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Firing on all guns – Teary-eyed Nixon presides over first US Decathlon triumph

Gunnar Nixon of United States celebrates after winning the gold medal of the Decathlon event on the day two of the 14th IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona 2012 (Getty Images)Gunnar Nixon of United States celebrates after winning the gold medal of the Decathlon event on the day two of the 14th IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
American decathletes have got such an illustrious history – think of the likes of former World record holders Bruce Jenner and Dan O'Brien as well as Tom Pappas, Bryan Clay and Trey Hardee and, of course the new World record holder Ashton Eaton, - that it might come as a surprise to find out that Gunnar Nixon is the first man from the United States to win a medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships.

More than just getting a place on the podium, Nixon took the gold on Wednesday night with a US junior record of 8018 points, the best tally in the world by a junior in 2012.

In an enthralling and tense competition which saw the lead change eight times and swapped between five different men, Nixon ran a marvellous 1500m and won the last individual discipline in 4:22.36 to come out ahead of Australia's prodigiously talented Jake Stein by 67 points.

Nixon went into the last event 86 points in arrears of Stein, which equates to about 13 seconds in the 1500m, but knew that as he was a much better distance runner than his Australian rival and even though Stein dug deep and took more than 15 seconds off his personal best, Nixon also went eight seconds faster than ever before to clinch victory.

For many observers, it was the second best decathlon with junior implements ever; only topped by the spectacular duel at the 2004 World Junior Championships between Belarus' Andrey Kravchenko and Russia's Aleksey Sysoyev, when both men exceeding the 8000 barrier with the former winning with 8126 points.

"I can’t explain this feeling, words can’t even describe," said a stunned and emotional Nixon after battling with not only Stein but also The Netherlands' eventual bronze medallits Tim Dekker and, until he came to grief with a no-height in the Pole Vault, his team-mate Pieter Braun.

"I feel so lucky. I feel blessed, just to be here and be able to compete. I’m just so happy. The best part of the whole competition was the last 100 metres (of the 1500m) because I knew I had the space I needed ahead of Stein. I almost came into the tears the last 20 metres because I knew I had won it. No lows, no bad events in this meet, I’m so happy.

"Before I came here, I was thinking about 8200 points (the current World junior best with junior implements belongs to Russia's Arkadiy Vasiliyev with 8131 points) but I have won and I am proud of carrying on the US Decathlon tradition," commented Nixon.

Combined contests

"It's been a busy year, three Heptathlons, five Decathlons; a World junior record indoors, setting an American junior record with the senior implements, but to come here and do this, it's awesome."

He notched up three personal bests in Barcelona – in the discus, javelin and 1500m – and, perhaps, the only events where he might reproach himself a little on deeper reflection were the 100m and the 110m Hurdles, where he might have hoped to for a tenth or two faster despite having a very slight breeze in face compared to it being on his back when he set his personal bests in those events.

Unlike many of his rivals, especially the 18-year-old Stein who still has another year in the junior ranks, Nixon has been more used to using senior implements in the throws and the higher heights of the hurdles.

"When I went to college, I didn't have too many problems adjusting to the senior equipment; my problem has been adjusting back down to junior implements," admitted Nixon, a student at the University of Arkansas who originally hails from Edmond, Oklahoma.

Throbbing heart

What caught the eye was his finishing flourish in the 1500m, proving once again that where decathletes used to be content to survive the ordeal - Britain's Daley Thompson famously cruising around the track at the 1984 Olympics when a World record was in sight – many American decathletes have turned it into a major weapon in their armoury.

Ashton Eaton uncorked a swift three-and-three-quarter laps in 4:14.48 at the end of his recent World record at the US Olympic Trials last month, a competition Nixon watched from start-to-finish on television in a friend's apartment.

"I don't really have a good explanation for why that should be; but I'd like to say it's because US Decathletes have more heart," joked Nixon.

It was that particular organ that was working overtime down the home straight on Wednesday night as Nixon brought the United States its first victory of these Championships and the Star Spangled banner will ring out across the Montjuic Olympic Stadium later on Thursday.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF