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Trey Hardee returns to world stage without Ashton Eaton

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LONDON (AP) — Trey Hardee wants to set the record straight.

No, he’s not retired. Never has been. The thought really never crossed his mind.

The two-time world champion decathlete understands why everyone may have jumped to that conclusion.

He’s 33, has been sidelined by an assortment of injuries and did some broadcasting work for the Rio Olympics.

On top of that, his Wikipedia page actually listed him as retired.

“I still really love what I do,” he said.

With world-record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton surprisingly announcing his retirement in January, the stage now belongs to the “other” American who, in virtually any other era, wouldn’t have been relegated to such status. Once the top rival of Eaton, Hardee could take his spot atop the medal stand at the world championships in London.

“I consider myself the bread in the Ashton sandwich,” Hardee joked about being around before Eaton’s arrival and still around now. “When we were (competing), we were always like, ‘Let’s finish 1-2.’ Neither of us cared. We were like, ‘Let’s dominate this event and represent the United States, make sure we show what the American decathlon stands for.’”

For years, it was the Eaton and Hardee Show in a 10-event competition spread over two days. At the 2012 London Games, Eaton took gold while Hardee grabbed silver. That despite Hardee having surgery on his throwing elbow a few months before the Olympics.

Another showdown loomed in Brazil. But Hardee was hobbled heading into the Olympic Trials and withdrew from the competition after aggravating his hamstring.

There went Rio for him as a competitor. Instead, he earned his way as an analyst and had a front-row seat for Eaton’s title defense.

“It was a bittersweet moment, watching my countrymen and cheering for them. But really, really in the bottom of your heart, you think, ‘I should be out there,’” Hardee recounted. “It was tough. It gave me more resolve to come back this year.”

A healthy Hardee turned in quite a performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June, when he won the decathlon with 8,225 points. He held off the next wave of American decathletes eager to take over — such as 24-year-old Zach Ziemek and Devon Williams. Both will accompany Hardee to London.

“It’s a nice time to be a decathlete in the U.S.,” Hardee said.

Hardee is part of a distinguished list, joining Eaton (2013, 2015), Dan O’Brien (1991, 1993, 1995), Tom Pappas (2003) and Bryan Clay (2005) as the only Americans to win the world decathlon title. Hardee captured his titles in 2009 and ’11.

“Whatever my legacy is, it’s not for me to determine,” said Hardee, who trains in Austin, Texas. “I was just led down the right path. All I needed to do was put in the work.”

His venture into the decathlon was almost by accident. Cut from his high school basketball team, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hardee turned to pole vaulting and went to Mississippi State hoping to become the next Sergey Bubka. But Hardee was introduced to the decathlon and began to flourish. He transferred to Texas, where he became an NCAA champion.

Ever since, he’s been chasing that “unicorn,” which he calls the mythical perfect score in the competition. His personal-best mark of 8,790 points was set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. In contrast, Eaton has set the world record twice — 9,039 points at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then 9,045, which he attained at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

Recently, Hardee added another event to his plate — the getting-his-daughter-to-laugh competition. He scores big numbers in that area.

“She can smile at you, and turn you into a puddle on the floor,” said Hardee, whose wife — a retired pole vaulter — gave birth to their daughter, Frankie, on Dec. 5. “When she’s happy, we’re happy. I’ve never been more heartbroken than when I’m holding her and she’s crying.”

The family won’t be accompanying him to London. This is more of a business trip. He feels confident heading into London, though, even if he’s dealing with a nagging foot ailment.

“I’m dangerous, because I still got some pop,” Hardee said. “I’m the wild card.”

Asked when he might step aside for real, Hardee just laughed.

“If I do retire, it will be a pretty quiet and an uneventful affair,” said Hardee, who dabbles in real estate on the side. “They’ll be like, ‘Did Trey retire?’

“But I still go to bed every night thinking about the decathlon and I wake up each morning ready to practice.”

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PyeongChang late night roundup

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It was a terrific ending for the Olympic curling tournament. The U.S. men’s team defied all odds by upsetting Sweden in the final 10-7. Buoyed by John Shuster’s double take out in the eighth end, the United States all but assured gold at 10-5 up.

On the night that the United States won its ninth gold medal during these Olympic Games, Finland won its first. Cross-country skier Livo Niskanen outpaced the rest of the 50 man field in the 17th kilometer. OAR skier Alexander Bolushnov gave him a fight in the final kilometers, but he too was eventually left behind.


Curling: USA wins first-ever curling gold 

The USA men’s curling team’s improbable Olympic run has concluded in glory. John Shuster’s squad looked like they were in control from the very onset of the match, forcing Sweden to make errors. The highlight of the match: Shuster’s final stone in the eighth end to put the USA well out of reach with a 10-5 lead.

The United States started competition 2-4 and looked well out of contention to make the playoffs, but an incredible run of three wins saw them get into the playoffs on the final day.

Recap: USA men’s curling wins Olympic gold 

The USA weren’t the only surprise medal winners today. Japan won the country’s first-ever Olympic medal after defeating Great Britain.

It all came down to two steals from Japan in the final two ends, with Briton skip Eve Muirhead missing her final stone to give the victory to Japan.

Men’s Tournamenet

USA def. SWE 10-7

Women’s Tournament

JPN def. GBR 5-3

Cross-Country: Niskanen wins men’s 50km 

Finnish skier Livo Niskanen’s pace was too much for nearly the entire field on Friday night. The Finn broke from the pack, along with Alexey Poltoranen, in the 17th kilometer and continued to stay out front. After Poltoranen ran out of gas, it was OAR athlete Alexander Bolushnov who erased a 30 second gap to challenge the Finn.

It wasn’t until the last kilometre that a seemingly-fatigued Niskanen made his final move to brush of Bolushnov to cross the finish line.

It was a very disappointing day for the Norwegians, who’ve dominated the sport this year. Not one Norwegian landed on the podium, including gold medal favorite Martin Sundsby.

Full men’s 50km recap available here 

Speed Skating: Takagi, Lee win inaugural mass start 

Making its Olympic debut, the speed skating mass start proved to be an erratic event as several skaters collided and crashed out of the competition.

The final race is simple: first three skaters to cross the finish line win the medals.

Estonia’s Saskia Alusalu made the initial burst of energy in the race, but was caught up to in the final three laps. The women’s champion was decided by a final sprint, when Japan’s Nana Takagi beat world champion Kim Bo-Reum and Irene Schouten.

Women’s mass start recap available here 

Lee Song-Hoon won the men’s tournament, ensuring that the speed skating program would not have as sour an ending as the short track. Unlike the women’s race, the men’s skaters stuck together as a train for most of the race until the final three laps.

In the end, Lee came in with too much speed to be overtaken by any of the chasing competitors.

Men’s mass start recap available here 

USA wins gold in men’s curling

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For the first time in history, the United States won the Olympic gold medal in curling.

A week ago, it didn’t seem like that would happen. Sitting at 2-4 and with a game against behemoth Canada coming up, John Shuster captained the United States to three consecutive wins (over Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain) to squeak into the semifinals. From there, they took down Great Britain before completing the run against Sweden in the gold medal game.

Tied at 5-5 in the eighth end, Shuster was able to hit both of Sweden’s rocks out of the house, giving the United States an incredible five points and a 10-5 lead heading into the ninth.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch: Team USA scores five points in eighth end

After that, it was all about protecting the lead. Just a few minutes later Swedish skip Niklas Edin conceded the game, and it was the United States standing on top of the podium for the first time ever in the sport of curling.

Click here to read the full recap from the gold medal game