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Ashton Eaton sets world record in decathlon

Hometown favorite finishes strong in 1,500 meters at Olympic trials to break 11-year-old mark. Bryan Clay misses out on possibility for a third decathlon medal.

June 24, 2012|By Philip Hersh
  • Ashton Eaton celebrates after finishing the 1500 meter to set a decathlon World Record at the 2012 Olympic trials.
Ashton Eaton celebrates after finishing the 1500 meter to set a decathlon… (John G. Mabanglo / EPA )

EUGENE, Ore. — — For two days, the U.S. Olympic track and field trials has been an ironic dry run for the London Summer Games, where the weather could be iffy.

Wet. Unseasonably cold. Intermittent flashes of brightness, both in the sky and on the track.

And no one shone brighter during those two days than decathlete Ashton Eaton.

The conditions were perfect Saturday when Eaton completed the most stunning performance in the 100 years since the decathlon made its Olympic debut at the Stockholm Summer Games and King Gustav V of Sweden said to winner Jim Thorpe, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."

In early-evening sun, with no wind and a 59-degree temperature perfect for a man who had done nine events since Friday morning, Eaton roared through the final lap of the 1,500 meters to break the 11-year-old world record in the decathlon.

His total of 9,039 points was 13 better than the mark 2004 Olympic champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic set in 2001. It is the first decathlon world record for a U.S. athlete since Dan O'Brien's 8,891 in 1992.

Eaton needed to run the 1,500 in 4 minutes, 16.23 seconds to break the record. With the crowd at Oregon's Hayward Field standing to urge him on, Eaton blew through the last lap in 62 seconds to clock 4:14.48.

Curtis Beach, who had led the race from the start, graciously deferred to the moment by slowing down so Eaton could get to the finish first.

"I was trying to get the world record because I knew it was a possibility," Eaton said. "I didn't want to shy away from it. This is Hayward. This is where this life began for me."

As the runners lined up for the 1,500, the 24-year-old Eaton smiled and steepled his hands in a nearly prayerful gesture of thanks to the crowd in a stadium where he had competed for the University of Oregon. He would slap some of those fans' hands on the victory lap, just as he had done a couple hours earlier after a pole vault performance that put the world record back on the table.

Trey Hardee, winner of the last two world titles, was second at 8,383. Brian Clay, trying to become the first decathlete to win medals in three Olympics, went through a bizarre afternoon during which he wound up 12th after being disqualified and reinstated twice in the hurdles and following that with three fouls for zero points in the discus.

Clay, 32, the 2008 Olympic champion and 2004 silver medalist, kept competing out of respect for what the decathlon represents and the example he was providing to his three children in the stands.

"As much as I didn't want to finish, there really was no other option," Clay said. "I want to be the best role model you can be. The last thing you want to do as a role model is quit at something."

Eaton had set decathlon world records in the 100 meters (10.21) and the long jump (27 feet) on Friday. In the pole vault, he cleared a personal-best 17 feet, 4 ½ inches, not bad for a guy you can see on YouTube making his pole vault debut six years ago as an Oregon freshman by somersaulting as he went over a bar set at 10-6.

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