Ashton Eaton, perhaps the most recognizable U.S. male track and field athlete, was until this year largely absent from the sport’s premier meet series — the Diamond League — across America, Europe and Asia.
That’s because the Diamond League does not include decathlons, the event in which Eaton is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder.
Eaton has a passion for track and field beyond times, heights and lengths — he’s asked for historic data on Twitter — and has wished his primary trade could be included.
“I believe decathlon should have a hand in the Diamond League circuit,” he told Spikes in April 2013. “I would say we should compete across five competitions, with two events per competition like, 100m and long jump for one meeting and then shot and high jump the next.
“I think this would be a good timeframe and keep people interested in the multis. A similar competition could also be run for the women multi-eventers.”
Well, the decathlon is not yet on the Diamond League program. But Eaton is in Oslo for his second Diamond League meet of this season Wednesday.
That’s because Eaton is taking a break from decathlons this season in favor of the 400m hurdles, which is not one of the 10 decathlon events. It’s a luxury he can afford given it’s the one year in the four-year cycle with no Olympics and no World Outdoor Championships.
“I was good at [400m hurdles] and was always curious so tried it, and I needed a break from the past few years especially ahead of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons,” he said in Oslo on Tuesday. “The 400m is my base training so we just took a step further with the hurdles, and that’s why I chose that event.”
Eaton has said focusing on the 400m hurdles has reinvigorated him, especially mentally, for when he reverts to the decathlon going toward the 2016 Olympics. Eaton, 26, feels he could compete until 2020 or 2024.
In 2016, he could become the first man since Daley Thompson in 1984 to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title (and first since Bob Mathias in 1952 to do it in non-boycotted Games).
Eaton has run in Diamond League meets before — contesting the 110m hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic — but Oslo marks his circuit debut in the 400m hurdles.
Here are four events to watch Wednesday:
Men’s 400m hurdles
Eaton’s personal best 49.07 set Sunday ranks ninth in the world this year. That would have placed sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships.
It’s also made him the second fastest man this year in the Oslo field, behind 2011 World bronze medalist LJ Van Zyl. It’s a bit of an open race, without any of the reigning Olympic or World medalists. Close competition could give Eaton extra juice to sub sub-49.
Galen Rupp competes for the first time since smashing his American 10,000m record at the Pre Classic on May 30. His primary competition in the Norwegian capital will be Kenyan Caleb Ndiku, who is the fastest 5000m man this year, and Ethiopian Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel.
Four-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix is still looking for her first victory of 2014. She finished fifth in a 400m in Shanghai and third in a 200m in Eugene, Ore., in her first races since tearing a hamstring at the 2013 World Championships.
That win could very well come in Oslo, where she won’t have to worry about longtime 200m rival Veronica Campbell-Brown or World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Felix is the fastest woman this year among the field, just better than 2013 World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure.
Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is sitting this one out. The sprinter to watch instead is Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson, the second man to cross the finish line in the 2008 Beijing Olympic 100m final, well behind Usain Bolt.
Thompson reportedly ran a 9.74 in Clermont, Fla., two weeks ago, a time lacking a wind reading and not registered on the IAAF’s top lists page. Gatlin ran a wind-aided 9.76 at the Pre Classic on the same day.