The title of "World’s Greatest Athlete" is not conferred upon just anyone. Every four years, someone has to go out and earn it. In 2012, that man was Ashton Eaton, an impossibly fast, impossibly young superstar who broke the mold for decathletes as he broke the world record for the decathlon itself. One of the most explosive talents to hit the track and field scene in years, Ashton is still learning three events. Imagine what he might do in 2016! This is his story…

GROWING UP

Ashton James Eaton was born on January 21, 1988, in Portland, Oregon. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) He was the only child of Terrance Wilson and Rosalyn Eaton, who never married. Terrance is African-American and Rosalyn is white.

Ashton had three half-siblings from his father’s earlier marriage. Although they are much older, Ashton is close to these brothers and sisters. Asthon’s father and his maternal grandfather were both football players. His mom was also a talented athlete. Terrance and Rosalyn separated when Ashton was a toddler, and he went to live with his mother.

Ashton was a good athlete as a child, able to outrun the competition in every sport he played. He played youth-league football, basketball and soccer, and later wrestled. Ashton moved with his mother to Bend, Oregon when he was 10. A few years later he enrolled at Mountain View High School.

The Cougars had excellent teams in a wide variety of sports, ranging from track & field to skiing and snowboarding. Tommy Ford, an Olympic snowboarder, was a year behind Ashton at MVHS.

Working under track coach Tate Metcalf, Ashton refined his skills and became a state champion in the 400 meters and the long jump. He also continued to play football. When only a handful of track scholarships came his way, Ashton considered playing Division-III football in college. Instead, coach Metcalf—who had become a father figure for Ashton—suggested that he think about competing in the decathlon.

Ashton had never done any of the throwing events—javelin, discus and shot put—nor had he ever tried pole vaulting. Nevertheless, he was up for the challenge. With Metcalf’s urging, University of Oregon assistant coach Dan Steele (a former decathlete) thought Ashton had enough potential to offer him a partial track scholarship. It was off to Salem.

It took Ashton a year to acquaint himself with the proper technique for the events that were new to him, but he quickly picked up the correct form and then just let his natural ability flow. On alternating days he would work on running and jumping events and throwing events.

In 2008, as a sophomore at Oregon, Ashton entered the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Despite a weak showing in the pole vault, he came back to win the decathlon. He recorded a personal best in the javelin and blew away the field in the 1500 meters to finish with 8,055 points.

ON THE RISE

To go from novice to 8,000 points in little more than a year was quite a thing. Some were even saying Ashton could make the Olympic team at age 20. He went up against the Nike-backed trio of Bryan Clay, Tom Pappas and Trey Hardee in the U.S. trials and fell just short of a spot on the quad with 8,122 points.

Another major development for Ashton during his sophomore year at Oregon was the arrival of Brianne Theisen. She joined the track and field squad as a freshman, and they soon began dating. Theisen, a Canadian, won NCAA outdoor heptathlon championships in 2009 and 2010. The two became engaged and plan to marry sometime in 2013.

In 2009, Ashton defended his NCAA decathlon title, upping his score to 8,241 points. At the USA Track and Field Championships, he finished second to Hardee, which earned him a spot on the U.S. team at the World Championship in Berlin that summer. He finished a disappointing 18th.

n 2010, coach Steele left Oregon to run the program at Northern Iowa. Harry Marra was hired to replace him. Marra had trained Dave Johnson and Dan O’Brien in the 1990s. O’Brien was a three-time world champion and won Olympic gold in 1996. Johnson took bronze in 1992. 


 

 

 

 

 


Tommy Ford, Bend Bulletin photo

     
 

Under Marra, Ashton continued to improve. At the Indoor Championships, he shattered O’Brien’s 17-year-old NCAA heptathlon record with 6,449 points. That spring, Ashton won his third NCAA decathlon crown and took the second Bowerman Award, created in 2009 to honor each year’s top American track and field athlete.

With an eye cast on the 2012 Olympics in London, Asthon worked to bring his performance up to world-class levels. In 2011, he broke his own indoor heptathlon record with 6,568 points. That summer he won the silver medal in the decathlon at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, finishing behind Hardee. Asthon actually led after six events, but he was unhappy with his point total and let that distract him in the final four. On the flight home, he vowed to Marra that this would never happen again.

In 2012, Ashton was a monster. He began the year by winning the heptathlon at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, pushing his record to 6,645 points. At the Olympic Trials in June, Ashton was dominant despite the cold, wet weather. Heading into the 1500, he had a chance to set a new world record. Needing a personal best in his best event to break Roman Sebrle’s mark of 9,026 points, Ashton ran a 4:14.48 in the 1500 meters—cutting nearly five seconds off his personal best. It was more than enough, as he ended up with 9,039 points, breaking the 13-year-old world mark.

As it happened, Olympic decathlon champions Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner and O'Brien were in the stands to witness the history-making event. One day later, Ashton was at a local Safeway signing autographs for kids.

MAKING HIS MARK

In August, it was off to London for the Olympics. Ashton began his run for gold by eclipsing Toomey’s 44-year-old record in the 100 meters. He also won the long jump and 400 meters and finished second in the high jump. His worst finish the first day was 10th in the shot put, with a throw of 14.66 meters.

Ashton began the second day of competition by finishing second in the hurdles. A poor showing in the discus eroded his lead, but he added valuable points by finishing third in the pole vault. He also finished third in the javelin to build a huge lead over the field. By the final event, the gold medal belonged to Ashton. His 1500 race was more like four victory laps, as he finished a few seconds behind Cuba’s Leonel Suarez. Ashton finished with 8,869 points, finishing 198 points ahead of teammate Hardee.


Dan O’Brien, autographed photo
     
 

Most decathletes reach their peak in their late 20s. That means Ashton will likely be the man to beat come the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil. He will be 28 and in his prime. Between now and the next Olympics, Ashton will have to learn how to deal with fame, fortune, a new wife and the quiet expectation that he might one day threaten the 10,000-point mark.

ASHTON THE ATHLETE

Ashton is one of the most explosive athletes in the world. That quality enabled him to excel in events that had once been completely alien to him. Once he learned the right form, his improvement was very rapid. What makes him unusual is that he has improved in the throwing events without bulking up and losing speed.

Ashton is excellent in the long jump and one of the fastest hurdlers in decathlon history. His weakest events are the discus and javelin, but his steady improvement in the javelin has made that a solid event for him. All of his throws should get better with practice and age.

Ashton is so good in the 1500 meters—the final event in the decathlon—that it gives him a mental edge over his competitors starting with the first event. He is 100 to 150 points better than everyone else in the world in the 1500, forcing opponents to build a huge lead over him in the first nine, which can throw them off their game.


Ashton Eaton, 2012 Runner’s World
     

 

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