He was put under pressure at the start, at the end, and a few times in the middle of the competition. But ultimately Ashton Eaton showed exactly why he is the world’s greatest all-round athlete by successfully defending his Olympic decathlon title.
Eaton had put together a consistent series of marks across the nine events ahead of the 1500m, but he perhaps wasn’t as dominant as many thought he might be. Added to that, Kevin Mayer was having the competition of his life, setting PBs in the 100m, 400m, shot put and pole vault.
The 2010 world U20 champion went into the 1500m with a score of 8060 – just 461 points shy of his pre-Olympic lifetime best for a full decathlon. He was also just 44 points adrift of Eaton.
Eaton needed to stay within 6.4 seconds of Mayer to win gold. To equal or break the Olympic record, he needed to run faster than 4:23.40.
He did both.
With the gold medal relatively safe and no world record to chase, Eaton was happy enough to sit in fifth place for the first two laps of the 1500m. USA’s Jeremy Taiwo had the early lead before Algeria’s Larbi Bourrada hit the front and extended his lead to the end.
Bourrada crossed the line in 4:14.60 to break his own African decathlon record with 8521 in fifth place.
The focus of the entire stadium was further up the home straight, though. Eaton had moved up to third on the last lap, overtaking Mayer, and was digging deep. He crossed the line in 4:23.33 to bring his tally to 8893, tying the Olympic record set 12 years ago by Roman Sebrle.
Eaton is now just the third man in history to win back-to-back Olympic decathlon titles, following Bob Mathias (1948 and 1952) and Daley Thompson (1980 and 1984).
Before Eaton came along, Dan O’Brien was the only man to have won the Olympic, world and world indoor combined events titles, as well as setting world records indoors and out.
Eaton has now done all of those things. Twice over.
“To win two Olympic golds in a row like Daley Thompson is very special,” said Eaton. “One day, I'm going to have to meet Daley, shake his hand and thank him for giving me something to chase after.
“My throwing has been bad in the past, but I really got after the discus and shot here,” he added. “Can I do three in a row? Maybe you should ask Daley.”
Mayer rounded out his decathlon of a lifetime by clocking 4:25.49 in the 1500m, giving him a score of 8834. Not only does it smash the French record by 260 points, but it also moves Mayer to sixth on the world all-time list, one place behind Thompson and ahead of Jurgen Hingsen and Bryan Clay.
World silver medallist Damian Warner had also been under intense pressure throughout the competition. Viewed as a solid bet for the silver medal going into the decathlon, the Canadian’s hopes of living up to those predictions slipped away with each event as Mayer produced PB after PB.
Warner kept his cool, though, and ensured he stayed ahead of Germany’s Kai Kazmirek to hold on to the bronze medal. Knowing that he couldn’t let Kazmirek finish more than 6.4 ahead in the 1500m, Warner easily achieved that goal, clocking 4:24.90 to Kazmirek’s 4:31.25.
Warner took bronze with a season’s best of 8666 with Kazmirek setting a PB of 8580 in fourth.
Leonel Suarez, the 2008 and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, finished sixth on this occasion with 8460, his best score since the last Olympics.
USA’s Zach Ziemek was seventh with 8392, while European champion Thomas van der Plaetsen was eighth with a PB of 8332.
For the first time in Olympic history, 11 men scored 8300 or higher. But in a competition of unprecedented depth at the Games, still no one was able to beat Eaton.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF