Cedric Dubler in the decathlon 1500m at the Australian Combined Event Championships (© Getty Images)
When Cedric Dubler told his mother that he wanted to do the pole vault, Australian athletics can be thankful that her reaction was to call the local athletics club.
“I watched Steve Hooker win the gold medal in Beijing,” Dubler recalled, “and I told Mum, ‘I want to do that’.”
Rather than replying, as might be expected, “that’s nice,” Dubler’s mother got on the phone to the local University of Queensland athletics club to enquire as to whether they knew someone who could teach the event.
They did, and the young 13-year-old Cedric Dubler was on the way to adding another sport into an already very active kid’s life.
A little further along the way Dubler met his coach, Eric Brown, took up the decathlon, took fourth and second places at successive IAAF World U20 Championships and qualified for selection to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, becoming the first Australian representative in the decathlon since 2000.
“I was an active kid,” Dubler said, “always outside on the roads whether it was on a skateboard, riding a bike, or just running around. I did a lot of different sports: football, soccer, cross country.”
This would not have been an atypical background for Australian kids a few generations back. In his autobiography, The Measure of Success, the late Ron Clarke described how he and his older brother Jack ranged far and wide around their local suburbs in Melbourne when they were growing up, but it is not so common now, especially in big cities in these risk-averse times.
Shaped for the decathlon
Anyway, it turns out that Dubler was shaped for the decathlon, both physically and mentally, by his environment.
Even so, it was something of a surprise when he achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in winning the Australian title in Sydney this year.
At the turn of Olympic year his best stood at 7197 (with the senior implements; he had done 8094 with junior equipment). He improved to 7785 at his state combined events championships in January, a few days before his 21st birthday.
Nevertheless, the leap to 8114 at the national championships in Sydney on 1 April was no surprise either to Dubler or coach Brown.
“I did expect it,” Dubler said. “My results in some of the individual events were better than expected, others were not.”
Coincidentally, Dubler’s score exactly matched the personal best of New Zealand’s Brent Newdick, the last Oceanian athlete to top 8000 points. Newdick was a guest in Sydney this year but last bettered 8000 in 2012 and set his personal best in Gotzis in 2011.
When the young Cedric Dubler turned up at the University of Queensland with Steve Hooker’s gold medal triumph still in the forefront of his mind, he was initially coached in pole vault by Ben Turner. But when Turner moved to another position two years later, Dubler joined up with Eric Brown.
Brown had already had success with combined events, most notably coaching Jason Dudley, who took a bronze medal with 8001 at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Brown was excited by Dubler’s potential from the start but took a softly, softly approach initially, continuing to let him stick to the vault.
From debut to world U20 silver in two years
“After a while, Eric suggested I try a decathlon. ‘I want to see how you go’,” Dubler recalled him saying.
Dubler did fine. Within a year he was the national U17 champion and qualified for his first World U20 Championships in Barcelona, finishing a creditable fourth. Two years later, in Eugene, it was silver and now it is on to Rio.
Although he gets plenty of input from outside – sports psychology, nutrition, strength and conditioning – Dubler says that Brown remains his coach.
“I find it a lot easier with just one voice. Eric knows me, he knows just how much training I can take, and it’s just easier to communicate with one person than a whole group.”
Dubler values the input of his sports psychologist, whom he sees every two weeks at the moment. One of the areas they have worked on is coping with the demands of competing over two days.
“How to handle the nerves; how to switch on and switch off, (The decathlon) is two days, but you have to focus on one event at a time,” said Dubler.
Since the national championships at the beginning of April, Dubler has stayed in Australia, training. Based in Brisbane, the furthest he and Brown have travelled is further north up the coast to Townsville where they did a block of training and a competition in the warmer weather.
Ready to make a point
“Things have started to come together. We’re at the pointy end now.
“With the decathlon, it is a constant battle between you and your body, between the training you want to do and what you’re capable of doing,” added the prodigious Australian.
Dubler is built more along the lines of Olympic champion and world record-holder Ashton Eaton than the stronger throwing type of decathlete.
“My strong points are running and jumping. The throws are the events where I need to focus over the next few years, but I see myself as young with a long career ahead of me.”
As to Rio aspirations, Dubler is aiming for top eight. “Another 2-300 points on my nationals score should place me quite well.
“The Olympics is that next level up. I’m in a good position, I’m very fit and mentally in a good space.
"I’m an underdog, not much will be expected of me.”
If things go to plan, this might be the last occasion Cedric Dubler will be able to say that.
Len Johnson for the IAAF