EUGENE, Ore. – Meter by meter, Ashton Eaton kept swallowing up real estate on a track that has always felt like home.
Second by second, the clock to the side of that track ticked away – daring him to cross the finish line in a time that would put his name in the record books.
Eaton was every bit as relentless and stubborn as that clock Saturday. He set a personal best in the 1,500-meter finale and is now the world-record holder in the decathlon.
“It’s like living an entire lifetime in two days,” Eaton said.
He finished the grueling two-day event with 9,039 points in the U.S. Olympic trials to beat Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old mark by 13 points.
Eaton joined the likes of Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien (University of Idaho/Community Colleges of Spokane) and Rafer Johnson among the Americans who have held the world record. He did it on the 100th anniversary of the first Olympic decathlon – and many of the American greats who have made history in the event were on hand to watch Eaton do the same.
He did it in terrible weather – drizzle, rain, cold and then, finally, sunshine as he got ready for the final 1,500 push.
“He was in position for it, and he went for it and there was no letdown,” O’Brien said. “The most impressive thing was that he kept up his intensity in this weather.”
Eaton, the 24-year-old and a former NCAA champion for University of Oregon, needed a time of 4 minutes, 16.37 seconds in the 1,500 to break the mark. He finished in 4:14.48.
When it was over, he bent down and put his hands on his knees, then brought them up to cover his mouth. Tears were falling – elated and shocked all at the same time.
A few minutes later, he took the small American flag he’d been handed as a newly minted member of the U.S. Olympic team and stabbed it into the turf near the scoreboard that displayed his accomplishment: “World Record Decathlon. Ashton Eaton. 9,039 points.” Photographers lined up for the historic shoot.
“I wanted it to be a special event because this is my home state, my hometown, my home university,” he said to the crowd at Oregon’s Hayward Field. “And just from the start, I just wanted to perform well.”
What to do for an encore?
We’ll see in six weeks in London, where he’ll go in as the favorite, along with the man he beat, defending world champion Trey Hardee, who finished 656 points back.
“Going into London, I’m not going to change a thing,” Eaton said. “Clearly.”
Chances for an American medal sweep in London, thought to be a good possibility, were vanquished when defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay fell during the hurdles. He finished 12th.
Pretty much everything else on this memorable evening in Oregon got second billing – though there was one big question mark when the night ended: Allyson Felix left the stadium thinking she’d lost the third spot in the women’s 100 to Jeneba Tarmoh by less than 0.0001.
After a long review, race officials determined Felix and Tarmoh finished in a dead-heat for third place, each at 11.068. Only three spots are available at the Olympics and USA Track and Field officials were huddling, trying to solve a problem for which there is no written solution. Carmelita Jeter won the race in 10.92.
Elsewhere, Lolo Jones’ leaned at the finish line to earn the third and final Olympic spot in the 100 hurdles by 0.04 seconds. Dawn Harper won in 12.73.
Tyson Gay made it through his first 100 heat cleanly, while LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner and Sanya Richards-Ross all advanced in the 400.
Eaton also overtook O’Brien’s American record of 8,891 points, which he set in 1992, nine years before Sebrle became the first man to break 9,000 points.
Also at the meet, former Washington State Cougar Blessing Ufodiama jumped 42 feet, 8 3/4 inches in the women’s triple jump preliminaries to qualify for Monday’s finals. Her lifetime best is 46-1 1/2.