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

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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

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

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In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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