Sunriver decathlete still competing at 86

SUNRIVER — Ashton Eaton is not the only Central Oregon athlete to win a gold medal this summer in the decathlon.

Meet Denny Sullivan, who, when not designing and maintaining the popular trails at Pilot Butte State Park in Bend, competes in track and field.

All at 86 years old.

Last month in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, Wash., Sullivan placed first in the decathlon at the USA Track & Field Masters Combined Events Championships. He was the only competitor in his men's 85-89 age division, which speaks volumes about the accomplishment of even finishing a decathlon — 10 events, staged over two consecutive days. (The decathlon includes, in order, the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1,500 meters.)

The Masters Combined Events Championships are open to USATF members ages 30 and older. Sullivan was the oldest competitor of them all at Shoreline, and after reflecting on the championships during a recent interview at his Sunriver home, he called the meet one of his more difficult events — he went into the competition with a leg injury and also had been battling vertigo.

The first day of the mid-July meet went well for Sullivan. The second day, however, proved to be disastrous.

Sullvan misjudged a step in the 110-meter hurdles, took a fall and injured his right (throwing) arm, which made tossing the discus and javelin nearly impossible. Not to be denied, Sullivan used his left arm for the remaining events. After posting 42.13 seconds in the hurdles, he threw the discus 52-111/2; inches, pole vaulted 3-111/4, threw the javelin 25-71/2;, and ran the 1,500 in 10:37.86.

"The vertigo was still affecting me a little bit, and I went right through the hurdle," he said, recounting his tumble. "I didn't jump it, I went right through it, and it knocked me down and I came up and was dizzy. I fell three times in the hurdles.

"I at least finished," he added, "but in the wrong lane."

The leg injury and vertigo had given Sullivan second thoughts about taking part in the national meet. But he had his sights set on a new world decathlon record for his age group.

"After you train for months and months and months, I thought, might as well go down and see how I do," Sullivan said. "Then when I got there, there was no one (else) in my age group, and one of the reasons I went there was, five or six years ago, I broke the world's record."

There would be no world record this time, though. He finished the two-day competition with 4,100 points — a respectable total, considering the health issues and the spill in the hurdles, yet disappointing.

The Masters Combined Events Championships are sponsored each year by USATF, the same organization that oversees the U.S. track and field Olympic team (another link between Sullivan and Eaton, the decathlon gold medalist in the just-concluded London Olympic Games). USATF has been hosting masters meets since the late 1960s, and the first national championship meet was staged in 1968.

Sullivan has competed in and won countless masters track events, including masters world championships in Australia and Italy. As the USATF website confirms, he is the current world record holder in the decathlon for the 80-84 age group, with a mark of 6,904 points.

"One of the reasons I do it is the people I meet," he said. "I meet such great people and you help each other out."

Share This Story