Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton retiring at the right time, coach says

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Back in November, Brianne Theisen-Eaton got a hold of her coach, Harry Marra, to arrange their first get-together since the Rio Olympics at their Oregon home.

“She said, why don’t you come over in a few days, and we’ll meet,” Marra recalled Wednesday. “She didn’t even say we’ve come to a decision. She just said, we’ll meet.”

Turns out, Theisen-Eaton and husband Ashton Eaton had come to a decision — to retire in the primes of their track and field careers, both at 28 years old.

In August, Theisen-Eaton earned her first Olympic medal in Rio (bronze in the heptathlon). Eaton became the third man to repeat as Olympic decathlon champion.

The Eatons have been guided by the venerable multi-events coach Marra since they were University of Oregon students in 2009.

Marra and the Eatons traditionally take September and October off to recuperate and then gather later in the fall for a “pre-planning meeting” to map out the early workouts for the upcoming season.

Marra knew this November’s meeting would be different, as Eaton had said in Rio that he was contemplating retirement.

Marra arrived at the Eatons’ home. They small talked. Then the coach cut to it.

What are your plans?

“They both stopped for a second, looked at me and said, coach, we’re done with track and field [competition],” Marra said. “I immediately interrupted them and said, that’s a fantastic decision.”

Before the meeting, Marra thought the Eatons would take one of four routes:

  1. Continue in earnest, through the 2017 World Championships, and then retire.
  2. Compete in the prestigious Hypo Meeting for multi-events in Götzis, Austria, in May, and then retire. (Eaton has never competed in Götzis, which he has said is a regret.)
  3. Compete in the 2017 season in individual events, but not the heptathlon or decathlon. Eaton did this in 2014, focusing on the 400m hurdles.
  4. Never compete again.

“They chose the one, I think, to be honest, is the best,” Marra said. “It’s a phenomenal decision, leaving on top, having accomplished everything they wanted to do.”

There is arguably no more grueling of a test in track and field — or the Olympics — than the heptathlon and decathlon. Two full days of competition in running, jumping and throwing to determine the world’s greatest athletes.

The Eatons will each turn 32 years old in 2020. The oldest Olympic decathlon and heptathlon medalists were 30 years old.

“Training for the decathlon and heptathlon is a bear,” Marra said. “You must give it all the respect in the world, more than 100 percent each day to be successful. And if you’re not in the mode to give it that, you’re not going to do very well.”

Marra said his most memorable times with the Eatons, separately, were the turning points in their careers.

In 2011, Eaton led the Daegu World Championships decathlon through six of 10 events. But he struggled in the pole vault and javelin and ended up barely hanging onto silver via a personal-best 1500m.

Marra remembered a talk with Eaton at the airport before they flew home from South Korea.

“Ashton said, coach, that will never happen again,” Marra said of the defeat. “Saying that, in that moment in time, I knew him enough that he was going to live up to that word.”

Eaton hasn’t lost a decathlon he has finished since, winning his last seven, including two world records.

In 2012, Theisen-Eaton made her Olympic debut and finished 10th in London while her then-fiance Eaton took gold. That fall, she found Marra in his office, walked in, closed the door and said something the coach will never forget.

“I’m not doing this stuff to get 10th anymore,” Marra recalled the Saskatchewan native saying. “We’ve got to make changes. I want to be on the podium.”

Theisen-Eaton hasn’t missed the podium in a heptathlon or pentathlon since, including two world outdoor championships silver medals, world indoor championships and Commonwealth Games gold medals and that bronze medal in Rio.

Theisen-Eaton ends her career without an Olympic title. When this was brought up, Marra reflected on watching her in the Olympic Stadium after the Rio heptathlon ended, hugging Eaton.

“I could just see it that she was satisfied,” Marra said. “Yes, the gold was the goal, but getting the Olympic medal, knowing she wanted to give 110 percent the last four years, I could sense that she was happy with it.”

Back to the November meeting. Marra, not knowing about the retirement decision, arrived at the Eatons’ place with a hand-written outline for the coming year.

“Save that coach,” said the Eatons, who are ones to document their journeys, having made a social media hashtag for their wedding (search #TheisenEatonWedding on Instagram). “We want that in our files.”

As for their futures, Marra will continue working with young athletes and coaches, but not on a day-to-day basis. He turns 70 in August.

Marra sees Eaton’s interests in electronics and education and Theisen-Eaton’s in nutrition, health and fitness. The Eatons enjoy traveling. They visited Kenya with World Vision and Mozambique with Right to Play in 2015.

“They both pretty much say we want to do something to help mankind,” Marra said. “We want to do some sort of work that we’re bettering the world.”

MORE: 17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017

Isabeau Levito, 15, delivers in figure skating nationals short program as favorite

Isabeau Levito
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Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old favorite, delivered in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program, taking the lead into Friday’s free skate.

Levito, third in her senior nationals debut last year, tallied 73.78 points in a clean short capped by a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination on Thursday in San Jose, California.

She edged the comebacking two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell by two hundredths of a point. Starr Andrews was third, one hundredth ahead of Amber Glenn and 1.53 points ahead of Gracie Gold.

A committee selects the three-woman team for March’s world championships shortly after the free skate.

“I was kind of aiming for this placement,” Levito said on USA Network.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, a New Jersey native who started skating at 3 and a half and has been with the same coach since age 4, developed a steely reputation as a competitor. That mixes with her artistic comparisons to 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen and her inspiration, Johnny Weir. She hasn’t missed a podium at a competition she has completed at any level since November 2016.

It’s seemed like Levito has been destined to be the leading U.S. woman in the 2026 Olympic cycle, leading up to the Winter Games in her mom’s hometown of Milan. She was too young for last year’s Olympics, but would have just missed the team had she been age-eligible.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians are competing this season — Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired; Karen Chen is studying at Cornell — paving the way for Levito to ascend.

That she did, winning April’s junior worlds to become the first U.S. woman to win a global title — junior or senior — since 2008.

Then this past fall, Levito placed second in her first two senior Grand Prix starts, then placed a surprising second at December’s Grand Prix Final, which gathered the world’s top six women from across the series.

Granted, the Final was her lowest point total of her five international events this season. All six skaters had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito ranks fifth in the world by best total score this season, fourth among seniors and a whopping 18.13 points better than the No. 2 American. Note the absence of Russia, which has dominated women’s skating for the last decade.

Levito won’t be worrying about her international standing while sitting on an overnight lead. She has work left in Friday’s free skate to win what could be the first in a series of national titles.

Tennell, 24, had her best short program since coming back from a 19-month competition break due to foot and ankle injuries. She was unable to defend her national title last year, ruling her out of Olympic contention.

“Even just making it back onto the ice again was a struggle,” Tennell said while in the arena where she made her Olympic team in 2018. “I stepped on the ice today and I looked up and I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath, and I was like, ‘You can do this,’ which is the exact same thing I did five years ago.”

Andrews, 21, is coming off a fall Grand Prix Series where she became the first Black U.S. skater to win a medal on the circuit.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women’s Short Program
1. Isabeau Levito — 73.78
2. Bradie Tennell — 73.76
3. Starr Andrews — 68.97
4. Amber Glenn — 68.96
5. Gracie Gold — 67.44
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 62.64
7. Clare Seo — 61.48
8. Ava Ziegler — 61.09
9. Audrey Shin — 60.76
10. Ting Cui — 57.11
11. Josephine Lee — 55.60
12. Lindsay Wang — 52.19
13. Sonja Hilmer — 51.16
14. Michelle Lee — 46.71
15. Gabriella Izzo — 45.73
16. Alexa Gasparotto — 45.00
17. Elsa Cheng — 44.36
18. Hanna Harrell — 42.84

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 91.90
2. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 81.40
3. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 78.18
4. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 77.37
5. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 76.23
6. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 75.91
7. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 75.52
8. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 73.91
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 72.80
10. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 69.05
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 68.53
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 52.59
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 50.88
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 48.28
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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