogs. Kyprianou had built a multi-event dynasty at Georgia featuring Scantling, Karl Saluri, Devon Williams, Maicel Uibo, Tilga, Garland and Johannes Erm on the men’s side, and Kendell Williams and current Florida star Anna Hall on the women’s side. Kyprianou also coaches Great Britian’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the defending world champion who has been battling back from surgery after rupturing her Achilles last year. Kyprianou will be on the U.S. women’s coaching staff for WCH Oregon22 as an assistant coach for the mulit-events and jumping events. 

The U.S. Championships were a nice moment for Garland and Hall, who won the women’s heptathlon with a score of 6,458 points, as they both qualified for the World Athletics Championships. 

“I was extremely happy for her,” Garland said. "We’re just both really excited that we were able to face a little bit of adversity of Petros deciding he was going to leave at the end of our season and just kind of finding something new. I think it was very beneficial for us to find something new.  

“We were ready for a new start and the memories and the lessons we learned from Petros, I know we both will cherish those forever. I think athletes like us, sometimes we need a change. And as you can see, the change has been doing us very well.” 

Garland, who picked the Bulldogs over Oregon, Miami, Auburn, and Texas Tech for college after being a high school track and field star in Pennsylvania, decided to stick with Georgia when it moved quickly to hire USC head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert to replace Kyprianou. Smith Gilbert then went out and added Texas Tech’s James Thomas as the multi-events coach. Thomas and Garland were well connected after Thomas tried to recruit Garland to Texas Tech. 

“I wanted to give Georgia the chance to see who they would bring in, see what coaching staff they would bring in,” Garland said. “When I heard they were bringing in Caryle and James Thomas, I was excited.  

“I liked what (Thomas) was talking about when he was recruiting me, so I definitely want to give him an opportunity to be able to coach me and see the chemistry we can build. It’s definitely been working very, very well.” 

Staying with Georgia has helped Garland add to the Bulldogs’ multi-event legacy. Uibo, Erm and Tilga combined for four NCAA outdoor decathlon titles from 2014-21. Georgia has had seven decathletes score over 8,000 points in their college careers, all since 2015. And Garland tops them all. 

“It’s an amazing culture," Garland said. “There’s some times that the athlete can put some pressure on themselves. But if you just allow yourself to have fun, there’s not really much pressure that you can really put on yourself. If you can put your name in the record books at UGA, you know you’re one of the best to ever do it in this event.  

“Especially in the multi-events, you see the guys we’ve brought through. These are the best of the best guys. Those guys have been to the Olympics and World Championship meets and such, and they’ve performed extremely well, so just knowing that I’m in that conversation and now to have the school record at UGA, over all those guys, is incredible.” 

Garland followed his U.S. national performance by finishing third earlier this month at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with 8,333 points. Owens-Delerme, boosted by a collegiate decathlon record 46.10 seconds in the 400 to close the opening day, maintained his lead from the first day and won with 8,457 points to equal Eaton’s NCAA meet record. Leo Neugebauer of Texas and Germany was second with 8,362 points, surpassing the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 8,350 points.  

Garland struggled through the discus, the second event of the second day, which took him out of the running for the NCAA title. He finished with strong performances in the pole vault and javelin and concluded the decathlon with a personal best in the 1,500m. 

“That 83(00) number is still a really big barrier, there’s not many people in the world that have ever scored 8,300 points,” Garland said, “so I’m just excited to still be able to finish this competition healthy and get another shot at Worlds. I didn’t have my best decathlon competition, but I didn’t give up and I fought through the competition, fought through the 10 events and was able to PR in the 15(00), so I was excited.” 

For Garland, consistency is something that will be a big key for him entering the World Athletics Championships and beyond. 

“The biggest thing is not changing anything,” Garland said. “What I’ve done up to this point has gotten me to produce some very good results, and I don’t think I really have to change anything.  In practice, it’s doing everything I’ve done up to this point. Just executing, being confident in myself, being confident in what the coaches have done for me and just trusting the plan. I think if I do that, then I’m on the right track. 

“I think World Championships this year is how U.S. Trials was for me last year, the exposure. It’s my first major championship, and definitely not my last one. I’m excited to get that exposure and be competing against a lot of those guys, and just show my talents on that world stage.” 

By Ashley Conklin

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