James Sullivan has been chatting with the current Australian Decathlon Champion, and rising star David Brock, who will compete at the World University Games in Korea this July.
David Brock is a multi-event athlete from Melbourne, Australia, who competes predominately in the decathlon. Having claimed the national title as a junior in 2013, he won his first senior Australian Championship gold medal, with victory in Brisbane in March of this year, amassing a personal best total score of 7733 points in the process. He has since been selected to represent Australia at the World University Games in Korea this July.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. So to begin, how did you first get involved in athletics?
David: My grandfather, John Murray, was a middle distance runner during the time of the Australian middle distance greats of Ron Clarke and John Landy, so athletics was pretty much a necessity when I was growing up. I also have three older brothers who I looked up to and always wanted to be better than, and ever since they started athletics I was at the athletics track watching and wanting to join. I had a great group of friends who went through Little Athletics with me, which made me want to continue competing, so that I could hang out with them every week.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
David: Not particularly, but my grandfather was a big influence. I grew up hearing stories from everyone who knew him about how great a runner he was and how he got so close to competing at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and I always thought how great it would be if people who know me now would speak of me so fondly when I have children and grandchildren. So I guess Grandad would have been my idol.
James: How did you get involved in multi-eventing? When did you realise that your future in the sport would be in the decathlon?
David: When I was younger, I did every sport that I could and enjoyed almost all of them. When I got into high school I realised that I would soon have to choose a sport that I enjoyed the most and could hopefully have a good career in. I won my first national junior medal in 2010 and that was the turning point, where I realised that I wanted to choose athletics.
The odd combination of high jump and javelin as my two best events sparked interest in one of the local coaches who started training me more for the sprints and suggested that I have a go at the U16 state Heptathlon, where I won my first state multi-event title. I continued competing as a high jumper and a multi-event athlete and eventually diverged into a “pure” multi-eventer if you can call it that.
James: What would you describe as your strongest discipline? Which do you feel needs the most improvement?
David: The high jump would be my strongest discipline, but I get the most points in my long jump. My javelin needs the most improvement. I have had a lot of small injuries that have made my javelin training disjointed over the years, meaning I have not really improved much since under-17s
James: You recently claimed your first senior Australian National title in April. Can you put that experience into words?
David: Relief and joy. I was in a good position to contend for the gold last year but was let down by my discus and hurdles on day two. I was in a similar position this year but held my nerve and ended up getting personal bests in both of those events, which shows to me that I can still do anything.
James: You’ve been selected to represent Australia at the World University Games in Korea later this year. What are your goals for this competition?
David: The ultimate goal for the competition would be to get the Olympic Games qualifier of 8100. But to break 8000 points would be awesome as well.
James: Looking further ahead, what are you targets over the coming few years?
David: I will give the Rio qualifier a good crack next year, but I would love to compete in my home country in 2018 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
James: Can you give an insight into the training of an elite decathlete? During the winter, what would an average week of training look like? How does this change come the Australian championship season in February to April? How do you combine so many different disciplines into a training week?
David: It’s tough. That pretty much sums it up. It’s difficult to fit every event into the week of sessions, as well as strength and conditioning during the winter, because the sessions go for longer and you often get stuck at the track for 4+ hours. Most of winter is spent in the gym doing the strength and conditioning, trying to get a good base for the summer season ahead. The track sessions involve lots more numbers to try to get lots of kilometres into your legs before you try to push them over the top in summer. The field sessions are similar to the track, lots and lots of numbers, 100’s of throws each session with heavier weights; the 9-12kg shot puts, the 2.5-3.5kg metal plates for discus, and the 3-4 kg short hammers for discus as well. All of this is done to strengthen the body before lightening the load in summer and starting to run fast/throw far/jump high/ jump far.
Combining all 10 events into a week is a balancing act. You are trying to improve as much as you can in each event by training for them, but also trying not to overload your body by training too much every day. When I can, I try to train around midday for my running and jumping, and then back it up with some throws later in the afternoon after a bit of rest and refueling. Rest days are important. I usually only have a rest day once a fortnight, but if I feel like my body needs it, I will rest. You are better off resting and training well the rest of the week than not resting and struggling for the whole week.
The average winter week would involve 3 weights sessions, 2-3 throwing sessions, 2-3 running sessions (lactic or speed and every fortnight a longer run), 1-2 jumping sessions and a pole vault session. This is what I can fit in alongside my university commitments, but I would like to add another pole vault session in there and even a gymnastics or pilates session as well. In summer I drop a weights session and pick up what I feel like I need to do the most, plus a bit more rest so I can train at a higher level.
James: Many multi-eventers admit to not training specifically for the final event on the programme, the 1500m. Do you do any specific sessions for the metric mile? Why is this discipline usually overlooked in training by many decathletes?
David: I will sometimes do blocks of a couple of months where I will do some 1500 training every Sunday. It usually involves 2-4 800m reps or some 1-1.2k time trials to try and find a comfortable rhythm. It is usually overlooked because of the fact it has such little correlation to the other 9 events. For example, if you improve your 100m time, you will most likely see improvements in your 400m, long jump, high jump, pole vault, hurdles and javelin. Whereas if you improve your 1500m, you might only see minor improvements in your 400m and that would be all. The decathlon is predominantly a power event.
James: How important is strength work for a decathlete and how much emphasis do you put on it? What specific strength exercises do you incorporate into your training?
David: Strength training is crucial. Your strength training is the base in which you develop your technical training. Most of my strength training is powerlifting. I do snatches, cleans, bench, incline bench, squats, push press and other various supplementary exercises. Core exercises and plyometrics are also included.
James: There’s no doubt that a decathlon is extremely demanding on the human body. What is your post competition routine? What do you do specifically to recover?
David: After a decathlon, I will do my proper warm down of a lap and some stretches followed by an 8 minute ice bath which lowers my temperature and helps to reduce excessive inflammation in my muscles and joints. When I get back to where I am staying, I put on my compression tights and do some self-massage to increase blood flow to my muscles to allow the necessary healing to occur. It is very important to make sure that you mobilise your body after two long days of intense competition. You want your body to be pumping fresh blood all around your body as best as it can. If you sit down and do nothing for the days after a decathlon, your blood will just pool in your body and your muscles will not get the right amount of nutrients that they need to recover completely and quickly.
James: The decathlon is well known for its unique camaraderie among competitors. Can you describe what this is like? Have you made many friends through direct competition?
David: I feel as though no matter what happens out on the track, the fact that you have shared such an intense period of time with each other and that you know what everyone is going through, you will always end up as friends. Everyone shares an incredible amount of respect for each other. It’s hard not to become friends, especially since you share such similar lifestyles, so you tend to have a lot in common. And to be honest, all decathletes just seem to be great blokes. I don’t think you can get too far in the decathlon if you are a dick. You will just have a bad time during the competition and your performances will suffer.
James: There are some who argue that the world’s best decathlete is by default the world’s best track and field athlete. Would you agree with this?
David: Yes. You hear of many multi-event athletes trying their luck in the individual events and show great success due to their ability to learn and commit to large amounts of training. Whereas many individual event athletes try to make the conversion to the multi-events and struggle to fit everything in without getting injured or neglecting certain disciplines.
James: You compete regularly in the AV Shield, Victoria’s primary inter-club competition, which caters for every athlete regardless of age or standard. How important has this competition been with regards broadening the appeal of track and field and getting more of the average Joe’s involved in the sport? Going forward, how can this appeal be increased?
David: The weekly shield competitions are awesome. It’s a great place to meet people, make friends, get fit and healthy, improve your fitness for other sports, and to test yourself against people of a similar standard to you. It would be great if there was a bit more advertising for the sport so that more people would become interested.
James: Like many decathletes, you compete throughout the entire Australian season, from October until April, unlike many of the leading athletes in single event disciplines. How do you treat competition in the early part of the season?
David: The early part of the season is more like training. It’s good to be able to see where you are at in your training at that stage. Lots of my field events are off shorter run ups so the body is not put under too much stress. The only problem for decathletes competing in the weekly competitions is that the programmes are poorly set out. There are 8 decathlon events scheduled for one week and only 2 in the next week. It would be good if they were more spread out.
James: Do you feel athletics in Australia gets its fair share of funding or can more be done to help the sport develop? How do you support yourself financially?
David: I’m not entirely sure how much AA receives in funding but I’m sure if more money was to be pumped into the elite athletes and the advertising of the sport, the sport would greatly benefit. It has been done in other countries where the funding has been increased and the number of athletes winning medals at big championships greatly increased.
Supporting myself is always difficult as not many jobs like the look of my availability due to training and university commitments. So most of my money comes from coaching at schools and doing any gardening work that I can fit in around my neighbourhood. But that doesn’t cover too much, mainly petrol and training costs. When the big competitions come around I usually rely on a bit of help from my parents. Although this year the costs required for me to be able to travel to the World University Games in Korea are proving a bit tougher to achieve. I have set up a GoFundMe page to see if any friends or family could help and am about halfway to the amount that I need to reach (http://www.gofundme.com/davidbrockgwangju).
James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?
David: I love watching athletics. I think it is one of the most exciting sports to watch. I am really enjoying the battle between the two champions in the high jump at the moment, Bondarenko and Barshim. I don’t think it will be too long before Javier Sotomayor’s world record of 2.45m will be broken.
James: That’s great David. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in Korea and beyond.