Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton enters the World Championships a new man, a married man, but with the same title he went into London with — clear favorite.
Eaton, who broke the two-day, 10-event world record at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, last lost a major international decathlon at the World Championships. He took silver to American teammate Trey Hardee in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011. Eaton looks for his first worlds gold in Moscow on Saturday and Sunday, the first two days of competition at Luzhniki Stadium.
“I feel just like I did going into Daegu, maybe a little bit more seasoned, a little bit more intelligent,” Eaton, 25, said in a phone interview from Moscow. “But other than that, I don’t really feel different. I feel older. I take longer to warm up. I guess I don’t really feel I have a target on my back or anything like that.”
There’s one big difference in Eaton if you’ve seen pictures of him in Moscow this week: that jewelry on his left ring finger. Eaton married Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen in July, a ceremony replete with a hashtag (#theiseneatonwedding). (a disappointment: “I can’t pole vault with the ring on,” Eaton said. “I tried.”)
Eaton’s finally grounded from a post-Olympic frenzy. He’ll never forget some of the activities. Asked to name a little-known highlight, he pointed to a first-class flight to the Netherlands.
“I’ve never flown first class transatlantic before,” he said. “The pilot came back and talked to us, Brianne and I. There was a line of stewardesses in line to get a picture (of us), right before takeoff. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. What about the safety announcements?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re fine.’ The chairs swiveled. We got ice cream, steak.”
Eaton won the national championship in June with 8,291 points, well shy of his world record (9,039). That was to be expected in the year after the Olympics, which doesn’t often see too many personal bests in track and field.
Except Eaton did set two personal records in March (javelin, shot put), the same month that a javelin thrown by Theisen in training landed right next to him, grazing his face on the way down.
A minor leg injury from high jump practice forced Eaton out of a meet in Austria in May. Achilles soreness crept up after the National Championships in June. Then his knee gave him problems. Welcome to the life of a decathlete.
“The reason the world record happened last year was that I was in good shape,” he said. “I had literally no injuries.”
Eaton said he could score 8,800 points “without too much effort” on Saturday and Sunday. That would surely be enough to win. Only eight men have ever broken 8,800, and the other seven are not competing in Moscow.
Hardee is the closest rival at worlds. He won the 2009 title in Berlin with 8,790. Also keep an eye on Cuban Leonel Suarez, bronze medalist at the last two Olympics and in Daegu, though we’ve seen very little of Hardee or Suarez this season.
Eaton’s worlds will end Sunday, giving him a week to watch his teammates perform. First comes marriage, though. Theisen competes in the heptathlon Monday and Tuesday.
Theisen, a back-to-back NCAA champion at Oregon, where she met Eaton, could very well medal in the heptathlon. Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill and 2011 world champion Tatyana Chernova are both out with injuries. Theisen, who finished 11th at the Olympics, is ranked fourth in the world this year among heptathletes entered in Moscow.
“I think Brianne’s chances are really good to win gold, definitely medal,” he said. “She’s super pumped up. … If we both win and got the gold, it would be so cool.”