BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — One day in September, Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton found his phone and noticed a missed call and voicemail from a number he didn’t recognize.
“Hey, this is Caitlyn,” the message began.
Caitlyn Jenner, who won the 1976 Olympic decathlon title as Bruce Jenner, called again shortly thereafter and this time did reach Eaton.
Less than a month earlier, Eaton repeated as World champion and broke the decathlon world record in Beijing. Also at Worlds, Eaton’s wife, Canadian Olympian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, earned her second straight silver in the heptathlon.
That’s why Jenner called, twice.
“She just said, ‘You know what, I just wanted to say congrats on the Worlds to both you and Brianne,’ which was very cool, and, ‘I thought you guys did great,'” Eaton recalled Monday.
Eaton couldn’t remember the last time he and Jenner, two of six living U.S. Olympic decathlon champions, had spoken. Though they are on good terms.
They also talked leading up to the 2012 Olympics, and Eaton believed more recently, but not since Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview and Vanity Fair cover story last spring.
Eaton’s coach, Harry Marra, said Jenner called him a few hours after Eaton completed his two-day, record-breaking decathlon performance in Beijing.
“She woke me up at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Marra told CBS Albany in New York, near his hometown, last month. “‘Hey, I saw Ashton won, tell me about it.’ Decathon guys, people stay together. It’s a fraternity.
“Caitlyn and I have known each other since 1971, still remain friends, talk quite often.”
Jenner was the last decathlete to break the world record outright at the Olympics in 1976.
In 1984, Daley Thompson repeated as Olympic decathlon champion with a score that would later be fixed to tie the world record, then become the world record when a new scoring table was implemented in 1985.
Back to that September phone call. Jenner joked after the congratulations.
“The only thing is, you fell down at the end of the 1500 [meters],” she joked, according to Eaton. “She was like, ‘You’ve got to be tough. The U.S. never falls down at the end of the 15.'”
Eaton was so drained by the end of the 1500m, the 10th and final event, that he tumbled to the ground two steps after crossing the finish line in 4:17.52. He knew before the race that he needed 4:18.25 to break his world record.
The time was well off the 4:14.48 he clocked to cap a world record for the first time at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., attended by Jenner. Eaton did not fall then.
But Eaton competed in Beijing under tougher circumstances than in Eugene, the pressure of a global championship, his first decathlon in nearly two years and in warmer weather.
He had trouble holding up an American flag on his victory lap at the 2008 Olympic Stadium.
“I was waving at people, and just raising my arm, it was going lactic,” Eaton said. “It was the weirdest thing.”
Eaton said he had fallen after a decathlon 1500m once before, at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
“Trials was different,” Eaton said. “I couldn’t go any faster, but I had more energy, if that makes sense. I didn’t expend it all. I just couldn’t go any faster. Whereas in something like Daegu and Beijing, I think because the days are so long, I’m using every last bit just to stay up.”
In Daegu, Eaton was also chasing a time. He needed to beat Cuban Leonel Suarez by about five seconds to overtake Suarez for the silver medal behind American Trey Hardee.
Eaton ended up beating Suarez by 5.22 seconds in a then-personal-best time and, after 10 events, four points in the standings.
Jenner most definitely did not fall after his 1500m at the Montreal Olympics.
“Something I’ve always wondered is, are we really giving our all?” Eaton said Monday. “If everybody gave absolutely everything they had, shouldn’t we all just be crawling at the finish line?”