Ashton Eaton doubted himself in a restroom before the final event of the decathlon, the grueling 1500m. The gold medal was already assured, but a shot at the world record gnawed.
Eaton needed to clock 4:18.25 inside Beijing’s Bird’s Nest on Saturday night to break his world record set in 2012, when he ran 4:14.48 at the Olympic trials at home in Eugene, Ore.
Inside the restroom, Eaton knew what was required.
“Man, I haven’t done a [decathlon] in a while [more than two years], and I’m obviously, like, pretty tired,” Eaton thought to himself in the restroom, recounting it to media in Beijing. “It’s just little things in my mind. I don’t think I can run that fast. This, that and the other thing.”
Eaton needed to average about 69-second laps in the 1500m. The crowd, full and waiting for Usain Bolt to race an hour later, did the wave, Eaton’s coach said.
Going into the final lap, Eaton had to close in about 64 seconds to reach 4:18.25. He reached the final straightaway and pumped his arms harder, began shaking his head from side to side and gritted his teeth. He lunged.
“Some other people were asking, ‘Where did you find the strength over the last lap?'” Eaton told media in Beijing. “I don’t know, but the important thing is to search for it because it may be there anyway. So I think that’s what I did.”
The time: 4:17.52.
Eaton broke his world record by six points, totaled 9,045 points and collapsed to the track, not unusual for decathletes after two days and 10 events of competition. He scored five fewer points than his pre-meet projection.
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have World Track and Field Championships coverage Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
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“Interesting feeling,” Eaton later told the IAAF. “I’ve had it [the world record] once, and now I’ve had it again, and it’s still weird.”
When Eaton posed next to a scoreboard reading WORLD RECORD 9045 for photos, he did not smile. He rested his right arm and head on the board, kneeling with an American flag covering his back in apparent emotional and/or physical exhaustion.
Eaton had taken 2014 off from the decathlon, since there were no World Championships or Olympics that year, and withdrew before his previous decathlon this year with a lower back injury May 30.
“I didn’t realize it until I got here, how much [running the 400m hurdles in 2014] benefited me because, once I was warming up with the [decathlon] guys, I was like I freaking miss this,” Eaton, whose last decathlon was the 2013 World Championships more than two years ago, told media in Beijing.
Eaton, 27, joined Great Britain’s Daley Thompson and American Dan O’Brien as the only men to win at least three Olympic or World decathlon titles. On the BBC and analyzing Eaton’s new record, Thompson predicted the American could score 9,200 points in the future.
In 2016, Eaton can join Thompson and Bob Mathias as the only men to win multiple Olympic decathlons and tie O’Brien for the most combined Olympic and World titles at four.
Eaton said he benefited from watching his wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, take silver in the heptathlon behind Jessica Ennis-Hill on Sunday.
“She struggled, and that was hard for me to watch, and because she struggled, I said, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to have fun,” Eaton told the IAAF. “It was unfortunate that she had to struggle, and I had to benefit from that. But her day will come.”
On Friday, Eaton moved within 25 points of his world-record pace in the final event of the day and fifth overall, when he ran 45.00 in the 400m. That marked the fastest 400m time in a decathlon, breaking the previous mark by a hefty .68 of a second.
Also Friday, top challenger and countryman Trey Hardee, the 2009 and 2011 World champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist, withdrew due to a back injury.
Canadian Damian Warner took silver to Eaton with 8,695 points.
On Saturday, Eaton chipped away at his world-record pace deficit in the 110m hurdles and javelin, but lost that momentum in the pole vault before a 63.63-meter javelin throw in the ninth event put him 27 points ahead of world-record pace. Eaton had thrown 58.87 meters as part of his world record at the 2012 trials.
That set up the 1500m chase.
“Really, I was just thinking about sitting on the couch when I was little, watching somebody like Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, jump and run,” Eaton told media in Beijing. “That’s like, the reason I’m here today. So I thought, maybe there’s a kid on a couch somewhere, and if I break this world record, they may be inspired to do something or get excited. So, yeah, I did it for them.”
Eaton entered the 1500m with 8,216 points. In the 2012 trials, he entered the 1500m with 8,189 points.
Could he possibly break the world record again in 2016, or beyond? His coach, Harry Marra, isn’t ruling it out.
“You shouldn’t put a limit, [1968 Olympic decathlon champion] Bill Toomey told me that years ago.” Marra told media in Beijing, saying he thinks Eaton could improve on his Beijing scores in the pole vault, 100m, long jump and shot put.
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1. Ashton Eaton — 9,045 (2015 World Championship)
2. Ashton Eaton — 9,039 (2012 Olympic Trials)
3. Roman Sebrle (CZE) — 9,026 (2001)
4. Tomas Dvorak (CZE) — 8,994 (1999)
5. Tomas Dvorak (CZE) — 8,902 (2001)