Eaton sets world mark in front of decathlon greats
EUGENE, Ore. (AP)
Many of the decathlon greats from years gone by lined the track, watching this youngster named Ashton Eaton chase history in the final and most grueling event.
There was 1960 Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson, mesmerized by Eaton's world-record pursuit. And there was Bruce Jenner, the former face of the decathlon turned reality TV star, awed by the unfolding scene.
When Eaton rounded the last bend in the 1,500 meters, the fans roared. When he finished, they erupted.
Eaton was the star in a cast of stars Saturday at the U.S. Olympic trials, finding a late surge in his tired body to finish in 4 minutes, 14.48 seconds and end up with 9,039 points, eclipsing Roman Sebrle's 11-year-old mark by 13 points.
New. World. Record.
Those words almost felt foreign to Eaton, almost too good to say out loud. Eaton came here simply to make the team, not history. To do both, well, it left him speechless.
''If somebody has a good word to describe this, I'll use it,'' Eaton said.
''That's a pretty good one,'' Eaton said.
Over two dreary and dank days on the track, Eaton shined.
Then again, the 24-year-old may have been the one athlete who didn't mind the wet conditions. For the former Oregon Duck who grew up down the road in Bend, this type of foul weather is pretty much all he's known.
''It's kind of like, `Rain, OK, whatever,''' Eaton said. ''As a decathlete, you take pride in saying, `The elements, I'm not going to let them affect me. It's just the 11th event. Another thing you have to fight through.'''
As a decathlete, he also takes enormous pride in knowing he now stands on hallowed ground, with some of the biggest names of the past on hand to cheer him down the track.
They were there as part of a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the modern decathlon, when Jim Thorpe won the 10-event discipline in 1912. Also on hand was Dan O'Brien, who watched as Eaton toppled his American record of 8,891 points, which he set in 1992 - nine years before Sebrle became the first man to go over 9,000 points.
A commentator now, O'Brien reverted back to a fan while viewing Eaton.
''The most impressive thing was that he kept up his intensity in this weather,'' O'Brien said. ''I certainly didn't think he could break the world record when you see the rain coming down like this.
''With that mindset and his athletic ability, nobody will be able to touch him.''
Maybe true. And maybe he does go into the London Games as the favorite, especially since reigning Olympic champion Bryan Clay won't be competing there and world champion Trey Hardee is still rounding into form after major elbow surgery. Hardee had a very solid meet and still finished a distant second, 656 points behind Eaton.
Like everyone else, Hardee just soaked in the moment.
''For me, it's something down the road that I'll tell my kids, my friends, my nephews about. I'll say, `See, I saw it. I've got the pictures to prove it,''' Hardee said.
This was a bitter day for Clay with a little silver lining at the end. He fell in the hurdles and finished 12th to miss out on making the team.
Clay was in tears after the hurdles. And he was nearly brought to tears again as he watched Eaton set the new mark.
''I was happy to be on the track when it happened - wished it could've been me,'' Clay said. ''It's been fun to watching him come up.
''This is unbelievable. It's mind-boggling.''
With each event, Eaton only seemed to grow stronger.
Eaton began his campaign Friday by setting world-record marks for the decathlon in the 100 (10.21 seconds) and long jump (27 feet). He had a mark of 46 feet, 7 1/4 inches in shot put, cleared 6-8 3/4 in the high jump and ran the 400 during a heavy downpour in 46.70 seconds to finish the first day in the conversation for a world record.
More rain awaited Saturday.
And more big results as well: 13.70 seconds in the 110 hurdles, 140-5 inches in the discus, and 17-4 1/2 in the pole vault. His javelin throw of 193-2 set him up for a chance at the world mark. Only, he would need to top his personal best in the 1,500.
Fittingly, the sun broke through the thick clouds just as he began the race. Despite being exhausted, he found another burst of energy and flew across the finish line with time to spare.
''That last 600 meters, I wasn't running with my own legs,'' said Eaton, who won seven of the 10 events. ''It was incredible. I don't care what anyone says, there is magic here. I felt it for 600 meters. It was so special.''
Eaton always believed he could break 9,000 points, but he figured the feat would come when he was 28 and closer to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
''Four years early,'' he said, laughing. ''The great thing about this is, and not to pump my own tires, but I feel like I'm not maximized yet.
''I feel like I can still run faster, jump higher, which I think makes it special. Hopefully, going to London, I'll be welcomed into the decathlon community.''
Eaton already is.
''It pleases me to be in that fraternity with a kid that carries on a great tradition in a very classy way,'' Johnson said.