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.”

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Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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