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

Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton
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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.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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