09 AUG 2012 Feature

20 years on you will have people saying ‘I was sitting on my couch, watching Hardee and Eaton win.’

Ashton Eaton (L) of the United States hugs Trey Hardee (R) of the United States after winning gold and silver in the Men's Decathlon event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 9 August 2012 (Getty Images)Ashton Eaton (L) of the United States hugs Trey Hardee (R) of the United States after winning gold and silver in the Men's Decathlon event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 9 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Ashton Eaton may be the Decathlon World record holder and – now, Olympic champion – but he was happy to let his fellow American and silver medallist Trey Hardee, the 2009 and 2011 World champion, do the talking for him when it came to assessing his place in the overall scheme of the athletics world.

Usain Bolt’s comment in the aftermath of retaining his 200m title that he was "the greatest athlete who ever lived" was effectively rebutted by Hardee as he announced:

"Ashton is the best athlete that’s ever walked on the planet. Hands down. Because the title bestowed upon the Olympic Decathlon champion is the World’s Greatest Athlete. Usain Bolt can be the fastest man on the planet, because that’s the title bestowed on the Olympic 100 metres champion."

Sitting alongside him at the post-event conference, Eaton looked quietly thrilled at such praise from a man who has effectively served as a model in the sport for him over the last few years.

"Thanks Trey," he said, before adding: "There’s no fight. Usain is clearly awesome and he is an icon of the sport. But titles are for books and stuff. I just like doing what I do."

Later in the evening that icon sat in the same gold medallist’s chair at his conference and happily conceded that he would give the title to Eaton, with the decathlon’s concluding 1500 metres being the deciding factor.

In following up his World record performance of 9039 points at the US trials, the 24-year-old from Oregon duly became the 13th American to win this Olympic title – the first of which went to Jim Thorpe at the Stockholm Games of 1912 – with a total of 8869 which left him 198 points clear of his 29-year-old opponent and friend.

"The one-two finish was what we really wanted," Eaton said. "Trey and I are doing our best to carry on the great US tradition of decathletes. I’m young and it’s super-hard to grasp, but when I’m older I’ll look back on this."

"I want 10 perfect events. I know that’s pretty much impossible, but that’s the decathlon. I’d need that to be considered the world’s greatest all-round athlete."

Hardee, who had recovered from elbow surgery requiring the transplant of a tendon in September last year, put Eaton’s achievement here into perspective:

"There are 13 Decathlon gold medallists from the United States. Each of them drew inspiration from the one that came before them. You have to look down the line. If you look 20 years on from now you will have people who took inspiration from Ashton and me. They will be saying 'I was sitting on my couch, watching Hardee and Eaton win.’"

Asked to assess how important Hardee had been in his development as a decathlete, Eaton responded: "I’ve been learning a lot from Trey since the 2009 World Championships, when I was a youngster in Berlin. I remember watching him win and thinking 'Man! That guy owns!" And then the last year in Daegu I was thinking 'OK, maybe I have a chance to win, do this thing’, and then just seeing him take it again, and thinking 'Man, this guy is so good.’

"But then I just started developing my own thing, seeing the work I had to put in on certain areas. I have fun doing this, so it is easy going to practice – actually that’s not true, it’s not always easy – but in general I think I’ve had a really good go and not a lot of upsets, so I’m happy."

Asked whether he felt decathletes got less than their fair share of the riches that are bestowed upon the sport’s sprint champions, Eaton dismissed the subject. "I don’t really do it for that," he said. "I really don’t care about the money. I don’t do it for that stuff. I think this event is good sports promotion. And winning this medal has changed my life."

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF