No record for tender Ashton Eaton at Olympic Trials this time

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — This wasn’t a world record for Ashton Eaton. Just a runaway win and another trip to the Olympics.

Not bad for a decathlete dealing with an injury.

On a tender hamstring and a quadriceps that’s given him problems in recent weeks, the defending Olympic champion scored 8,750 points to beat Jeremy Taiwo by 325 at the U.S. Track and Field Trials on Sunday night. That’s well off Eaton’s world record of 9,045, set at the world championships last summer in Beijing.

But consider this: No one in the decathlete field for the Rio Olympics has a personal-best that matches Eaton’s mark from the trials.

He’s simply in a different stratosphere these days. The only person who can compete against him is, well, a computerized model of himself.

No, really.

“It’s almost like I make a digital version of myself, try to compete against that,” Eaton explained. “I had this little mini sub-goal of trying to score 9,000 every decathlon. It would be cool never to go back to (8,000).”

At the last Olympic trials, also at Hayward Field, Eaton broke the decathlon world record for the first time. Eugene has long been a special place for him. It’s where he and his wife, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, met while attending theUniversity of Oregon and rose to prominence.

Eaton said he was shooting for the record, but his leg made it impossible.

“I had the same mindset,” Eaton said. “I would say the expectations personally and externally were a little bit different.”

The 28-year-old Eaton was in such control that his coach, Harry Marra, actually told him to run the final event, the 1,500, at a slower pace than normal. No sense putting any extra wear and tear on the leg with the Olympic decathlon in six weeks. He still ran event No. 10 in 4 minutes, 25.15 seconds, which was one of the top times.

“This meet defines Ashton Eaton way more than his world-record performances. Those were great performances,” Marra said. “But he had so many obstacles physically. … He did this with a bum leg.”

A leg his coach wasn’t sure was going to hold up during the 400 on Saturday.

It did.

A leg Eaton wasn’t sure was going to be ready for the 110-meter hurdles on Sunday.

It was.

And through this competition, Eaton learned a little bit more about himself — he doesn’t have to be super aggressive all the time. Smooth works almost as well.

“The (overall) reviews were pretty good,” Eaton said. “As a decathlon, if you don’t leave with something frustrated then you should quit, because it was perfect.”

In command, Eaton even had time to take in some other events. He watched Chaunte Lowe win the high jump by holding hold off teenager Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. He also caught Jeffery Henderson‘s win in the men’s long jump and Allyson Felix‘s blistering performance in the 400.

Now those were impressive.

“It’s nice to have a front-row seat as a decathlete, on the field and get to see all that stuff,” Eaton said. “Those kinds of things are inspirational, and you try to learn from it. Sometimes, I try to pick up little things from the specialists.”

Taiwo had a solid performance to take second, while Zach Ziemek of Wisconsin wound up third. It was an event that was missing Trey Hardee, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist who didn’t finish after suffering a left hamstring injury on the first day.

Eaton’s big plans now will be to squeeze in some rest before he and his wife head to Rio. There, Eaton has a chance to make a little history as he tries to defend his title. That hasn’t been done in the decathlon since British star Daley Thompson in 1980 and ’84.

“That would be cool,” Eaton said. “Awesome company to be in. But there are really good competitors.”

Asked if he might chase after another world record in Rio, Eaton just grinned.

“The Olympic Games are so much different from anything else,” Eaton said. “You don’t even talk about world records, in a way. If it’s there at the very end, sure, I’ll run to get it. Other than that, it’s event to event.”

MORE: Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt win 400m at U.S. Olympic Trials 

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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