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Trey Hardee returns to world stage without Ashton Eaton

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LONDON (AP) — Trey Hardee wants to set the record straight.

No, he’s not retired. Never has been. The thought really never crossed his mind.

The two-time world champion decathlete understands why everyone may have jumped to that conclusion.

He’s 33, has been sidelined by an assortment of injuries and did some broadcasting work for the Rio Olympics.

On top of that, his Wikipedia page actually listed him as retired.

“I still really love what I do,” he said.

With world-record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton surprisingly announcing his retirement in January, the stage now belongs to the “other” American who, in virtually any other era, wouldn’t have been relegated to such status. Once the top rival of Eaton, Hardee could take his spot atop the medal stand at the world championships in London.

“I consider myself the bread in the Ashton sandwich,” Hardee joked about being around before Eaton’s arrival and still around now. “When we were (competing), we were always like, ‘Let’s finish 1-2.’ Neither of us cared. We were like, ‘Let’s dominate this event and represent the United States, make sure we show what the American decathlon stands for.’”

For years, it was the Eaton and Hardee Show in a 10-event competition spread over two days. At the 2012 London Games, Eaton took gold while Hardee grabbed silver. That despite Hardee having surgery on his throwing elbow a few months before the Olympics.

Another showdown loomed in Brazil. But Hardee was hobbled heading into the Olympic Trials and withdrew from the competition after aggravating his hamstring.

There went Rio for him as a competitor. Instead, he earned his way as an analyst and had a front-row seat for Eaton’s title defense.

“It was a bittersweet moment, watching my countrymen and cheering for them. But really, really in the bottom of your heart, you think, ‘I should be out there,’” Hardee recounted. “It was tough. It gave me more resolve to come back this year.”

A healthy Hardee turned in quite a performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June, when he won the decathlon with 8,225 points. He held off the next wave of American decathletes eager to take over — such as 24-year-old Zach Ziemek and Devon Williams. Both will accompany Hardee to London.

“It’s a nice time to be a decathlete in the U.S.,” Hardee said.

Hardee is part of a distinguished list, joining Eaton (2013, 2015), Dan O’Brien (1991, 1993, 1995), Tom Pappas (2003) and Bryan Clay (2005) as the only Americans to win the world decathlon title. Hardee captured his titles in 2009 and ’11.

“Whatever my legacy is, it’s not for me to determine,” said Hardee, who trains in Austin, Texas. “I was just led down the right path. All I needed to do was put in the work.”

His venture into the decathlon was almost by accident. Cut from his high school basketball team, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hardee turned to pole vaulting and went to Mississippi State hoping to become the next Sergey Bubka. But Hardee was introduced to the decathlon and began to flourish. He transferred to Texas, where he became an NCAA champion.

Ever since, he’s been chasing that “unicorn,” which he calls the mythical perfect score in the competition. His personal-best mark of 8,790 points was set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. In contrast, Eaton has set the world record twice — 9,039 points at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then 9,045, which he attained at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

Recently, Hardee added another event to his plate — the getting-his-daughter-to-laugh competition. He scores big numbers in that area.

“She can smile at you, and turn you into a puddle on the floor,” said Hardee, whose wife — a retired pole vaulter — gave birth to their daughter, Frankie, on Dec. 5. “When she’s happy, we’re happy. I’ve never been more heartbroken than when I’m holding her and she’s crying.”

The family won’t be accompanying him to London. This is more of a business trip. He feels confident heading into London, though, even if he’s dealing with a nagging foot ailment.

“I’m dangerous, because I still got some pop,” Hardee said. “I’m the wild card.”

Asked when he might step aside for real, Hardee just laughed.

“If I do retire, it will be a pretty quiet and an uneventful affair,” said Hardee, who dabbles in real estate on the side. “They’ll be like, ‘Did Trey retire?’

“But I still go to bed every night thinking about the decathlon and I wake up each morning ready to practice.”

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Decathlon: Ashton Eaton leads after two events; Shot put next

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American decathlete Ashton Eaton is the heavy favorite to come out on top of his second-straight Olympic decathlon, and he’s off to a decent start at fulfilling that promise.

Two events into the race for gold, Eaton leads Canada’s Damien Warner by 30 points. Third place is Germany’s Kai Kazmirek, 138 points back of Eaton.

WATCH: Completed events replay & LIVE

The American star ran the second-fastest time in the 100m dash before topping the field in the long jump.

Canadian Damien Warner is considered to be the prime threat to Eaton’s throne, and he ran the best 100m dash to lead things off. Fellow American Zach Ziemek finished third in the heat and the event.

Eaton flew past the field in his long jump group, landing a 7.90 and 7.94. Germany’s Kai Kazmirek, Belgium’s Thomas van der Plaetsen, and Canada’s Damian Warner were close.

Ziemek is eight after two events, while USA’s Jeremy Taiwo is 15th.

The shot put is next, followed by high jump.

No record for tender Ashton Eaton at Olympic Trials this time

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — This wasn’t a world record for Ashton Eaton. Just a runaway win and another trip to the Olympics.

Not bad for a decathlete dealing with an injury.

On a tender hamstring and a quadriceps that’s given him problems in recent weeks, the defending Olympic champion scored 8,750 points to beat Jeremy Taiwo by 325 at the U.S. Track and Field Trials on Sunday night. That’s well off Eaton’s world record of 9,045, set at the world championships last summer in Beijing.

But consider this: No one in the decathlete field for the Rio Olympics has a personal-best that matches Eaton’s mark from the trials.

He’s simply in a different stratosphere these days. The only person who can compete against him is, well, a computerized model of himself.

No, really.

“It’s almost like I make a digital version of myself, try to compete against that,” Eaton explained. “I had this little mini sub-goal of trying to score 9,000 every decathlon. It would be cool never to go back to (8,000).”

At the last Olympic trials, also at Hayward Field, Eaton broke the decathlon world record for the first time. Eugene has long been a special place for him. It’s where he and his wife, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, met while attending theUniversity of Oregon and rose to prominence.

Eaton said he was shooting for the record, but his leg made it impossible.

“I had the same mindset,” Eaton said. “I would say the expectations personally and externally were a little bit different.”

The 28-year-old Eaton was in such control that his coach, Harry Marra, actually told him to run the final event, the 1,500, at a slower pace than normal. No sense putting any extra wear and tear on the leg with the Olympic decathlon in six weeks. He still ran event No. 10 in 4 minutes, 25.15 seconds, which was one of the top times.

“This meet defines Ashton Eaton way more than his world-record performances. Those were great performances,” Marra said. “But he had so many obstacles physically. … He did this with a bum leg.”

A leg his coach wasn’t sure was going to hold up during the 400 on Saturday.

It did.

A leg Eaton wasn’t sure was going to be ready for the 110-meter hurdles on Sunday.

It was.

And through this competition, Eaton learned a little bit more about himself — he doesn’t have to be super aggressive all the time. Smooth works almost as well.

“The (overall) reviews were pretty good,” Eaton said. “As a decathlon, if you don’t leave with something frustrated then you should quit, because it was perfect.”

In command, Eaton even had time to take in some other events. He watched Chaunte Lowe win the high jump by holding hold off teenager Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. He also caught Jeffery Henderson‘s win in the men’s long jump and Allyson Felix‘s blistering performance in the 400.

Now those were impressive.

“It’s nice to have a front-row seat as a decathlete, on the field and get to see all that stuff,” Eaton said. “Those kinds of things are inspirational, and you try to learn from it. Sometimes, I try to pick up little things from the specialists.”

Taiwo had a solid performance to take second, while Zach Ziemek of Wisconsin wound up third. It was an event that was missing Trey Hardee, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist who didn’t finish after suffering a left hamstring injury on the first day.

Eaton’s big plans now will be to squeeze in some rest before he and his wife head to Rio. There, Eaton has a chance to make a little history as he tries to defend his title. That hasn’t been done in the decathlon since British star Daley Thompson in 1980 and ’84.

“That would be cool,” Eaton said. “Awesome company to be in. But there are really good competitors.”

Asked if he might chase after another world record in Rio, Eaton just grinned.

“The Olympic Games are so much different from anything else,” Eaton said. “You don’t even talk about world records, in a way. If it’s there at the very end, sure, I’ll run to get it. Other than that, it’s event to event.”

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