Former Wildcat competes in Olympics decathlon for Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO — Olympic decathlete and University of Arizona graduate Pau Tonnesen will look for his father in the stands during his multi-day competition in Rio. (Photo by Jaclyn Chung/Cronkite News)

“He’s never missed a decathlon competition. So this is, I guess, the biggest decathlon of my life and I wouldn’t expect him to miss this one either,” Tonnesen said about his father’s commitment to watching him compete last week.

Tonnesen was hopeful that his father and family would be able to make it to the August Games in Rio. In May he was not entirely sure if his Arizona family could make the trip.

Now, the athlete’s family is here to watch him represent his home country of Spain during the two-day, 10-event Olympic decathlon that began Wednesday.

“I feel great. I’m not so nervous yet but that’s on purpose. I’m trying to keep my wits about me right now,” Tonnesen said.

The 23-year-old was a member of the track and field team at Tempe Preparatory Academy before he became involved in decathlon in late 2011.

Tonnesen’s practice has clearly paid off; in May, he was named the Pac-12 Field Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive season.

He ranks sixth in the nation among decathletes and third all-time in Pac-12 history, as reported by the Pac-12 Network.

Tonnesen was born in Tempe and grew up in Arizona, but he is able to compete for Spain because of his dual citizenship.

Tonnesen officially hit the Olympic qualifying mark last year at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. There, he had a breakthrough performance and a score of 8,247 points at the NCAA Championships last year. That score was high enough to earn him a spot at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio.

Tonnesen contributes his success to his many coaches and more specifically to his prior University of Arizona coach, Matthew McGee.

McGee has been training Tonnesen for the last year and enjoys the ups and downs of decathlon competitions.

“Sometimes I’m most excited for a certain event and then we get to the decathlon and it goes terrible, and then an event that I was really worried about goes great,” McGee said. “That’s the decathlon, you have to have that mentality of there are going to be ups and downs. If you get emotional, or too down, if you have a performance that upsets you, that could trickle over into the next event and affect your mindset for that one.”

Tonnessen appears ready for the ups and downs and has enjoyed his time in Rio and staying at the Olympic village, living among some of the greatest athletes in the world.

“You know, I’ve been working for this all year. I’ve done all the running, I’ve done all the lifting, I’ve done all the training, all I have to do now is just come here and execute. And it’s just a great feeling to be surrounded by people with similar goals as myself and just similar talents,” Tonnessen said.

After the Olympics, Tonnesen plans to relax.

“I think I’m going to join a basketball team with my brother and kind of just have fun a little bit, not worry about track too much before I have to get back into it,” Tonnesen said.