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.”
“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.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three-time Olympic champion and world mile record-holder Peter Snell has died in Dallas. He was aged 80.
Snell, who is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time, won the 800m at the 1960 Rome Olympics aged 21, and the 800m-1500m double at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
He was the first man since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics. No male athlete has done so since.
Snell also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals in the 880 yards and mile at Perth in 1962.
He twice held the mile world record and also held world records in the 800m, 880 yards, 1000m, and the 4xmile relay.
Snell’s death was confirmed by family friend and New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski, who heads New Zealand’s Sport Hall of Fame.
“It is very sad news, a grievous loss for New Zealand,” Palenski said. “In terms of track and field, he is probably the greatest athlete New Zealand has had.”
Snell was coached by Arthur Lydiard, an innovator who was regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches of middle and long distance athletes. Lydiard also coached Murray Halberg to win the 5000m at Rome in 1960.
Snell’s wife, Miki, said he died suddenly at his home in Dallas around noon on Thursday. He had been suffering from a heart ailment and had required a pacemaker for several years.
Snell’s athletics career was relatively short. He retired in 1965 to pursue educational opportunities in the United States.
Snell graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and later with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University.
He became a research fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1981, later becoming director of the university’s Human Performance Center.
Snell was knighted by New Zealand in 2009. A statue in his honor stands at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, near his birthplace of Opunake, where he broke the mile world record for the first time in 1962.
Grand Prix Final results show women’s figure skating revolution progressing quickly
The revolution in women’s figure skating is being televised.
That’s a turn of phrase on an admittedly dated reference (Google it). The point is we all have been able to witness, from TV broadcasts or live streams, a season with the most radical change in the sport since child prodigy Sonja Henie, then age 11, began doing jumps in her programs nearly a century ago.
What we watched other child prodigies do at last week’s Grand Prix Final boggled the minds of even those who saw it coming, because no one imagined it coming this soon and to this degree.
This essentially Russian revolution, which has taken maximum advantage of the scoring system and youthful body types to overthrow longtime technical norms of women’s skating, has split the discipline into haves and have-nots.
There are those who have the high-scoring quadruple jumps or multiple triple Axels to seize all the medals. And those who do not have those big jumps and, as of now, no chance to regain the podiums from which they have been summarily ousted.
Given what already had happened this season, it was not surprising that Russian first-year seniors Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the medals in the senior Final. Each had qualified by winning two of the six events in the Grand Prix series.
What is surprising is how far and fast the Troika – as NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir artfully nicknamed them, in a reference to a traditional Russian three-horse sled – has pushed the envelope and how far and fast they have left everyone else behind.
And imagine what the gap could be if women were allowed to do quads in the short program, which likely will be proposed at next year’s International Skating Union congress.
A year ago, it was shocking when the Troika, then all juniors internationally, swept the medals at the senior Russian Championships. Now it will be shocking if they don’t do it again at this year’s Russian Championships, which take place Dec. 24-29.
No women were regularly doing quads until last season. Consider what the Troika has done just this autumn:
*Kostornaia, 16, did not attempt a triple Axel in international competition before this season. Now she is doing one in the short program and two in the free, and all three were very well executed as she took gold at the Grand Prix Final.
*Shcherbakova, 15, began her international season the way she had finished last year at junior worlds, with one quad Lutz in the free skate; at the Grand Prix Final, she did two quad Lutzes (one clean, one under-rotated) and attempted her first quad flip (fall) in finishing second.
*Trusova, 15, began this season after having landed quad Lutz, quad Salchow and quad toe loop as a junior, but she was not attempting more than two in a program. In her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, she did four quads (three clean). At the Grand Prix Final, she added an excellent quad flip for five free skate quads, one of which she doubled and three of which were clean. She also attempted (and under-rotated) a triple Axel for the first time in the short program.
Even with the mistakes, the quads still racked up enough points for Shcherbakova that she beat a flawless Kostornaia in the free skate. And they gave Trusova a 20.71-point overall margin over fourth finisher Rika Kihira, 17, of Japan, who already had mastered triple Axels but has dropped so far from contention against the Troika that Kihira tried (and fell on) her first quad in competition.
And you have to feel a little sorry for reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, at the technical cutting edge of her sport less than two years ago, now utterly overmatched – and still just 17 years old.
Zagitova’s free skate, an error-filled mess, dropped her from second after a fine short (less than six points behind Kostornaia) to sixth overall, more than 42 points behind Kostornaia and nearly 28 behind the third-place Trusova.
Even had she skated cleanly, having a long program with no quads or triple Axels meant the base value of Zagitova’s elements was more than 30 points less than Trusova’s, more than 20 less than Shcherbakova’s and about five less than Kostornaia’s. Zagitova would have needed otherworldly Grades of Execution marks and program component scores to compete for a medal.
According to a Eurosport summary of the interview, Zagitova said she needed to find new motivation to continue competing. The story quoted her as saying she intended to do shows and keep training under her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who also coaches the Troika.
Zagitova also said she intended to learn new elements and ways to go into jumps.
“I need to find the desire to want to go into a competition,” she said, according to a translation. “The athletes who have gone down that road will understand me.”
Those who decry how much the quads have thrown the sport’s athletic-artistic balance out of whack found some satisfaction in Kostornaia’s having won with a performance and interpretive quality rare for a skater of her age.
Yet Kostornaia also accumulated some 21 free skate points for her triple Axels, about 13 more points than fifth-place finisher Bradie Tennell of the U.S. got for two clean double Axels. Even if Tennell had not made some relatively small mistakes, there was no way she could make up that difference.
And remember that if Trusova had cleanly landed the quad she doubled and the quad that resulted in a fall, she could have overcome not only her short program mistake but also the margin Kostornaia built in program components with clearly superior skating skills and artistry.
Tennell, 21, the top U.S. woman at the 2018 Olympics (ninth) and the last two World Championships (sixth and seventh), this season has displayed the best overall level of skating in her career. But a lack of quads and triple Axels has dropped her exponentially further behind the leaders.
Yet Tennell presses on.
“She may never catch them, but we keep pushing forward, trying to improve on both components and technical,” said Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell. “She is not settling for where she is now.”
About a month ago, I began to wonder if changing the factoring of the five Program Component Scores (PCS) so that they were the same for women as for men would level a playing field that has tilted so dramatically toward the jumpers.
Since the International Judging System was introduced in 2004, factors of .8 (short program) and 1.6 (long) have been applied to the raw total of each woman’s component score. They are 1.0 and 2.0 for men.
The logic behind the difference was until last season, a men’s free skate was 30 seconds longer with one more element. (Why it also applied to the short program is unclear, since the number of elements and time have been the same.)
“The idea of possible new factors for the program components for men was evaluated in the past season, because for the top skaters the technical score in the last years had considerably increased,” Italy’s Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU technical committee for singles and pairs, said in an email.
“At the moment, for the majority of the [men], the [PCS] is still corresponding to about 50 percent of the total score. In some cases, the relation might not be exact, but a rule must consider all the skaters and not only the top five.
“Now we are dealing with the same situation for the ladies. This is something totally new, and we will study the problem during the season. But again, we cannot look at a couple of skaters only.”
In a recent interview with Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Weir seconded the idea of giving the women’s PCS scores the same weight as the men’s.
“It would give them a little better chance,” Samuel Auxier, an international judge and former U.S. Figure Skating, said in a text message last month.
So much has changed on the jump front since then that it turns out using the men’s PCS factors would have had almost no impact on the women’s results at the Grand Prix Final.
With some computational help from skatingscores.com, I recalculated the PCS scores from the Final with the 1.0 and 2.0 factors, added them to the TES scores and found just one difference: Kostornaia would have moved from second to first in the free skate. The overall and short program finish order would have been the same.
So, the 20% adjustment of PCS factor gender equality is not enough to put women without the most difficult jumps into medal contention.
And as Bianchetti pointed out, making that change or a more substantial one in the women’s factoring must take into consideration not only a few exceptional new talents.
“I truly do not believe that anyone seriously thought a lady would deliver four quads so quickly and especially at such a young age,” Ted Barton of Canada, who was involved in the creation of IJS, said in a text message last month. “Alysa Liu is a good American example of what the present is and future might be.”
(And, yes, there is an elephant in the room: whether the young talents are getting exaggerated PCS scores from judges smitten by their jumping. That’s a question for another day – or lifetime.)
Yet there is every indication the Troika are only the leading edge of a blizzard of jumping phenoms, not only from Russia. After all, Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Liu, 14, last season became the youngest singles champion in U.S. history with three triple Axels, and she has added a quad Lutz this season.
“The factoring and [other] calculations were developed on what was being done at that point,” Barton said. “Now that skaters have shown new possibilities, the technical committees will look to see what adjustments can and should be made. Interesting times, indeed.”
For now, though, we are seeing in real time the unsettling effect revolutions can have.
And it seems surreal.
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.
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