Eaton brings new meaning to the term ‘decathlete’

Ashton Eaton reacts after breaking the world record in the decathlon with 9,039 points at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Ashton Eaton reacts after breaking the world record in the decathlon with 9,039 points at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Becky Metrick on Saturday, Jun. 23 at 8:06 pm.

With 800 meters separating him from the finish line, Ashton Eaton is at 2 minutes flat. Sitting in third, he is right on pace to break the world record.

The crowd rises, screaming as they watch him fight for his time.

He makes his move, charging in front of second. Recognizing the occasion, Curtis Beach from Duke turns around, slowing and motioning Eaton to pass by.

That was it.

Ashton Eaton broke the decathlon world record, with a time of 4:14.48 in the 1500 meters.

***

“With 600 meters to go, I became a firm believer that the Hayward magic does exist,” Eaton said. “I felt it for 600 meters … I knew there was no way I was not going to get the world record.”

His mind was blank, except for the simple thought that “this was happening.”

He was excited by the amount of “decathlon love” in the air, and even though he told his rivals to run their own race, he was thankful for all their support.

“I feel very fortunate to be in this position,” Eaton said. “It’s just in large part because of the guys you’re competing with next to you.”

***

After a record-breaking first day, Eaton shined in his first event of day two. However, winning the 11o-meter hurdles was just another step toward his ultimate goal. He still had four more events remaining.

Discus was far from promising. After taking eighth place in the event, it seemed like the field might catch Oregon’s star. More than that, with a mark of 42.81 meters, he was nearly 4.55 meters off of his own personal best.

It was his pole vault that reset the tone of the competition.

Eaton’s graceful. Easily taking heights that others appeared to struggle with, he floated inches above his marker, arms outstretched as he hit the mats beneath.

By his fifth vault, he had surpassed all his competitors and achieved a new lifetime best. Still, he wasn’t finished. It wasn’t until on his third attempt, where Eaton vaulted 5.30 meters — achieving his second personal best of the day — that he was finished.

By the time his flight of the javelin competition came up, at 7,468 points, Eaton was less than 1,500 away from the American record and an attainable 1,558 points away from beating the world record.

His first throw of 58.87m set him up for fourth place; a decent score, good enough to keep him within reach of the world record. But it wasn’t good enough, and he would try again.

His frustrated scream echoed throughout Hayward as his second attempt soared through the air, landing just short of his previous throw at 57.98 meters. Once again, it was not enough.

The final throw, his last chance to give himself an advantage, fell short once again. 58.13 meters meant that his first score would be used.

Just 837 points short of the world record, Eaton faced his final event: the 1,500 meters. He would need a time of 4:16.23 to achieve his goal. His personal best was 4:18.94.

An early supportive chant rang out as they began setting up for the 1,500 meters. Eaton congratulated his competitors, issuing high fives and hugs all around. The competitors were called to their spots as Hayward’s video screen reviewed the day that tried him and broke others.

The PA announced that Eaton had a chance of breaking the world record.

The gunshot pierced the air, and history was made.

***

Raised in Bend, Ore., Eaton has been Oregon-oriented his entire life. While competing with Oregon track and field during his college years, he won the NCAA decathlon title three times between 2008 and 2010, and claimed the Bowerman award his senior year.

“From the very first one that I did, I loved the event,” he said. “I didn’t really know why, still don’t know why.”

During the 2008 Olympic Trials, the then-sophomore placed fifth overall — just missing out on making the Olympic team. In 2009, he placed second at the USA Track and Field Championships behind current compatriot Trey Hardee who finished these Trials in second.

It was then that he made his first international appearance, at the 2009 World Championships. He managed an 18th-place finish. The result was good, but not great by any standard.

In 2011, Eaton broke through with a silver medal at the World Championships, but once again finished second to Hardee.

“Up until London, I can say Ashton only beat me one time,” Hardee said with a laugh, “And he had to break a world record to do it.”

Saturday was the first time it became clear that Eaton would come out on top. And not only to his teammate Hardee, but to decathletes around the world.

For him to do it on his home turf became a special part of the experience.

“For my decathlon career and maybe just my athletic career, Hayward Field is where it all started for me,” he said. “The support, the crowd loves me, I love them. I love this field. It just means a lot because, it’s not like I’m finished but it’s special for it to happen here. It’s a very special place.”

It was only the qualifiers for the legendary world meet, but Eaton refused to back down.

***

After crossing the finish line and slowing down, the realization hit him. His face contorted into a look of sheer happiness and utter disbelief.

“There was no conversation,” he said. “There was just mutual laughter, emotions, words.”

After being handed an American flag, Eaton waved while soaking in his new record. For a moment, he let the flag fall over his face as his head fell back, still unbelieving of his accomplishment.

“Maybe it’s not even about that much to the rest of the world, but to me it’s my whole world,” Eaton said. “To do the best that I possibly could in my world makes me pretty happy.”