Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton
Getty Images

Eatons discuss longer runs, retirement, drug testing in Q&A

Leave a comment

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton never competed in races longer than 1500m in competition before retiring this year. Their farthest workout in training for pentathlons, heptathlons and decathlons was 400m.

But last Saturday, the Eatons ran 6k (3.75 miles) together for a worthwhile cause, World Vision’s Global 6k for Water to raise awareness and money for clean water for children and to encourage physical activity.

The 6k is the average roundtrip distance a person has to walk in Africa to get water, such as Phil, a Kenyan boy whom the Eatons sponsored last year.

Last week, the Eatons discussed the Global 6k for Water and more in an interview with OlympicTalk.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you ran 6k?

Brianne: A few days ago. We’ve been running quite a bit. We never used to run like that. But since we’ve been retired, we’ve been going out and doing our own runs.

Ashton: Last week, probably. I think Brianne’s run a little bit further than I have. I haven’t really run 6k.

OlympicTalkAnybody really interesting reach out to you after you retired?

Ashton: Caitlyn Jenner ended up calling us, saying good decision, you guys did well.

Brianne: There may have been some other famous people saying something, but I think for the both of us, it was the overwhelming amount of people who were being very supportive of it. Like people we didn’t necessarily know. That was the most important to me.

Ashton: Brianne got a letter from [Canadian prime minister] Justin Trudeau saying congrats.

Brianne: The Trudeau letter actually wasn’t for retirement. It was for the Olympic medal. But he took the time. At the top it was addressed to Mrs. Theisen-Eaton, and he took the time to cross that out and write Brianne. And there was a hand-written note within the typed letter, and he signed it. I received it in October.

OlympicTalk: Five months into retirement, which of the decathlon/heptathlon events would you be able to get closest to your best times/marks?

Brianne: Probably the 800m. I’ve been running a lot, doing more distance stuff, so I feel like my speed (for shorter events) is totally gone.

Ashton: Holy crap, maybe the discus. Honestly, I think the speed aspect is the thing that diminishes the quickest. It’s the hardest thing to maintain because it was the hardest thing to develop. The discus is the least physically intensive. It’s all kind of based on technique, and I think I might remember the technique to throw.

OlympicTalk: What are your thoughts on the European Athletics proposal to wipe world records before 2005?

Editor’s Note: The Eatons said they were unaware of the proposal, so they answered after a brief summary was explained to them.

Ashton: I don’t like it. You can’t assume that everybody was dirty. Unless you know for a fact that those people did something before 2005, you can’t just like, retroactively, arbitrarily, wipe out everything. That’s like going back and wiping out all the history books that didn’t have some form of peer review beforehand.

Brianne: I agree with Ashton. It’s not fair, because what if there’s even just one person in those however many performances that was clean, and he or she gets that taken away from them? I don’t think that’s fair, but at the same time I’m pretty confident that a large majority of those [records] are probably dirty.

Ashton: It’s going to be really hard to break the women’s 800m [laughs].

Brianne: Or the women’s 400m is pretty insane, too.

OlympicTalk: Ashton, the proposal states that drug-testing samples from world records must be stored for 10 years. Which brings up questions about testing at non-championship meets. When you set the decathlon world record for the first time at the 2012 Olympic Trials, were your samples stored?

[Editor’s Note: Eaton rebroke the world record at the 2015 World Championships. The IAAF does store samples from global meets since 2005.]

Ashton: This brings up the point of the transparency of the whole process. I don’t understand why they don’t just tell people how the [drug-testing] system works. Maybe because people would exploit the system in some way, but it’s clearly already happening. It would kind of give a little bit of information about how it’s done and maybe people can strengthen [the system].

Brianne:  There were even things when we were athletes that we didn’t understand about it. I remember Ashton and I having conversations [saying] they should have three samples, an A, a B and a C, because the athletes should get to keep one [there are currently two samples, an A and a B, that officials keep]. You know when all that Russian stuff was going on, when they were switching samples at the lab, if you really wanted to make it legit, if an athlete got to keep a C sample, so they tested the A and the B, and they both came back positive, they then got to test your C. When you knew it was in my possession the whole time, there’s no way the samples could have gotten switched.

When we started talking to people about this, is this a possibility, would this be a good idea, we found out that at least in North America, they won’t open your B sample until you’re physically there in person. And if it looks like there is any tampering with the bottle, the whole sample is completely thrown out. That is something we didn’t even know was a procedure.

OlympicTalk: Pick one athlete in an individual event you would have liked to compete against.

Ashton: I would have loved to run against [Usain] Bolt. I think that just would have been fun, to see how much he would have dusted me by. I was supposed to in Ostrava [Czech Republic last year], but I pulled my quad. I knew I would never get another chance. I was pretty disappointed.

Brianne: I’ve always wanted to do pole vault, and no one would ever let me. The track events are always a little bit cooler when you’re actually competing against somebody because you’re doing it at the same time. The field events are a little bit different. Have I said anyone [to you, Ashton]? I’m not sure. I’d have to think about it.

OlympicTalk: We know that retirement isn’t official until you pull out of the drug-testing system. Have you done that, and if so when?

Brianne: About a month after we announced our retirement. We announced it, and then there was media and a lot of other stuff to do with our federations, the process of sending us the letters we have to sign to say that we’re retired. It took a little while.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympian takes in buzz after viral 40-yard dash

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”