A defining moment of Ashton Eaton‘s career came at a competition where he could not take part. On May 30, 2015, Eaton withdrew before the start of a decathlon in Götzis, Austria, citing a back injury.
Götzis is the multi events’ Augusta National or Wimbledon. The decathlon world record was broken there three times since 1980, including the first 9,000-point score by Czech Roman Sebrle in 2001.
Eaton had never competed in Götzis, previously also withdrawing due to injury, and missing another chance at the annual meet clearly bothered him last year.
Yet Eaton still showed up. After all, his wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, would compete in the heptathlon at the meet. But on that first day of competition, Eaton grabbed a microphone and addressed the stadium in a way that spoke to his character.
“This competition is not about me,” Eaton said to the crowd, a good number of them having shown up hoping to see Eaton challenge his world record in his first decathlon in 19 months. “Don’t make this Ashton Eaton isn’t competing thing part of this competition because that would be criminal. You would be stealing a great experience from all of the athletes.”
Today, the decathlon is far from the front of Eaton’s mind. He is coming off his second straight Olympic title and set to travel to British Columbia, Peru and Kenya with his wife the next several weeks.
Eaton has said he will retire from track and field before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He may not even compete past next season.
There is little left for Eaton to accomplish in the decathlon. He has two Olympic titles, two world titles and two world records. But there is one box left to check.
“I know I would want to do Götzis,” Eaton said in a phone interview while promoting sponsor QALO recently.
It’s not about righting a wrong or making up for withdrawing from the Austrian meet in 2013 and 2015 due to injuries.
“It’s more of a sense of missing out on something very cool,” Eaton said. “It’s the home of the multi events, really.”
Eaton isn’t ready to commit yet, but he could see a scenario where he trains through the Götzis meet in May and then decides if he wants to compete at the 2017 World Championships in London, where he won his first Olympic gold medal. He has a bye into worlds as the defending champion.
“It would be a nice bookend,” Eaton said.
When Eaton recently spoke with 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner on the phone, Eaton had one main question: Was it tough to leave the sport?
Jenner never competed in another decathlon after the Montreal Games. Jenner woke the day after the 1976 decathlon, looked into a hotel mirror, naked except for the gold medal, and said, “What the hell am I going to do now?” according to Sports Illustrated.
Maybe Eaton knew this when he asked Jenner earlier this month. Regardless, he liked the response.
“I just looked back, and I said thanks for the great time and all the memories, and then moved on,” Jenner, who went on to endorsements galore to become America’s “Apple Pie Hero,” told him.
Eaton has fewer options than Jenner did, but certainly different and perhaps more ambitious ones, such as starting a university, according to The Associated Press.
“Track has shaped me a lot, and there will be a time to move on,” Eaton said. “I imagine it won’t be super difficult, because I’ll have fond memories.”Follow @nzaccardi