Combined events were in the spotlight at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul earlier this month thanks to Ashton Eaton and Natalya Dobrynska who set World records in Heptathlon and Pentathlon, respectively. If “the forgotten woman” Dobrynska emerged from the shadows by beating favourites Jessica Ennis and Tatyana Chernova, Eaton’s record was not a surprise as it was the third World Record of his young career.
“Honestly for me it wasn’t very special breaking the World record,” Eaton said. “Istanbul is a great city, the IAAF put on a fantastic meet but it’s my third time doing it now so I am a little desensitized. Getting the world title was more fun and meant more. It’s better to measure yourself up against your opponents rather than yourself.”
Eaton promises to be one of the greatest names to follow during the upcoming outdoor season which leads to the Olympic Games in London.
Record shattered with dominating performance
In Istanbul’s Atakoy Arena the Oregon-based Eaton scored 6645 points to beat Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov by a massive 574 points and broke his previous standard by 77 points, a World record for the third consecutive indoor season.
He made a major breakthrough in 2010 at the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville when he scored 6499 points, breaking the 6476 mark held by Dan O’Brien on the same weekend when Clay won the World indoor title in Doha with 6204 points. The following winter Eaton again improved the mark with 6568 points in Tallin, Estonia.
In Istanbul, Eaton impressed with the quality of his individual performances especially in the jumping and sprint events. His highlights were five individual wins in the 60m (6.79, not particularly fast compared to his superb standards as he holds a 6.66 PB), the Long Jump (a jaw-dropping 8.16m which would have ranked fourth in the Long Jump final), in the 60m Hurdles (7.66, 0.06 seconds off his PB), in the Pole Vault (5.20m) and in the 1000m (2:32.77 when 2:39.54 would have been enough to break the record).
World class long jumping
“The long jump made me the most happy,” Eaton said. “To be able to jump that far on my first attempt is awesome. Especially after I had a bad 60 metres I thought it was good mentally that I was able to get a PB in the next event. I was also pleased with my Pole Vault. 5.20 is a good mark and I think I can go higher without much more effort. I just need competing and practicing.”
With such impressive PBs in the running and jumping events, Eaton considers himself as an indoor heptathlon specialist but with a couple of years training in the weaker throwing events he can develop into one of the greatest decathletes in history. He has the potential to break his PB of 8729 points and to become the next decathlete to attack the 9000 points barrier in the future.
Throws the weak link – for now
“I need to improve the throws. Shot put in Istanbul went well but I need to get closer to the high scoring guys. I can’t let them pull away too much in the throwing events. High jump is something that is super frustrating because naturally I am a very good jumper. I just can’t high jump right now a least. So I am working on changing that for the outdoor season.”
“When people see my scores, they will say that I have the potential to break the World record but for me wins are more important than records,” Eaton said when asked about his potential to break the 9026 World record set by Roman Sebrle in 2001. Eaton boasts impressive individual results including 10.26 in the 100m, 13.35 in the 110m hurdles, 46.28 in the 400m, 4:18.94 in the 1500m, 8.04m outdoors and 8.16m indoors in the Long Jump.
Next up, U.S. Olympic Trials
His next decathlon event will be the Olympic Trials in Eugene where he is based. Just three spots will be at stake to make the US Olympic team for London. The “first-three pass the point system” has traditionally made the US Trials one the most dramatic events in athletics and this year they will not be an exception.
“It’s very special to compete at the US Trials on home soil. I have a lot of good memories on that track. I come from Oregon and when I was in high school I competed on that track. It makes the Trials easier for me because I train there everyday, so I have nothing new to learn about the location. I am not tense like the other guys, I know the officials, the stadium and the fans.
“I think that the US Trials system is fair. In the US we have so many people in every event. We have to have standards and competition, so people have to prove they want to, and we are ready to represent America.”
Eaton began training as a decathlete in 2007. “I was a freshman at the University of Oregon. When I was in high school I played American football. Before that I played baseball. Track has been the sport I have done since I was a little kid though.”
He has been training with Harry Marra for two years. “The head coach of Oregon Vin Lananna introduced me to Harry during my senior years at the University. Monday, Wednesday, Friday are our running and jumping days,” Eaton said, explaining his weekly training schedule. “We spread out the 100 metres, the hurdles, the Long Jump, the Pole Vault, the High Jump and 400 metres training those days. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are our throwing and lifting days.”
Eugene and the Olympic Games are obviously the main focus of this season, but the IAAF World Challenge will play a major role in future years.
“I am a bit new to the professional world so I am not really sure. This year the main goal will be to do whatever it takes to prepare me for the Trials and then the Olympic Games. If that means competing at the IAAF Challenge then so be it. After this year I really want to compete more abroad. I love Europe and I enjoy competing there. The sport is understood and appreciated more than in the US. I wish it will change one day. I think some IAAF Challenge will be in my future.”
Breakthrough in 2008
Eaton made his breakthrough in 2008 when he won the NCAA title in the decathlon as a student of psychology. In the following season the 24-year-old decathlete won his second consecutive NCAA title with a wind-assisted 8421 points score. In 2009 he also won the NCAA indoor title and repeated in 2010 with the first of his three World indoor records. He also qualified for the 2009 World Championships in Berlin thanks to his second place behind Trey Hardee. In the first World Championships of his career Eaton finished 18th with 8061 points in the competition won by Hardee.
Two years later Eaton won the world silver medal in Daegu with 8505 points behind Hardee who won his second world title in a row with 8607 points.
On London – ‘Amazing things will happen’
The re-match between Hardee and Eaton will be one of the highlights of the Olympic Games in London.
“I think they are going to be the best Olympics yet. It seems like common knowledge that London is like a planet-wide epicentre for amazing things. I mean, when you walk into a bank, London is one of headings for the world clocks. People just know about it. I think for people who have never been there, when they think of London, they don’t necessarily think of what it is or has, but its potential. London has the potential to be great. It’s primed for greatness. If everything is done right, all the athletes have to do is perform and amazing things will happen.”
Eaton is focused on his upcoming busy season but devotes his time to his passions outside the track during his spare time. “I really like electronics and video games. I am kind of a nerd and techie. I also like to long board. I am not sure how popular it is in Europe but on the west coast in the States a lot of people do it. I don’t have any pets right now but I love animals.
“However my favourite thing to do is to spend time with my fiancé Brianna. She is very funny, smart and talented woman who tends to make my life awesome. And sometimes maybe a little difficult.”
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF