Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US) has set the bar for challengers at this summer’s charity decathlon to crown the best athlete on Wall Street.
Goldman Sachs had the top two finishers and was the top fundraising company in last year’s event, a 10-discipline competition that raised about $500,000 for patient care and research at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Registration for the fourth annual decathlon opens today and Brad Bagdis, a former Harvard University football captain at Knight Capital Group Inc., is among those challenging the Goldman Sachs team. Bagdis, 27, was third last year behind Goldman’s Justin Nunez, a former defensive back at Columbia University, and Kyle VanFleet, who played fullback at Georgetown University.
“I’d be lying if I told you we weren’t gunning for them a little bit this year,” Bagdis, who’s in his fourth year as an institutional sales trader at Knight Capital, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a bit of a rivalry. I played football against Nunez when he was at Columbia.”
Nunez, in his third year working in the investment management division at Goldman Sachs, won the decathlon title last year after finishing third in 2010.
His victory came before family, friends and colleagues at his alma mater, as the competition was held at Columbia’s Wien Stadium on the northern tip of Manhattan. This year’s event, which tests speed, strength and agility, will again be held at Columbia on July 29. Registration information is available at the event’s website, thedecathlon.org.
“After finishing third, my focus was on winning,” Nunez, who finished with 7,095 points, 27 ahead of VanFleet, said by e- mail. “Now that I’ve achieved that goal, I would like nothing more than to hold on to the trophy for one more year.”
Bagdis and Nunez, 28, are among a group of former Ivy League football players who plan to take part this year. Former University of Pennsylvania defensive end David Betten of George Weiss Associates and former Columbia offensive lineman Ralph DeBernardo of J.P. Morgan also have committed.
Awards are presented to the top three finishers as well as the top executive performer, the winners in three age groups (under 30, 30-39 and over 40), and the top fundraiser.
Tom McGuirk, the managing director of HighTower Advisors in Menlo Park, California, traveled to New York and took top honors in the executive division last year. The 41-year-old McGuirk competed in the 400-meter hurdles for Ireland in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.
While the competition features runs at three distances -- 40 yards, 400 meters and 800 meters -- that’s where its similarities to the Olympic-style decathlon ends. Pull-ups, a football throw, an agility drill, rowing, a vertical jump, bench press and dips -- a triceps exercise using one’s own weight -- are also part of the one-day contest.
The field is limited to 150 competitors, each of whom must raise $3,000 in contributions. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, is among the event’s corporate sponsors.
Bagdis raised $10,710 last year. His roommate, colleague and training partner Brian Ceglarski, 27, brought in almost $13,000, helping Knight Capital rank third in team fund raising in 2011 behind Goldman Sachs ($37,146) and Bank of America (BAC:US) Corp.’s Merrill Lynch ($24,301). They have higher goals this year, with at least two other co-workers joining the event and strong support from management at the Jersey City, New Jersey- based securities firm.
“We’ve got a lot of help from the top guys who are athletes themselves,” said the 6-foot-5 Ceglarski, who won the rowing event in record time last year and plays hockey in a league once a week at Chelsea Piers. “They’ve been supportive financially and in getting the word out there.”
Bagdis, who’s 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds -- down about 30 pounds from his playing weight as a defensive end and linebacker at Harvard -- said he arrives at the office at 5 a.m. on weekdays. He spends about an hour preparing for his work day and then goes to the company gym downstairs for about an hour and 15 minutes before getting back to his desk for a daily team call at 7:30 a.m.
While he’s preparing for all 10 events, Bagdis said last year’s experience made clear his weaknesses.
“Being a bigger guy, I’m going to focus more on the running,” Bagdis said. “It was absolutely brutal, the 400 and 800 meters. I’m just not built for long distance.”
Doug Schlack, a 28-year-old junior bond broker in his fifth year at BGC Partners Inc. (BGCP:US), finished fifth in his debut at the decathlon in 2011 and said this year he wants to match the victory by his younger brother, Chris, at the event in 2010.
Doug Schlack said he isn’t focused on the team from Goldman Sachs, even though he knows he’ll have to get past the defending champion to bring his family a second title.
“I wouldn’t say I necessarily aim for those guys,” Schlack said. “I just know if I stay consistent -- now that I know what to expect -- I should be able to compete again. And as much as you want to win this event, you can’t forget the cause we’re all there for, raising money for cancer awareness and having fun being able to compete.”
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