What is Olympic Heptathlon?

2012 heptathlon gold medalist Jessica Ennis leads the pack in London, during the 200-meter run.
2012 heptathlon gold medalist Jessica Ennis leads the pack in London, during the 200-meter run. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The heptathlon is the women's multi-events competition at the Olympic Games. The competition tests the athletes’ endurance and versatility as they take on seven events in a two-day period.

The Competition

The women’s heptathlon rules are exactly the same as the men’s decathlon rules, except that the heptathlon consists of seven events, also held on two consecutive days. The first day’s events, in order, are the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and the 200-meter run. Second-day events, also in order, are the long jump, the javelin throw, and the 800-meter run.

The rules for each event within the heptathlon are generally the same as for the individual events themselves, with a few exceptions. Most notably, runners are allowed two false starts instead of one, while competitors receive only three attempts in throwing and jumping events. Competitors cannot pass on any event. Failing to attempt any single event results in disqualification.

Equipment and Venue

Each heptathlon event takes place in the same venue and uses the same equipment as its individual Olympic Games counterpart. 

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Athletes in the heptathlon must achieve an Olympic qualifying score and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in the heptathlon.

At the Olympics, there are no preliminary competitions - all qualifiers compete in the final. Points are awarded to each athlete according to her numerical performance in the individual events - not for her finishing position - according to pre-set formulas. For example, a woman who runs the 100-meter hurdles in 13.85 seconds will score 1000 points, regardless of her placement in the field. Consistency, therefore, is another key requirement for success in the heptathlon, as a poor showing in any one event is likely to keep an athlete off the medals podium.

If there is a tie in points after seven events, the victory goes to the competitor who out-scored her rival in more events. If that tiebreaker results in a draw (3-3 with one tie, for example), the victory goes to the heptathlete who scored the most points in any single event.