EUGENE, Ore. — Ashton Eaton likes to compare decathlons to life — the ups and downs, the good and bad, the setbacks and comebacks.
Over two dreary days that finally closed with a bright ray of sunshine, Eaton found out just how good life can be.
He’s the world-record holder in the decathlon, the cream of the crop in the hallowed and history-filled event that has long identified the world’s greatest athlete.
Needing a personal best in the grueling finale, the 1,500 meters, to get the record, Eaton came through Saturday night in the U.S. Olympic trials, running the last event in 4 minutes, 14.48 seconds to finish with 9,039 points and beat Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old mark by 13 points.
“It’s like living an entire lifetime in two days,” Eaton said. “It doesn’t mean that much to the rest of the world, but to me, it’s my whole world. To do the best that I possibly could in my world makes me pretty happy.”
Eaton joined the likes of Bruce Jenner, Dan O'Brien, Bob Mathias and Rafer Johnson among the Americans who have held the world record. He did it on the 100th anniversary of the first Olympic decathlon — and many of the American greats who have made history in the event were on hand to watch Eaton.
“I thought he showed some real courage,” Johnson said. “He hung in there and figured out a way to win. He was brilliant in everything he did.”
He won seven of the 10 events and did most of it in terrible weather — drizzle, rain, cold and then, finally, sunshine as he got ready for the final 1,500-meter push.
“It’s like the 11th event,” runner-up Trey Hardee, the defending world champion, said about the weather. “I hope when they put his name in the record books, they’ll put every parenthesis, asterisk and every other mark you can put down. Every athlete out there tries to act like that stuff doesn’t bother them, but it does.”
Eaton, the 24-year-old and a former NCAA champion for University of Oregon, needed to beat his personal-best time of 4:18.94 in the 1,500 by at least 2.57 seconds to break the mark. He did that, and then some.
When it was over, he bent down and put his hands on his knees, then brought them up to cover his mouth. Tears were falling — elation and shock at the same time. Adding to the fun, he did it at Hayward Field, his home field in college and the site of some of his biggest triumphs. None, of course, any bigger than this one.
“It’s a feeling that you get, even if you’re off pace,” Eaton said of the sensation he calls ‘Hayward Magic.’ “I was so tired before the 15 (hundred). I felt like sleeping. As soon as the gun is fired, it all goes away.”
After the initial celebration ended, he took the mini American flag he’d been handed as a newly minted member of the U.S. Olympic team and stabbed it into the turf near the scoreboard that displayed his accomplishment: “World Record Decathlon. Ashton Eaton. 9,039 points.” Photographers lined up for the historic shoot. Certainly, Eaton will own a copy or two by the time this celebration is over.
“The kid is phenomenal,” said Bryan Clay, the defending Olympic champion, who fell in the hurdles and finished 12th. “There’s no other way to describe him.”
What to do for an encore?