Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton quelled any doubts about his favorite status in the final event of the first day at the World Championships on Saturday.
Eaton, also the world record holder in the two-day, 10-event competition, had entered the fifth and final event of the first day in second place, trailing another American, Gunnar Nixon.
Eaton took that lead back in dominant fashion, clocking a 46.02 in the 400 meters, less than a half-second slower than his personal best. It was more than 1.5 seconds faster than anybody else in the decathlon field and the fastest decathlon 400 ever run at a World Championships.
Eaton scored 4,502 points on the first day, nine more than Nixon and 75 more than German Michael Schrader. Two-time defending world champion Trey Hardee of the U.S. withdrew with a hamstring injury after four events.
At the 2012 Olympics, Eaton had 4,728 points after the first day. Nixon, 20, the 2012 world junior champion, was the surprise of the first day and is a definite medal threat now.
Eaton took the lead after the first event with a season’s best of 10.35 in the 100 meters. He was still in the lead after a 7.73-meter long jump and a 14.39-meter shot put (12th best in the competition). He fell into third after the high jump, where Nixon cleared 2.14 meters to Eaton’s 1.93, before taking the lead back in the 400.
Hardee, the 2009 and 2011 world champion, failed to clear any height while suffering a hamstring injury in the high jump. That ended any hopes of medaling, and Hardee withdrew before the 400 meters.
“My hamstring grabbed and wouldn’t let go,” Hardee, who also had reconstructive elbow surgery in September 2011 and an Achilles injury going into June nationals, told Eurosport. “My body wouldn’t let me compete today. It was kind of frustrating.”
Hardee, the Olympic silver medalist, was attempting to become the third man to win three world titles in the decathlon. 1996 Olympic champion Dan O’Brien (’91, ’93, ’95) and former world record holder Tomas Dvorak (’97, ’99, ’01) were the others.
The fourth American, Jeremy Taiwo, also withdrew Saturday.
“I think Ashton is the man to beat,” Hardee told Eurosport. “But day two, a lot can happen.”
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