Twenty years has now passed since the first edition of the Thorpe Cup, but Harry Marra still points to the inaugural meet against Germany in 1993 as his favorite. Frank Zarnowski, who has witnessed all but two Thorpe Cup meets, will always remember a Team USA victory in 1999 by the absolute slimmest of margins as the best he has seen.
The idea started in the stands at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games in a conversation between U.S. decathlon team coach Marra and German coach Claus Marek – a head-to-head men’s decathlon competition between Germany and the United States. From that point, it has grown into the most significant nation vs. nation team decathlon competition in the world.
The Thorpe Cup will celebrate its 20th year at Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., when competition gets underway Saturday and concludes Sunday with men’s Team Decathlon and women’s Team Heptathlon competition. A live webcast will be offered on www.usatf.tv. More information on the Thorpe Cup can be found here.
Previously known as the Visa Cup meet or the Jeep Challenge, the event came to be called the Thorpe Cup in 2007 in honor of 1912 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Jim Thorpe. Marra served as a coach when the meet was launched in 1993 in Aachen, Germany.
“The very first meet the Germans came out breathing fire and we should have nailed them in the first two events,” Marra recalls of the inaugural Thorpe Cup, which started as a men’s decathlon competition and added the women’s heptathlon in 2006. “We were asleep. After the shot put, our guys finally woke up and started to take control again.”
Team USA took control of the competition that weekend when each of its competitors cleared a height in the pole vault and Marra determined they couldn’t lose.
Again in Aachen in 1999, Team USA escaped with a win by just five points.
“In a sporting event where scores add up to 80,000 points, to win by five points is incredible,” Zarnowski recalls. “What is five points? It’s nothing. We pulled it out with some amazing 1,500m performances.”
According to Zarnowski, the Thorpe Cup has picked up significant interest since it was first launched and typically draws between 5,000 and 6,000 fans when held on German soil. This when paired with strong support from each country’s federations and the addition of things such as webcasts have made big differences in the multi-event developmental meet.
“The interest has really grown and there have been amazing crowds in Germany,” Zarnowski said. “In the past it has shown a lot of interest in corporate support and the federations have chipped in. If you have a developmental program that is as successful as ours you need to get behind it.”
Below is a summary of the men’s and women’s fields for this weekend’s Thorpe Cup.
Team USA will look to end a three-year winning streak by Germany in 2013. Despite dropping the past three Thorpe Cup matches in the decathlon, Team USA holds 13-6 overall advantage, which includes winning seven straight from 2002 until 2009. More information including complete rosters for both team in the Team Decathlon along with history of the event see the Decathlon Handbook & Media Guide.
Team USA will feature a trio of athletes that have broken the 8000-point barrier in the decathlon, which includes 2005 Thorpe Cup champion Ryan Harlan, who holds a career best of 8171. Dakotah Keys (8001) and Isaac Murphy (8086) also have career bests over 8,000 points to help Team USA.
Members of Team USA for the Team Decathlon include:
Austin Bahner (Wichita, Kan.) – Bahner placed 7th at the 2013 USA Outdoor Championships and finished runner-up in the decathlon in the Missouri Valley Conference. He holds a personal best of 7,847.
Wesley Bray (Cypress, Texas) – Bray finished fifth at the 2013 USA Outdoor Championships and holds a personal best of 7,932, which he recorded when he placed third at the Texas Relays in 2012.
Dan Gooris (Albuquerque, N.M.) – Gooris won the Drake Relays decathlon and his fourth consecutive Missouri Valley Conference title in 2013 competing for Northern Iowa. He holds a personal best of 7,780.
Ryan Harlan (Hewitt, Texas) – Four times in his career Harlan has eclipsed the 8,000-point barrier. A 2011 member of Team USA for the World Outdoor Championships, Harlan is also the 2011 USA Outdoor runner-up in the event and has won a pair of NACAC titles in the decathlon.
Gray Horn (Wapakoneta, Ohio) – Horn placed third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and holds a personal best of 7,954. He is also a two-time SEC Outdoor champion.
Dakotah Keys (Sweet Home, Ore.) – Keys holds a personal best of 8,001, which he scored in May to win his second consecutive PAC-12 Outdoor title in the decathlon and became the 69th American to score over 8,000 points.Isaac Murphy (Fort Hood, Texas) – Recorded his personal best of 8,086 to place fourth in June at the NCAA Outdoor Championships competing for Texas. Has twice in his career surpassed 8,000 points.
The men’s team is led by University of Oregon combined events coach Jamie Cook and assisted by University of Arkansas coach Travis Geofert.
For the eighth consecutive year, the Team Heptathlon is a part of the Thorpe Cup. Over the seven years of competition, Team USA holds a slim 4-3 advantage over Germany, which includes winning the past three years. More information including history on the event and full team rosters for the Team Heptathlon see the Women’s Heptathlon Handbook & Media Guide.
Team USA will feature a number of Thorpe Cup veterans in the Team Heptathlon, which includes Ryann Krais and Lindsay Lettow, who will each be making their third appearance in the event.
Members of Team USA for the Team Heptathlon include:
Ryann Krais (Eagleville, Pa.) – Krais has finished in the top three in the Thorpe Cup each time she has competed, which includes a second place finish in 2010 and placing third in 2011. The 2011 NCAA Outdoor champion competing for Kansas State, Krais placed fourth in Des Moines at the 2013 USA Outdoor Championships.
Heather Miller (New York, N.Y.) – Miller placed fifth in the Thorpe Cup in 2012 and finished fifth in the heptathlon earlier in the year at the USA Outdoor Championships.
Chelsea Carrier-Eades (Buckhannon, W.V.) – Carrier-Eades placed third in the Thorpe Cup in 2012 and holds a personal best of 5,940. She is also the 2011 Big East indoor champion competing for West Virginia.
Lindsay Lettow (Urbandale, Iowa) – A two-time NCAA Division II champion, Lettow placed seventh in the Thorpe Cup in 2012 and earlier this year won the Drake Relays heptathlon.
Lindsay Schwartz (Watertown, Wisc.) – A three-time Sun Belt Conference heptathlon champion competing for South Alabama, Schwartz placed eighth this year at the USA Outdoor Championships with a personal best score of 5,910.
Kiani Profit (Pasadena, Calif.) – Profit is a two-time NACAC U-23 champion and the 2010 NCAA Outdoor runner-up competing for the University of Maryland.
Sami Spencer (Columbus, Neb.) – Spencer placed 10th earlier in the year at the USA Outdoor Championships and won the Mt. SAC heptathlon this spring with a personal best score of 5,806.
USATF members can access the audio interview and read the transcripts from a Q & A with Marra here.