Decathlete Japheth Cato has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the best multi-event athletes in the nation. Just recently, his 6,024-point total at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational launched him to a mark of third-best in the world. No longer an unknown track star on campus, there’s little about his career that remains unknown.
However, exactly how Cato started his career in track and field lingers in debate.
“My brother will tell you it was him, and I was following him,” Cato said. “My dad said it would make me a better football player. I wanted to do it because I thought it would be fun in high school.”
In addition to family incentives, Cato has always looked up to 2008 Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay.
“I idolize him and Googled him up so many times,” Cato recalled as his passion for the sport expanded. “I completely praised that man until two years ago, when I saw decathlete Ashton Eaton lighting things up. He’s so close to my age. I thought if he can do it, I can definitely do this.”
High school sport careers don’t always take off, but after winning some events and placing second in the pole vault, Cato knew he wanted more.
Now at Wisconsin, Cato is a decathlete, which slates him to compete in ten events: the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter run, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500-meter run. The events are spread over two days with five events each day. It may not seem like a common sporting event, but Cato’s variation of skill sets has helped him find his specialty.
“In high school I did a lot of things. I ran the 400, pole-vaulted, long jumped, and high jumped,” Cato said. “I found myself doing a lot of events and after researching I found one single event that encompassed all these events.”
Of the ten events, Cato says that his favorite event is the pole vault.
After trying the event for his first time during his junior season at Bloom Trail High School near Chicago, Cato wound up vaulting at the Illinois Class 3A State Championships, where he finished second with a jump of 15 feet 6 inches.
“It usually takes people years to jump what I jumped, and for whatever reason, it came naturally to me,” Cato said. “I loved it.”
Though much of the sport came naturally to Cato, he had to learn how to stay focused and patient if he wanted to be successful.
“I’ve learned that track is a very patient sport even though it seems like a quick thing,” Cato said. “There are a lot of details and things like that so you have to be patient. You only get one race, one jump or one throw and if it doesn’t go your way you have to take it and keep going on.”
Patience is a characteristic every athlete must have, not only to take the meets one race at a time, but also to listen to his or her bodies as they endure the long season. Cato added athletes must take care of their bodies because they will get sore, and if they forget the fundamentals, they risk injury.
His persistence and work ethic are just a few of the qualities that his teammates admire in their junior leader.
“The fact that he is a leader and gets us going, but is fun at the same time, it’s fun in practice when it’s not serious all the time,” Ben Schreib said.
Schreib is a redshirt freshman who finished second behind Cato in the pentathlon at the Wisconsin Elite Invitational on Jan. 18. The two teammates find themselves competing with each other yet working together and pushing each other at the same time.
“Obviously for me, I’m trying to reach that level of competition,” Schreib said. “But [it] is more of working together and competing against myself at meets.”
The level of competition Cato has set for Schreib is one that few athletes can attain and many more remain envious of. He was named 2011 Big Ten Indoor Freshman of the Year, 2012 Athlete of the Year, became a 2012 All-American and holds a Big Ten record. Titles have lost a bit of their normal flare for Cato.
“The titles only stay with me for maybe 24 hours,” he said. “You can’t let it get to you. When they call my name I feel better and I make sure I live up to my own name.”
Living up to the Cato precedent is hard enough for the man himself, let alone his competitors. Cato hasn’t let his many successes get to his head, though. The increasingly-famous Badger keeps focus on what he needs to do.
“It makes me want to work even harder. That’s the number one thing that pushes me through all my workouts,” Cato said. “My dad tells me to wake up and train like someone’s trying to take your belt from you.”