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