Triathlon vs. Decathlon vs. Crossfit Games

What sort of competition determines the greatest athletes on the planet? Surely, it would be the most grueling contest, one that tests strength, speed, and endurance? When reflecting on this criteria, three finalists immediately come to mind: the Ironman triathlon, the decathlon, and the Crossfit games (hold your screams, we’ll get to this).

She's happy because she's not dead

The ultimate in testing cardiovascular endurance, this triathlon is (obviously) composed of three parts:

2.4mi (3.86km) swim

112mi (180.25km) bike ride

26.2mi (42.2km) run

Yes, a full marathon is only a PORTION of this competition, such is its insanity. It should be noted that although this triathlon involves significant bodyweight locomotion, like the upper-body-intensive swim and leg-firing cycling, it also commands quite a bit of muscular endurance. However, you’ll notice that the appearance of the athletes is much more wiry, as is fitting for the endurance activities, so the competitors that are actually winning aren’t typically as strong as many other athletes, like gridiron or basketball players.


One of the ancient traditions brought back to modern times with the Olympics, the gold medalist is also awarded the title of “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” High praise, indeed. Over two days, athletes compete in ten track and field events (women compete in seven for the heptathlon, shown in the right column):

Day 1

•100m run                         •200m run

•High jump                        •High jump

•Shot put                           •Shot put

•Long jump                       •100m hurdles

•400m run
Day 2

•Javelin throw                   •Javelin throw

•Pole vault                        •Long jump

•1500m run                      •800m run

•110m hurdles

• Discus throw
Pretty solid roundup. But is it really the best that can be done? There’s no endurance component, not even a 5k run. And then the throwing events lack substantial weight. While hurling a small bowling ball is nothing to scoff at, it’s much more of a power use, rather than strength.

The Crossfit Games

Now, this one might get some laughs, but as far as individual sports, there’s no denying that those Crossfitters are exceptionally fit, and it has a much wider range of events to round out overall fitness, compared to other strength-based competitions, like Olympic and powerlifting. That’s where this one really focuses: muscular strength. Although it also hinges quite a bit on muscular endurance.

On the other hand, it’s really missing a significant cardio component, normally a single run early in the competition. I say “normally,” because the Games are unique in that they do not have a set event list. However, they usually break down as follows:

•Calisthenics (glute/hamstring developer, muscle-ups)

•Weightlifting (variations of cleans and squats)

•Run (trail or flat, approximately 3-5km)

•WOD (“workouts of the day,” generally a combination of the proceeding three)

A More Perfect Competition?

Since we’ve determined that each of the proceeding is lacking in someway to crown the greatest athlete on the planet, is there a way to devise a contest to measure that? I’ve created one such idea below, composed of events and the aptitude they test:

13.1mi (21.1km) run— cardiovascular endurance

1km swim— muscular endurance

Clean and press— full-body strength

300m hurdles— agility, coordination

100m run— speed

High jump— coordination, lower-body power

Shot put— upper-body power


10 thoughts on “Triathlon vs. Decathlon vs. Crossfit Games

  1. I’m coming from a slightly different perspective. The greatest athlete is a combination of elite fitness and elite physical skill/co-ordination.
    As examples of what doesn’t work, look at golf and weightlifting. Playing a hole in golf requires great skill, but elite fitness isn’t required. I would remove your clean and press for a different reason. We’re not looking for the strongest man/women any more than we”re looking for who can do the most push-ups or crunches. We’re looking for the most athletic. Of course, it requires real co-ordination to perform an Olympic lift, but not on the level of say the high jump. Besides, no sporting event should be included that is so skewed towards strength that it allows one to be fat and a champion. That’s not my idea of elite fitness. That also puts the shot put in jeopardy, but there are other field events in track and field that require great strength and could be substituted for the shot put.
    I’d love to find a way to include a gymnastics event or two, but then you’re stuck with judges and a subjective scoring system.
    You might add the 400m Individual Medley swim to increase the physical athletic skill/co-ordination factor. And, of course, it certainly includes the elite fitness requirement, too.


    1. Hi Jojob, thanks for the input. I don’t believe my example is skewed towards strength, since that is only one aspect of my proposed competition. The shot put also demonstrates a different sort of power, versus a clean and press. At any rate, I made sure to also include endurance and co-ordination tests, like the half marathon, swim, and high jump.

      Now as far as being “fat,” I think the way you are using that term makes it highly subjective, so I’m not sure what you mean there. I wouldn’t say that Olympic lifters are fat, per se, although body composition can depend on the weight class.


  2. Have you tried your events by yourself?, is it something you trained?.

    I would stick to the 7 basics athletic skills.

    Run(5) 5 different distance from sprint to long distance
    Swim(3) 3 different (deep, distance under water and free)
    Jump(2) Long and height
    Lift(2) One hand lift and carrying
    Throw(2) Precision and distance
    Climb(1) Something involving balance too
    Fight(1) Injury free

    I tough a lot about it a would like to create an event to bring people to compete over 4 days. (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
    So 16 events on 4 days.

    I do all those sport daily because it’s just the way human move. Lots of my idea come from hebertism.

    Maybe two more events (biking and rowing)

    I like your article it’s respectful and open minded


  3. I enjoyed this comparison. I’m curious what you think would be the optimally hybridized body type for all three competitions? Obviously, you’d want to find the perfect balance of strength, endurance, and athleticism. Where do you think this would fall? If a man was six feet tall, how much would he ideally weigh? Hope you’ll reply, or even consider a stand alone blog post on this matter.


  4. Also of note is Mark Vieda, who is an ultramaratoner who squats 700 lbs. If I had to guess, at 6′ tall, I would estimate 180-195lbs. However, many marathoners and powerlifters (as well as some sprinters) are actually shorter than average. So 5’8″, 150-160lbs might be ideal (these numbers are conjecture on my part).


  5. It’s called ninja warrior…
    Nuff said.

    Lmfao. When the buildings and earth become a tragic wasteland only people surviving that are ninja warriors. Woooooo


    1. Well it’s important to consider that the Ninja Warrior course (which is highly entertaining and those people are great athletes) favors rockclimbers and is still based in short-duration activity. So while the participants may be adept with explosiveness and muscular endurance, their raw strength and cardiovascular abilities are not challenged by the course.


  6. People comparing Triathletes or laughable cross fitters to decathletes is ridiculous. lets look at your list shall we.

    13.1mi (21.1km) run— Triathlete would win this. But you think a decathlete can’t run distance? ROFL. C’mon man! of course they can! I was a professional decathlete. running 20km – no problem. would it be as fast, probably not, but I could run a 10km in sub 35min. not shabby at all.

    1km swim— Triathlete again, depends on how well the decathlete and Cross fitter can swim.

    Clean and press— Toss up between cross fitter and Decathlete. I would say decathlete. FAR more explosive. FAR more rehearsed in Olympic movements also. Cross fitters do it for repetition. Decathletes do it for sheer explosive power. We need to remember! 9 of the 10 events are all POWER.

    300m hurdles— Decathlete – forget the rest

    100m run— Decathlete – forget the rest.

    High jump— Decathlete – Forget the rest

    Shot put— Decathlete – Forget the rest.


    1. Hi Matt, I definitely share your feelings that decathletes are the most well-rounded. I think a lot of people underestimate the lifts of track/field athletes because there’s a misunderstanding about speed and power. I wrote this article with a more casual reader in mind (and in fact I’d probably update my list by replacing clean/press with deadlift to measure absolute strength and replace the half marathon with a simple 10k).
      I’d really be interested in seeing a Crossfitter do shotput (after a little technique training, of course), and my intention was not to say “Oh, these athletes are better and would win these competitions” but rather explain to laymen what differentiates each discipline (this post saw a major traffic boost during Rio, despite being about a year old) and to try and come up with a more perfect all-around test of human performance measures, which I think the decathlon does a great job of, but gets a little redundant/misses a couple. Thanks for your comment and keep working hard! I’m a competitive long jumper, myself.


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