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Eugene, USA - Ashton Eaton’s coach, Harry Marra, was saying how remarkable the performance was in cold, wet, unfavorable conditions. Eaton’s rival, Trey Hardee, suggested the total be accompanied by an asterisk.
Both had a point. Eaton had 9039 * points.
More than anyone else, the home-grown 24-year-old recognized the confluence of circumstances allowing him to break the 11-year-old Decathlon World record.
He was the right man at the right time at the right location. He knew a moment like this might never come again.
"When you’re in this place, and you’re in this environment," Eaton said, "this is what happens."
He set his World record at the U.S. Olympic Trials, part of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge.
Fittingly, Eaton’s feat came in front of a record crowd of 21,795 at historic Hayward Field, a gathering that included all the living American gold medallists in Olympic decathlons.
Eaton eclipsed the record of 9026 that had stood since 27 May 2001 by the Czech Republic’s Roman Sebrle at Gotzis, Austria. Also broken was the American record of 8891 held by Dan O’Brien since 1992.
The quick summary. He won every event except the three throws:
-- 100m, 10.21 sec, best ever in a decathlon, 1,044 points. -- Long jump, 8.23m, best ever in a decathlon, 1,120. -- Shot put, 14.20m, 741. -- High jump, 2.05m, 850. -- 400m, 46.70 sec, 973 -- Day 1, 4,728 points. -- 110m hurdles, 13.70 sec, 1,014. -- Discus, 42.81m, 722. -- Pole vault, 5.30m, 1,004. -- Javelin, 58.87m, 721. -- 1500m, 4:14.48, 850. -- Day 2, 4,311 points.
Eaton said it was "Hayward magic" pushing him through a 62.26 last lap to win the 1500 with a time about two seconds faster than needed for the record.
Before the race, Marra spoke to Frank Zarnowski, the public address announcer and foremost Decathlon authority. Eaton’s coach asked Zarnowski, who was once his college professor, to urge the crowd and the community to get behind his decathlete.
After Zarnowski’s address was delivered, Marra said, "I knew right then, he’s getting this."
There was a such a unified spirit among all present that Curtis Beach, who had been the runaway leader in the 1500, slowed and stepped aside to allow Eaton to finish first and revel in the acclaim. The new World record-holder was moved to tears.
His mother, Roslyn, and fiancé, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen, hugged him on the track. O’Brien embraced him, too. Two of Eaton’s competitors, Hardee and 2008 Olympic champion Bryan Clay, congratulated him.
On his victory lap, Eaton slapped hands with fans hanging over the railing. Before he posed for photographers by the ground-level scoreboard, he pounded the stick attached to the American flag he was holding and shook his fists.
"I really . . . I really, truly love this event," Eaton said. "Not because I love running and jumping and all that stuff. Just because what it means and symbolizes for me – just what the Decathlon community, the track and field world is about. And maybe it’s not about that much to the rest of the world, but to me, it’s my whole world."
There is YouTube video of Eaton’s first pole vault competition, six years ago, showing him clumsily somersaulting over a bar. Now he has mastered the multi-events. This was Eaton’s fourth World record, including three in indoor heptathlons.
"I don’t know of anyone who has matured in the event as quickly as he has," Clay said. "It’s mind-boggling."
Clay’s day was disastrous, but would have been even more so if he had not finished, he said. He crashed in the hurdles and had three fouls in the discus.
He soldiered on and was 12th with 7092 points. If he had finished the hurdles – and he was even with Eaton and Hardee before banging into the ninth – and achieved a customary discus mark, he could have scored the 8200 points for the Olympic "A" standard.
As it is, the United States will send only Eaton and Hardee to London in the Decathlon. Hardee, just ninth months after elbow surgery, finished second with 8383 points.
Clay said he wanted to stop but that his coaches talked him out of it. He also said he didn’t want to quit in front of his three children watching from the stands. The 32-year-old did not announce his retirement, and even held out hope of scoring 8200 before the July 8 deadline.
"I don’t think we’ll end it here," Clay said. "There’s always another team to be made. We’ll try it again."
Recapping Day 2 by event:
There was speculation Eaton could better the 13.47 for the best time ever in a decathlon, considering his 13.34w from earlier in the month at Eugene. The 9:30 a.m. start, 0.8 headwind and cold foiled that. Eaton edged Hardee, 13.70 to 13.71.
Clay struck the ninth hurdle hard, stumbled and used his hands to push the 10th, finishing in 16.81. He was subsequently disqualified, then reinstated.
Hardee’s elbow survived this test with a winning throw of 49.05m. Eaton’s 42.81m kept him on track for what appeared to be a quest for O’Brien’s American record; Sebrle’s mark wasn’t a target yet. A problem with the cage nullified Clay’s opening foul, but he threw three additional fouls and effectively ended his bid to become the first decathlete to win three Olympic medals. At the time, he believed he was getting a zero in the hurdles.
"My mind wasn’t there when I was throwing discus," Clay said.
Rain that had fallen most of the day stopped and the sun shined on Eaton. He opened with a safe 4.60 clearance, made 4.80 on his second attempt and kept climbing. He made 5.00, 5.10 and 5.20 on first attempts, and a personal best of 5.30 on his third.
He was exultant at the 5.30m clearance, running over to the stands to share his excitement. It was then that Eaton went under the west grandstand to consult with Marra, who explained the scenarios. Eaton asked what he needed for the American record.
"He stopped and looked at me and he goes, 'Ashton. The World record,’ " Eaton said.
Eaton didn’t improve on his opening 58.87m distance, but the fact he followed with 57.98m and 58.13m represented heretofore unseen consistency.
"That javelin series he had was great," Marra said. "He’s maturing in that event." Hardee was content with a 57.00m throw that essentially secured his ticket to London.
There was no question that Eaton was going to pursue the World record. This became more than a qualifying meet.
Marra said the plan was always for Eaton to run 69-second laps and sprint the final 300 meters as a rehearsal for London. Eaton’s 4:14.48 bettered his PB of 4:18.94 from last year’s IAAF World Championships at Daegu. At 600 meters, he said, he knew he would break the World record.
"It’s like living an entire lifetime in two days," he said of the decathlon. "It has ups and downs and comebacks." Marra said the World record would relieve some pressure on Eaton heading into the Olympics.