By Paul Higham. Last Updated: August 8, 2008 2:46pm
Sebrle: Decathlon star
In the toughest of all the track and field disciplines, only the very strongest can claim the glory, and so the fact that Roman Sebrle is the man to beat as he looks to retain his Olympic title shows what a special athlete he is.
With decathletes facing two gruelling days of all-round action, several, if not all, excel in one particular faction of the event either being speedsters who struggle with the power events or musclemen finding it tough to get their legs moving on the track.
Czech athlete Sebrle though manages to combine speed and strength with the obvious skill to master the more technical events on offer - with also a near-unlimited reserve of stamina needed to get through the ordeal and emerge with the gold.
33-year-old Sebrle started out as a high jumper but after switching to the decathlon he has moved to another level and will head to Beijing as the reigning European, World and Olympic champion and the world record holder.
First going over 8,000 points in 1996, Sebrle came ninth at the World Championships in Athens a year later and also claimed his first medal with a bronze in the heptathlon at the World Indoor.
A silver at the European Indoor in 2000 was followed by a silver at the Sydney Olympics where he only narrowly lost out to Estonian star Erki Nool.
12 months later Sebrle stepped it up another notch as he set a new world record and became the first man to go beyond the 9,000-point mark as he posted 9,026 in Gotzis.
A first decathlon gold inevitably came at the 2002 European Championships and after a silver at the worlds he claimed Olympic gold in 2004 in Athens by breaking Daley Thompson's 20-year-old Games record with 8,893 points.
A second European gold in Gothenburg in 2006 maintained his standing as the best around but it could have all ended in January 2007 when he suffered a terrifying injury when a javelin hurled 55 metres by South African Sunette Viljoen landed in Sebrle's shoulder.
A stunned Czech ripped out the spear and remarkably he escaped with just 11 stitches when a puncture just one centremetre higher could well have ended his career while a bit either higher or lower could have caused a far more serious injury.
Sebrle recovered well and just seven months later he lifted World Championship gold for the first time in Osaka, Japan, to complete his set of major medals.
Now holding all three big golds, and the world and Olympic records, it will take a huge effort from challengers such as American Brian Clay to stop Sebrle joining British great Thompson and American Bob Mathias in successfully defending the Olympic decathlon title.
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