Ashton Eaton

Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps lead dominant Summer Olympians of 2010s

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s decade this week. Here are 10 of the Summer Olympic athletes (five American, five international) who dominated the last 10 years …

Simone Biles, United States
Gymnastics
Four Olympic gold medals in 2016
Record 25 World Championships medals

Biles is the only athlete on this list who competed at just one Olympics in this decade. That’s a testament to just how dominant she has been. Undefeated for six years in all-around competition. History-making winning margins. Four unprecedented skills among three apparatuses that are now named after her. Before Rio, teammate Aly Raisman was the first to say that Simone was competing in her own division. That was true four years ago, and it remains true going into the 2020s.

Usain Bolt, Jamaica
Track and Field
Six Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
First sprinter to sweep the 100m and 200m at multiple Olympics

Bolt followed his breakout and world records in 2008 and 2009 with impressive longevity through the end of his career in 2017. Bolt’s competition got faster in this decade — and he slowed slightly — but he was always the man to beat. Training partner Yohan Blake defeated him at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic Trials, only for Bolt to return the favor at the London Games. Justin Gatlin re-emerged in the next Olympic cycle, also handing Bolt a loss in 2013, but the Jamaican still swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and to complete his Olympic career in Rio.

Lisa Carrington, New Zealand
Flatwater Canoe
2012 and 2016 Olympic K-1 200m champion
At least one gold medal at seven different world championships in the 2010s

The queen of her sport’s splash-and-dash. Carrington won all nine Olympic or world titles in the individual 200m from 2011-19. She’s also added golds in the K-1 500m and K-2 500m at the world championships. In 2014, Carrington recorded the fastest 200m time in history, 37.898 seconds, which took more than a second off the 20-year-old mark held by German Birgit Fischer, considered by many the greatest female Olympian in history.

Ashton Eaton, United States
Track and Field
Two Olympic decathlon titles
Twice broke the decathlon world record

If the Olympic decathlon champion is still the world’s greatest athlete, then Eaton is going into the eighth year of his reign. The Oregon native opened the 2010s with a world championships silver medal at age 22 in 2011. Then he won every single global title, including indoor heptathlons, from 2012 through his retirement in 2016. Eaton’s personal bests in the 400m and the 400m hurldes (the latter not a decathlon event) would have made the Rio Olympic team.

Katie Ledecky, United States
Swimming
Five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
World records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles

A 12-year-old at the start of the decade, Ledecky became arguably the world’s most dominant athlete for the 2010s. She was the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports at London 2012 and brought back gold in the 800m free, upsetting British favorite Rebecca Adlington. Then Ledecky really turned it on, breaking 14 world records from 2013-18 and coining the Ledecky Slam — sweeping the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free titles at one world championships in 2015.

Michael Phelps, United States
Swimming
Nine Olympic gold medals in the 2010s; 12 overall medals
Broke the record for career Olympic medals

Phelps’ prime came just before the start of the decade, with his eight Olympic gold medals in 2008 and last three individual world records in 2009. The 2010s were defined by comebacks — from ceding the title of world’s greatest swimmer to Ryan Lochte in 2010 and 2011 to outperforming his countryman at the 2012 London Games. From gaining 30 pounds in a 2012-13 retirement to becoming the world’s fastest butterflier again in 2014. From a DUI arrest, suspension, rehab stint and suicidal thoughts to become Team USA’s flag bearer in Rio, an Olympic team captain for the first time and end his Olympic career with five more gold medals.

Teddy Riner, France
Judo
Olympic heavyweight titles in 2012, 2016
Every world title from 2010 through 2017

Riner, a native of Guadeloupe, is a giant in his sport. Not just because he is 6 feet, 8 inches, and 290 pounds. But because he hasn’t lost a competitive match since September 2010. He is riding a win streak of around 150 matches, which includes skipping the 2018 and 2019 World Championships as he lightened his tournament schedule going into his fourth Olympics in 2020.

Svetlana Romashina, Russia
Synchronized Swimming
Olympic gold medals in all four synchro events in the 2010s
13 World titles across 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019

Romashina gets the nod over longtime duet partner Natalya Ishchenko, who retired after the Rio Olympics. Romashina also left the sport after those Games, but she came back to win three more world titles this past summer at age 29 (her first golds came in 2005, when she was 14).

Claressa Shields, United States
Boxing
Won four of the five Olympic and world titles this decade before turning pro
Lost one bout in the entire decade, while winning more than 80

Shields has been the face of Olympic women’s boxing since taking gold at age 17 in the sport’s debut at the 2012 London Games. The Flint, Mich., product followed up by sweeping the world titles in the next Olympic cycle and capping her amateur career with repeat Olympic gold.

Anita Wlodarczyk, Poland
Track and Field
Won five of the seven Olympic or world hammer titles in the 2010s
Recorded the 15 farthest throws in history

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017 before defeats the last two seasons and arthroscopic left knee surgery that kept her out of worlds in September. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history.

Honorable Mention: Mo Farah (Track and Field, Great Britain), Jin Jong-Oh (Shooting, South Korea), Laura Kenny (Cycling, Great Britain), Mariana Pajon (Cycling, Colombia), Maggie Steffens (Water Polo, United States), Christian Taylor (Track and Field, United States) and Kohei Uchimura (Gymnastics, Japan).

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Bolt won five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s. He won six, sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in 2012 and in 2016.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
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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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Ashton Eaton competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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Items on the to-do list for two-time Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton now that he’s retired: Play with the puppy. Sharpen his snowboarding skills. Take a space shuttle to Mars.

That’s right, warp speed to the Red Planet.

Not tomorrow or anything, but it remains on the agenda. He’s also trying to get his wife, Canadian heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton, on board with the futuristic excursion.

“Not as interested,” she laughed. “Too big of a lifestyle change.”

The first couple of multi-events have down-to-earth retirement plans as well. Here’s a sampling: Appearing on American Ninja Warrior (Ashton), starting a food-education website (Brianne), supporting a worldwide 6-kilometer walk for clean water and preparing for a move to San Francisco after spending a decade in Eugene, Oregon.

An urge to compete? No longer present, they insisted.

“I will always have a love for it. But missing it? That means I want to do [the decathlon],” said the 29-year-old Ashton, who won’t be going for his third straight world title crown in August. “I’m just fond of it.”

They’re still figuring this retirement thing out after announcing the surprising news in side-by-side essays in January. Ashton walked away after accomplishing all he wanted to accomplish — winning gold at the 2012 London Games and defending his title at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He also exited with his world record standing at 9,045 points, which he amassed at the 2015 World Championships.

Brianne was ready to move on to Act II of their lives following a hard-earned bronze in Rio. She was emotionally and physically worn out.

“My parents were asking us, ‘Do you miss anything?'” the 28-year-old Brianne said. “I think the answer is no. It was a perfect time to retire. When we watch competitions, it’s relaxing and fun. There’s not a little bit that’s like, ‘We wish we were there competing.”‘

The Eatons recently expanded their family when they brought home Zora, who’s a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle. Now, there are puppy classes and walks on their plate.

“A change in lifestyle, for sure,” Brianne said.

On the horizon, an even bigger lifestyle transformation: Their move to the Bay Area this fall for more entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s bittersweet, because the couple met while competing at the University of Oregon as teenagers and married in July 2013. It’s home.

“We just need a change of environment,” Ashton said, “and this checks a lot of boxes.”

Memo to NASA: Ashton has space on his mind. The moon would be nice. So would a trip to the International Space Station. And that pledge to someday make it to Mars? It’s genuine.

“I like things that are really ambitious goals and being first person on Mars would be a good one,” Ashton said. “If in the future, things kind of come around and there’s an opportunity, I’ll take it.”

Recently, Ashton and Brianne were in Peru and staying at a hotel on the side of the cliff with a glass roof. Using a phone “app,” they located the stars and planets in the night’s sky.

“We saw Mars, clear as day,” Ashton said. “It was funny to imagine being there. Brianne was like, ‘Why go there? The earth would be a little green star in the sky.’ I was like, `Yeah, wouldn’t that be incredible? We could say that’s where we’re from, but we are way over here now.”‘

Earlier this month, Ashton helped stage a video-game and technology expo in Portland. He was nervous because, “it’s the first thing nonathletic thing I’ve done in my entire life. But it ended up really well.”

This was definitely more in his comfort zone: Competing in a celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” a contest that features athletes tackling a series of demanding obstacle courses. The episode is set to air next month.

“I was just as sore after that as after a decathlon,” Ashton said.

One of Brianne’s passions is cooking, leading her to launch a site that features healthy recipes and nutritional tips. It’s expected to go live in June.

They also took up snowboarding. Ashton fell hard for the sport — even after a few run-ins with trees.

“After every day of snowboarding, he’d be like, ‘Let’s go again this week!”‘ Brianne said. “I’d be like, ‘Ash, I need a couple of weeks to heal my tailbone.’ I would be so bruised.”

Of course, they’re still running, too, especially for a good cause. On May 6, the Eatons will participate in World Vision’s global 6-kilometer race, which is the average distance that people in the developing countries walk for water.

See, they’re quite busy.

“Retirement is good,” Brianne said. “We are enjoying our time, and just figuring out what we want to do with ourselves.

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MORE: How the Eatons came to separate retirement decisions