Ashton Eaton

Ashton Eaton breaks decathlon world record, wins World Championship

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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.

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AP

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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All-time Decathlons
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)

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

Lin Dan
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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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