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'I've had the record in my sights'

How KU junior Alex Jung conquered the decathlon to become a Big 12 champion & school record holder

11 min read
KU junior Alex Jung smiles with elation under a celebratory shower after winning the Big 12 Conference decathlon title and breaking a school record in the process. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Ten fights.

That’s the way KU decathlete Alex Jung describes his signature event, and it’s derived from the German word “zehnkampf,” which, translated into English, literally means 10 battles.

Last weekend, at the Big 12 outdoor track meet in Waco, Texas, Jung was the last man standing after those 10 fights, winning a Big 12 title with 7,706 points, which was four points better than the 27-year-old KU school record.

His final event, the 1,500-meter run, was what put him over the top. Despite being exhausted after the grueling two-day competition — made longer by a handful of rain delays — Jung ran a new personal best in the 1,500 by six seconds (4:36.31) to pick up 704 points. That chunk, added to his total from the nine earlier events, pushed him past Mike Evers in the KU record books and past Cincinnati sophomore Dominique Hall, who finished second with 7,649 points.

“I was laying on the floor dying and my coach came up to me and said, ‘Yo, you won,’” recalled Jung, a KU junior and native of Germany, during a sit-down interview with R1S1 Sports this week. “I probably asked him like five times in a row, ‘Did I really win?’ I think I realized that I won but I couldn’t believe it.”

Under normal circumstances, the athletes can check the scoreboard to see where they stand, and the results are usually updated pretty quickly. Jung tried but did not succeed.

“I couldn’t read the board because I was so tired,” the 24-year-old Jayhawk said. “I was literally standing there with my hands on my knees trying to read it, squeezing my eyes, but I could not grasp what it was. I just could not read it.”

Eventually, not long after he started to catch his breath again, Jung’s accomplishment hit him.

And one of his first moves was to call his mother, Elena Jung, back at her home in Remeldorff, France.

Elena, who was a heptathlete in Russia during her competition days, had been tracking the results of the Big 12 meet and cheering on her son from afar. But the rain delays and time difference eventually led to her drifting off to sleep.

The phone rang at 6 a.m. and seconds later Jung told his mom the news.

“The call did wake me up,” Elena said in a text message to R1S1 Sports that was translated by her son. “I had already only slept an hour because I was waiting for the results. I thought he would never run (the 1,500).”

Neither did Jung.

“I called her as soon as I was able to walk and speak again,” he said, noting that they communicate in German. “I told my mom, ‘Mom, I ran a freaking 4:36 in the 1,500.”

Long before he did, Jung’s parents were the driving force behind his own self-confidence and the belief that he could do anything he wanted in life — and in track — if he put in the work required to get it done.

“We knew that he was able to break the record, and we always believed in him,” Elena added. “I would have never thought that he would go out and run a 4:36 in the 1,500, but, obviously, we were really proud and happy about it.”

So was Jung. Partly for himself and partly for his mother.

See, Elena had her own big plans as a young athlete. She pictured a professional career and even dreamed of bigger glory. But injuries derailed her heptathlon career and always left her wondering what could have been.

“That’s why I do it to some extent,” Jung said. “For her.”

KU's Alex Jung celebrates his Big 12 decathlon title at the conference's outdoor meet last weekend in Waco, Texas. [Big 12 Conference photo]

A record-setting day

Sitting in fifth place after Day 1, which consisted of the 100, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400, Jung refocused before Day 2, which would start with 110-meter hurdles and move to discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1,500 to complete the decathlon.

“I’ve had the record in my sights for a while,” Jung said with a smile, noting that he and Evers have known each other for a couple of years and joked about him one day breaking the record.

After five events, though, he did not think last Friday was the day to do it.

He knew he could still win the event. But he also knew it would take some of his best marks ever to get to the top of the podium.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’ve gotta lock in if I want to win this,’” he remembered thinking.

KU junior Alex Jung competes in the 110-meter hurdles at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships last weekend in Waco, Texas. [Kansas Athletics photo]

The signs of something special on the horizon surfaced right away on Day 2, when he finished first in the 110-meter hurdles and picked up 918 points from that event.

He added a second-place finish for 725 more points in the discus next and then grabbed another 910 points with a victory in the pole vault.

He lists pole vault as his favorite and best event, with javelin, discus and hurdles rounding out the top four.

As for his weakest of the 10 events?

“I don’t think I have a weakest by now,” he said. “In the past it was always the 1,500. I used to freak out before the 1,500. Like, it was bad. A lot of butterflies.”

It’s not that he looks forward to the 1,500 these days. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he’s learned how to tackle that monster, even if it is excruciatingly painful every single time.

“By the time I get to the 1,500, I’m already delusional,” he said. “And I’m just ready to get that one done. I wouldn’t call it torture. It’s getting pretty close to it, but it’s not exactly torture.”

Part of the reason it feels so tough at the end is what comes before it.

Because he’s usually one of the best finishers in the pole vault (Event No. 8), Jung does not have as much time to rest and recover before moving on as those who go out at lower heights.

He gets 30 minutes to pack up his stuff at the pole vault pit and head to the javelin and another 30 minutes after the javelin to pack up and head to the track for the 1,500.

“You go to the start and do your strides as a warm-up and everything is already hurting and you’re like, ‘Shit. I have to do that so many more times, with everyone watching and everybody’s just gonna see me die on the track,” Jung said of the final event. “It’s a lot. I knew I would have to run a PR and run fast if I wanted to win. That got me through, though, and I did what I had to do.”

The decathlete's life

Jung said he would miss so many of the events of the decathlon if he were to specialize in any one of them, so he pretty much has resigned himself to being a decathlete for life.

The native of Saarlouis, Germany, a town of 35,000 which sits in the southeastern portion of the country near the French border, said he tried both soccer and basketball while growing up.

“But I was not good,” he noted.

In large part because of his mom’s influence, but also because of a natural love of track and field, he became a decathlete and sought to master a multitude of events within a single competition.

Former KU record holder Mike Evers, whose son, Wilder, is a walk-on on the current KU basketball team, compares being a decathlete to being a great golfer from a numbers and mental perspective.

In golf, you’ve got guys who are long off the tee, always in the fairway, great putters, magicians around the green and excellent ball strikers.

“But it’s the person who can do all of those things really well who’s going to win and be the best in the game,” Evers said.

While putting it all together in the decathlon means different things to different people, Jung has always been pretty open-ended.

Some decathletes meticulously map out exactly what times and distances they need to reach their target score and then start keeping track. Jung does just the opposite.

“Regarding the points, I take a different approach than most,” he said. “I’m more of I’m gonna do me and I’m trying not to think about the end score. I know if I do what I can do the end score’s gonna be good.”

There are times, however, when points and placement enter his mind during a meet. Jung said that typically occurs when his body is starting to feel tired and his mind tends to wander with it.

While each week is largely structured the same, there is some flexibility in the training. Jung said KU assistant coach Paul Thornton puts it all together but also listens to the needs of each of his athletes.

“He’s kind of the professor who’s teaching us students on how to do the decathlon,” Jung said.

On Monday, it’s high jump, sprints and weights. On Tuesday, it’s hurdles followed by more weights. Wednesday is a heavy pole vault day and Friday brings a harder running workout.

Thursday is the day that’s usually reserved for whatever specific event the athlete would like to focus on that particular week, whether they’re trying out a new technique or simply fine-tuning their approach.

“It’s so refreshing to not always be stuck on one event,” Jung said. “You have pole vault on Wednesdays and then you come back on Thursday and do shot put, which is totally different.”

Old meets new

It’s obvious now why Jung got into one of the toughest events in all of sports.

For years, the winner of the Olympic decathlon has carried the title of “the best all-around athlete in the world,” and Jung said that, to this day, he remains impressed by his ability to win those 10 fights every time he completes a decathlon.

“It’s not like I haven’t thought about if life would be so much easier if I just did discus or pole vault,” he said. “But there’s something to the decathlon. When you’re done with it and you look back at it, no matter what the score was, you’re like, ‘Damn. I really did that.’ Every time.”

The mere fact that the decathlon’s roots can be traced back to the ancient Greek Olympics and the pentathlon that started it all, adds a bit of romanticism to his passion, as well.

“Pole vaulters pole vault every week at meets,” Evers told R1S1 Sports. “And 100-meter guys run 100 meters at every meet. But multis only do two, three, four decathlons a year. So, there’s a huge mental aspect of getting ready for one.”

“Training to compete in 10 events and being competitive in 10 events is one thing. Being a decathlete is something else entirely,” Evers added. “I think it takes actually doing one to fully appreciate how hard it truly is.”

On the surface, there’s not a lot that connects the worlds of Evers and Jung.

Different upbringings, different eras, different nationalities, different strengths and weaknesses.

But the one thing they had in common helped bring them together and made this recent record-breaking night even more special for both of them.

Enter longtime KU student-athlete development AD Scott “Scooter” Ward, who once roomed with Evers and now works with Jung on his academics.

One day, not long ago, as the two were in Ward’s office working through schoolwork, the conversation turned from the classroom to the track, and Ward promptly called Evers to have him talk decathlon with Jung.

“Scooter just called and said, ‘Hey, tell him about this,’” Evers recalled. “So, I was able to have conversations with Alex that I absolutely loved — it’s not everybody who can talk about this topic — and that made it even sweeter. I got to be part of his journey and he was sponge and just soaked up every ounce of information he could get and was really hungry for all of it.”

At the meet last Friday night, Thornton, who is in charge of Jung’s training, sent Evers a text to let him know that Jung had won and his record had fallen.

“It was around 11:30 at night but I was still up and Paul said, ‘You said you wanted to know,’” Evers said. “Right away, I was so happy to hear the news. You get excited for him because you see the passion that he has and the love he has for the sport.”

“He’s got a bright future, and this was just one number. He’ll go much higher than this, and I’ll be right there rooting for him to do it.”

Said Jung of Evers’ prediction: “I’m going to try!”

KU decathlete Alex Jung is showered with water after winning the Big 12 decathlon and breaking the school record last week in Waco, Texas. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Jung's record by the numbers...

 Day 1:

100 – 7th place in 11.06 seconds (847 points)

Long Jump – 7th place in 22 feet, 1.5 inches (753)

Shot Put – 3rd place at 43 feet, 0.25 inches (674)

High Jump – 8th place at 6 feet, 1.25 inches (679)

400 – 4th place in 49.32 seconds (846)


Day 2:

110 Hurdles – 1st place in 14.44 seconds (918)

Discus – 2nd place at 141 feet (725)

Pole Vault – Tied 1st place at 16 feet, 4.75 inches (910)

Javelin – 3rd place at 177 feet, 8 inches (650)

1,500 – 4th place in 4:36.31 (704)

— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit

R1S1 features on 5 of the Jayhawks at Outdoor Nationals:

• 'I've had the record in my sights'

• KU's Yoveinny Mota off to nationals as record holder & future Olympian

• Devin Loudermilk's jam-packed path from hooper to high jumper

• 'It's kind of what you dream of'

• Clayton Simms' memorable streak

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