RIO DE JANEIRO • A sprint and a sprinter - say, the 200 metres, featuring Usain Bolt - offer a thunderclap of energy, coupled with 20 seconds of pure athletic competition easy to decipher.
One man ran faster than the others. He is the winner. At the Olympics, he wears gold.
But the decathlon takes two days, four competitive sessions and 10 events. It involves a scoring system that might even confuse college mathematics professors.
And yet when Ashton Eaton finished the final strides of the 1,500m on Thursday - a combination of wince and smile crossing his face - who is to say he is not a better athlete than Bolt?
Does Eaton bring the flair of Bolt? No. Rather, he delivers a calm, understated sense of accomplishment.
"If you watch him compete," fellow American Jeremy Taiwo said, "he's always rooting for everyone else. Just to see that person, that character, be at that high level of performance and be the best athlete of all time, that's awesome, right?"
Like Bolt, Eaton had a claim to history as well on Thursday.
He not only tied an Olympic record with 8,893 points, but he became just the third man to win back-to-back decathlon titles, putting a gold next to the one he won four years ago in London and his name alongside Britain's Daley Thompson and the United States' Bob Mathias.
But could he not have squeezed out one more point for the Olympic mark, thus shoving aside Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, who tallied the same score in 2004?
"When you look at 10 events and you look at all the little centimetres over 10, it's like, 'How can there not be one stinking point in there somewhere?' But it's the decathlon, I guess," Eaton said.
And it is glorious, anyway.