Cut Kevin Mayer open and he bleeds red, white, blue and whatever colour the decathlon is. We speak to France’s new superman.

Early afternoon, 17th August, Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Stadium, the Joao Havelange.

Kevin Mayer, 24, had just completed the shot put. Though seven uncompleted events stretched out in front of the decathlete, he knew he was in business.

He had flung his 7.26kg (16.01 lb) iron ball out to 15.76m. It was the best mark of the 31 athletes competing; it was also his second lifetime best of the day, having opened his campaign with 10.81 in the 100m. Things were going right.

“After the third event I knew I could get a medal,” he tells SPIKES.

In the day’s last test, the lactic-inducing 400m, he completed his lap in 48.28 – a third lifetime best to round off a remarkable opening day that also included season’s best performances in the long and high jump. He was fourth overall. Sleep came easily.

“I slept like a baby!” he says, laughing at the suggestion that excitement might have kept him awake. “After five events, after that 400m, you sleep!”

The job was only half done. Mayer needed his second day to be just as momentous as his first to be in with a medal shot. Opening with another personal best, 14.02 in the 110m hurdles, was a good way to start. A 46.78m in the discus – his third best career effort – entrenched him in third place overall and put him within touching distance of Damian Warner in second. Momentum is crucial in the decathlon, and Mayer was flying.

“After the hurdles, and then the discus, I knew I could get the silver,” he says.

In the next event, the pole vault, he cleared 5.40m, another PB. Then he threw the javelin 65.04m, his third best mark ever. It cut the deficit on leader Ashton Eaton to just 44 points.

“[At that stage] I hoped that I could get the gold,” he recalls, “but Ashton was too strong.” In the 1500m finale Mayer could not overhaul Eaton’s seven second advantage (which he was prepared to defend with his life). No shame in that: Eaton, the reigning champion and world record holder, won gold with a championship record-equalling 8893 points.

Mayer’s 8834 points to win silver catapulted him to sixth place on the all-time lists. It smashed the national record set by Christian Plaziat in 1990 and made him the first decathlete from his country to mount an Olympic podium since Ignace Heinrich in London 1948.

Mayer was also the first man to get within 100 points of Eaton at a major championships since before the American won his first global title in 2012. It was one of the greatest multi-event efforts in history.

“It was so, so hard to achieve this medal,” he says. “I gave my body to that decathlon.”

Kevin Mayer Rio 2016 ()

Mayer notched a personal best in five of the ten events of the Rio 2016 decathlon, including in the 110m hurdles

France woke up to a new national hero; Mayer returned a celebrity. He has entertained every media request made and put himself forward to throw javelin in the Paris Diamond League. Just six days had passed since he stood on the podium in Rio and his body still felt “sick”, but it was an opportunity to “sell the decathlon to the French people”.

The two-day format of multi-event competition is not a perfect bedfellow for our 21st century double tap culture. Mayer recognises he is in a position to attract new fans. “This is a good opportunity for me and my sport. I have to do it,” he insists of the publicity.

This sense of obligation is rooted in his allegiance to his country and to his event. Mayer, born and raised in Valence, prime wine making country in the south east of France, is a decathlete to the bone. Though he was a sporty child he was unable settle on anything in particular.

“I did a lot of tennis, handball, rugby, all other sports,” he recalls. “But in all those sports I didn’t like the training. It was too repetitive.”

He started in athletics at the age of 14 and instantly found his sporting muse. “I liked it because every day we changed the training, there was no repetition. That’s why I’ve stayed in decathlon.”

To this day no discipline attracts him more than any other. “The event I like is decathlon,” he says.

That is a handy approach – no pressure to perform in a particular event. It also means you need to be consistent in each of the decathlon’s ten tests – no banker to drag you out the mire (although that 5.40m pole vault PB is very handy).

Kevin Mayer Bressanone 2009 ()

A first global title came in 2009, when Mayer struck octathlon gold at the Bressanone World Youth Championships

In Rio, Mayer produced what he calls “maybe my perfect decathlon to get the silver”. Three of his five lifetime bests came in sprint events (including the 110m hurdles). Working on track speed, Mayer says, helps across the board.

“When you work the sprints you progress on all the events,” says the man who broke 11 seconds for the first time in Montpellier in May. “You have to run fast to be good at long jump, pole vault, at high jump; in all the events.”

Yet lacking a stand-out event means it’s tough for Mayer to get a berth in Diamond League meets – that stands for most decathletes. It’s only at such big international meets that athletes can gain experience in the sort of atmosphere you get at major championships.

“At decathlon meetings, the crowds are more friendly,” Mayer says. “So when we get to an Olympics we’re not used to being in a big stadium and seeing a large crowd. It’s very different.”

Mayer’s Rio prep was bolstered by a long jump outing in Monaco. It was his first ever Diamond League appearance. “It helped me,” he says of the competition. “Those are the best conditions to prepare in order to get good results at championships.”

Not that he lacks experience. Mayer was the world youth octathlon champion in 2009; the world junior decathlon champion in 2010; European junior champion in 2011. Aged 20 he made his Olympic debut at London 2012 (“I did a bad decathlon, but it was a lot of experience”). He has silver medals from European indoor and outdoor senior champs and finished fourth at the 2013 Moscow World Championships.

So before Rio he was not unknown in France or in athletics circles (those schoolboy good looks help). Hundreds queued to meet him at last year’s Talence Decastar meeting, where he wasn’t even competing because of the same injury that had forced him to withdrawn from the world championships weeks earlier.

Kevin Mayer and Ashton Eaton ()

Mayer's stand-out performance ensured the closest finish in a major championships decathlon since 2011

Yet few expected Mayer to step up as spectacularly as he did. He went to Rio having missed the previous two global championships – aside from the Beijing worlds, he pulled of the Portland world indoors in March because of an iffy ankle. Through all of that his self-belief never wavered.

“We always expect the best for our career,” he says. “For four years I trained just for [those] two days. I believed in myself. It was hard. There was a lot of pressure. With my potential so many people thought I could do it. And I did it!”

The days after his historic silver medal were a happy blur of interviews and smiling selfies. In Paris he was short of his best, yet he wasn’t there “to do a big performance” but to “meet the French public”. He is entered to compete in Talence – the traditional multi-event season-ender – which will give him another chance to “to make French people interested in the decathlon”. It is a sales task he has taken on with diligence.

His focus is already shifting to the 2017 London World Championships, to the Tokyo Olympics. “I am only 24-years-old,” he reminds us. “I have to train a lot to be more strong. I can do better in the future.”

Forward planning will not detract from his medal celebrations.

“After ten years training I’m in the clouds,” he says. “I can’t believe I’ve done it. I want to stay on this cloud.”