2012 Olympics: Ashton Eaton
Can a Runner Be the World’s Greatest Athlete?
Image: Corbis Images
Eaton has clearly learned from his experience at worlds. This past winter, he entered the heptathlon in the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. There, he PR’d in the long jump with 26' 91*2", ran away from everyone in the 1000 meters, and added 77 points to his record, taking it to 6,645 points. The same day, Theisen won the NCAA indoor pentathlon, leading Oregon to an easy victory. She and Eaton make quite a team. (In fact, Ashton recalls, as soon as Vin Lananna, the Oregon coach, heard of their engagement, “he got the paperwork done for recruiting our babies.”)
No perfect formula exists for turning a talented athlete into a world-beating decathlete. The traditional school of thought urges those with great power to muscle up, and gain even more points in the throws to more than make up for the cost of a slower 400 or 1500. Ashton Eaton is choosing a different route. He’s getting better in all events without sacrificing his strength: speed.
In April, in a 400-meter race in Santa Barbara, California, he was rewarded for keeping faith in his running design. “I wasn’t sure I would do very well,” he recalls. “I told Brianne I was nervous and that I might only run [a high] 46 seconds or [a low] 47 seconds. She looked at me and said, ‘Ashton, you have been running better than you ever have in practice. Just trust it.’”
He did. “Down the backstretch I felt slow, like I might go through the 200 meters in 22 seconds”—he passed it in 21.6 but so smoothly he seemed to be floating. “Twenty meters from the line I saw the clock reading ‘43...44....’ When I crossed, I looked around at everyone. ‘Did I just run 45 seconds?’” It was 45.68, the exact time he’ll have to run in a decathlon to match Toomey’s record.
All this means, Marra assures the world, is more of the same. “Going into London,” he says, “we will take the very same approach we have in each of Ashton’s preceding combined events meets—take one event at a time. Do in each event exactly what we have been doing in practice, albeit with a little more vigor!”
Then, with a smile, the old coach adds, “I just saw Paul McCartney might be singing at the Opening Ceremony. So let’s all e-mail Sebastian Coe [who is chair of the London Organizing Committee] that Paul’s gotta sing the great anthem of the decathlon. He’s gotta sing, ‘Getting better all the time!’”