WALNUT, Calif. (AP) Ashton Eaton learned the hard way that experience often trumps talent and athleticism.
The reigning Olympic Gold medalist and current world record holder in the decathlon competed in the 400-meter hurdles for the first time in his life at the Mount SAC Relays on Saturday and finished fourth in 50.01 seconds.
”I had no expectations,” Eaton said. ”It was very interesting. It was different. When I wanted to make moves like I would have in the 400 (meters) a hurdle would come so I’d slow down.”
Eaton declared his intention to compete in the 400 hurdles last fall, but said he never practiced the event leading up to Mt. SAC.
”This was the first time. I did 300 meters in practice once,” he said. ”I still train as a decathlete, but sometimes I just throw hurdles in front of my workouts I guess.”
Jeshua Anderson won the race in 49.43. When he crossed the finish line, Eaton simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
”We wanted to try it and Mt. SAC was kind enough to let us try it here, so now we see where we go,” Eaton said. ”I feel confident that I can compete. If I get my steps down I think I’ll be pretty good to go.
”I don’t think there’s any reason I wouldn’t be able to run 48 now after doing the race. Beforehand I had no idea, but now I think 48 is possible.”
While Eaton was the headliner of the 56th annual daylong event, Oregon senior Phyllis Francis stole the show.
Francis defeated Olympic medalists DeeDee Trotter and Lashinda Demus in the 400 earlier in the day, claiming the Elite Invitational title in 51.57.
”I was just shaking at the line,” she said. ”Trotter said something and I was like `Oh my gosh she said something to me.’ I think it was `Good luck’.”
The nerves clearly dissipated as soon as the gun went off.
Francis started slow but recovered to overtake Trotter in the final 100 meters and crossed the finish line 0.85 seconds ahead of Trotter.
”I’m just taking it in very slowly, I’m very humbled by it,” she said. ”It was an honor to run in the same heat as them. I watched them on TV and rooted for them, so it was great to be next to them and compete with them.”
Demus, who won a silver medal in the 400 hurdles at the 2012 Olympics, finished fourth in 52.82.
”This is going towards training in my race, the 400 hurdles,” she said. ”I did as best I could in lane one. It’s tough running behind everyone, but it’s all a part of training.”
Francis’ victory came on what quickly turned into a banner day for Oregon. She also ran a leg on the Ducks’ 4×100 team won in a world-leading time of 43.31.
Francis teamed up with Marybeth Sant, Jenna Prandini and Jasmine Todd to lead the Ducks to the title in a field that included two professional teams and Nigeria’s national team.
Prandini and Laura Roesler contributed to Oregon’s haul as well, winning the women’s Elite 100 and 800 meters, respectively.
”It’s a good day, just showing that all our hard work is coming together because we’re working our behinds off back in Oregon,” Francis said. ”We’re only improving and going to get better.”
Natasha Hastings, who won a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4×100 team at the 2008 Olympics, won the women’s 200 in 22.71, beating out fellow Olympic medalists Bianca Knight and Blessing Okagbare.
Three athletes who represented other countries at the 2012 Olympics took home titles as well.
Slovakia’s Marcel Lomnicky won the hammer throw with a toss of 251 feet, 10 inches, Canada’s Michael Mason leaped 7-5 3/4 to win the high jump and Greece’s Katerina Stefandi cleared 14-11 to win the women’s pole vault and tie a meet record.
Shevon Stoddard, who represented Jamaica in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, won the women’s 400 hurdles in 56.52 seconds.
Duane Solomon hasn’t been to the Olympics, but he won the men’s 800 in a meet record 1:43.88, which also put him in the world lead.
Texas Tech was the only college other than Oregon with a winner in multiple Elite events. Kennedy Kithuka won the men’s 5,000 in 13:26.98 and Hannah Carson won the women’s javelin with a throw of 174-4.