Eugene, OregonOn a day when the United States honoured its Decathlon legends, Ashton Eaton produced a performance worthy of such a gathering.
The 24-year-old American produced the fastest ever 100 metres (10.21 seconds) and the furthest ever Long Jump (8.23 metres) seen in a Decathlon competition to begin the U.S. Olympic Trials. Eaton finished Day 1 with 4728 points, giving him a 322-point lead over reigning IAAF world champion Trey Hardee.
The multi-event competitions at the U.S. Olympic Trials are part of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge.
Eaton is within reach of the American record of 8891 points set by Dan O’Brien at Talence, France, on 5 September 1992.
O’Brien is the only decathlete who has ever exceeded Eaton’s Day 1 score, and he did so three times, topped by 4747 at New York in 1991.
"What you witnessed today is a culmination of everyone that has supported me and got me to this point, and me fiercely trying not to let them down," Eaton said. "I’m competing well, 100 percent healthy, and ready for tomorrow."
Surprised at the two best ever Decathlon marks?
"A little bit," he said before leaving for treatment in preparation for Day 2.
O’Brien, the 1996 gold medallist, was at Hayward Field in a ceremony commemorating 100 years of the Olympic decathlon. Dignitaries included two sons of Jim Thorpe, the first Olympic champion in 1912. Also honoured were the other living American Olympic Decathlon gold medallists: Milt Campbell (1956), Rafer Johnson (1960), Bill Toomey (1968), Bruce Jenner (1976) and Bryan Clay (2008).
Clay, seeking to become the first decathlete to win a medal in three Olympics, is in third place at these trials with 4252 points. He didn’t address reporters but posted on his Twitter account: "Had to shake off some serious rust. Looking forward to tomorrow! Let’s hope for better weather/marks."
Clay has completed one Decathlon since the Beijing Olympics – at Gotzis, Austria, in May 2010. Although he struggled in the High Jump and 400, he retains a 168-point lead over fourth-place Gray Horn. Top three make the U.S. team for the London Olympics. Although temperature cooled to 16 degrees (Celsius) from what had been high 20s earlier in the week, the decathletes were inhibited little until rain fell more heavily during the High Jump.
"Everybody was out there dealing with it," Hardee said.
Although Eaton’s opening two results were momentous, Hardee said he was expecting them. He also said he expects Eaton to break the American record held by O’Brien, who is No. 3 on the all-time world list behind Czech greats Roman Sebrle (9,026 in 2001) and Tomas Dvorak (8,994 in 1999).
"If so, when it happens, we’ll be right there together to cheer him on," Hardee said.
Eaton’s coach, Harry Marra, wasn’t as casual in his assessment of the first two events.
"Did I know they were going to be that good? No. Nobody does," Marra said. "I knew that we were going to be steady, and that’s what we aim for. We want to start these meets with two events that are good for him and keep him steady."
"We attack all 10 events. We ask Ashton to be steady in all 10 events, and that’s what he’s showing right now."
If there is scepticism about Eaton, it is because three of his past four decathlons (including this one) have come on his home track in Eugene. The one that wasn’t was last year’s World Championships at Daegu, where Eaton was second to Hardee.
Recapping Day 1, event by event:
Despite cool conditions, Eaton (10.21), Clay (10.45) and Hardee (10.50) opened with fast times and big scores. Clay was within a tenth of a second of his lifetime best.
Eaton’s time – aided by a wind of 0.4 metres per second -- bettered the best ever in a Decathlon, 10.22. That was set by Chris Huffins at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials in Atlanta.
Eaton jumped 8.23 and passed thereafter. The previous Decathlon best was 8.22 by Estonia’s Erki Nool, also set in 1996. That gave Eaton an astounding 2164 points through two events, another Decathlon best.
Horn, who was suspended from his Florida college team after a drunken driving arrest and missed the NCAA Championships, was second at 7.60. Hardee was third at 7.55, Clay sixth at 7.40.
Predictably, Hardee (15.72) and Clay (15.63) were first and second to gain on Eaton. Hardee, who had elbow surgery 19 days after his Daegu gold medal, survived his first throwing event.
"Felt OK. I’m in one piece, not hurt," Hardee said.
Eaton progressively improved in each round, from 13.47 to 13.84 to 14.20.
Rain and the slick surface significantly influenced the high jump. Only three leaped higher than 2.00.
Eaton opened by clearing 1.90 and didn’t miss until going out at 2.08. His 2.05 finished first.
Clay managed only 1.96, his poorest in a decathlon since jumping 1.93 in the 2007 U.S. Championships at Indianapolis. He subsequently withdrew from that meet.
During a downpour, there was a false start in Eaton’s heat, causing him to scowl at the delay when all runners were already drenched. He clocked a creditable 46.70 – worth 973 points -- although far short of the 45.68 he ran April 4 at Santa Barbara, California.
Hardee’s 49.11 equalled his slowest in 15 decathlons since 2005, but that could be attributed to the unfavourable conditions. Clay laboured through a 51.21, his slowest time in 20 decathlons since 2002.
Clay might secure the third spot on the U.S. team, but his vulnerability make suggestions of an American medal sweep in London disputable.