How Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton came to separate retirement decisions

Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton
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Early in the fall, Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton discussed retirement while on a hike.

Neither had chosen to quit track and field yet, but each thought, if my spouse came to his or her decision first, how would that impact me?

“I would have felt bad just leaving him alone in the sport because we’ve always done everything together,” said Theisen-Eaton, the Olympic heptathlon bronze medalist. “I didn’t know what it would be like for one of us to be a normal person and the other not to.”

“What we both determined was, we can’t let that guide our decision,” the two-time Olympic decathlon champion Eaton said Thursday. “We tried not to influence each other.”

Then in November, the Canadian Theisen-Eaton was on a run near their Oregon home when it suddenly hit her.

“Like a truck,” she said, according to CBC. “Like a gut feeling that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t feel excited about the thought of going back to practices.”

Theisen-Eaton still wasn’t sure about retirement, so she kept the thought to herself. Until later that night. Eaton told Theisen-Eaton at dinner that he didn’t want to do track and field anymore.

“I remember my mouth dropping open,” Theisen-Eaton said. “I was shocked, but I wasn’t shocked by the fact that he said he wanted to retire, because I knew that was coming. He had expressed to me that year or even the year before that he was finding it hard to motivate himself, and he didn’t love it as much as he used to. 

“But I was shocked because we had not talked about it. It just happened to be that morning that I had a gut feeling that I didn’t want to do it. He told me his reasons why. Then I told him about my run that morning.”

Eaton was not hesitant to speak up, despite their earlier hiking conversation.

“It did cross my mind that maybe if I said this, it would influence Brianne,” he said. “But she took time to decide for herself, which was good.”

Eaton had no doubt at that dinner that he was done. Not only the lack of motivation and passion, but also the feeling that his body was beginning to shut down, according to ESPN.com. Eaton dealt with ankle, hamstring and quadriceps injuries in 2016.

Theisen-Eaton took two more weeks to make sure she would retire with her husband. She called her sports psychologist the morning after the dinner. Among a series of conversations, she was most impacted by one line.

Athletes are the only people who die twice.

The reason you’re second-guessing yourself is because as an athlete your retirement is very hard, the psychologist told her.

“Once you retire, you have to become this totally different person,” Theisen-Eaton said. “You have to create a new identity. You have to find a new community to belong to. You have to go into this world that you know nothing about.”

And death is unavoidable.

“If you do one more year of track, and you’re going to be miserable because you’re not enjoying going to training and you’re not looking forward to the competition,” Theisen-Eaton said, “first of all, you’re going to be miserable for that year, waste a year of your life, and you’re not going to prevent this transition from happening. You’re just going to delay it.”

The Eatons began telling their closest friends and family a month ago. It all led to Wednesday’s announcement.

The reaction, especially from social media, left her in tears.

“Sometimes you don’t really see or understand how many people are watching you on TV or how many people are at home streaming something, how many people are supporting you, how many people care,” Theisen-Eaton said. “I think that really showed [Wednesday]. That’s what made me emotional.”

MORE: Eatons’ coach on their 4 options after Rio

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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