The 1500m is the hardest event, he says.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
LONDON — “Similar to falling out of a tree and hitting a few branches on the way down.”
That is the way world record holder Ashton Eaton described the effect of the decathlon on one’s body. Speaking with reporters from the Main Press Center of the Olympic Village today, the 24-year-old American talked at length of the most demanding and fatiguing event of the ten contested over two days: the 1,500 meters.
Though he has never actually fallen from a tree, Eaton recounted his most recent 1,500m with that pain in mind, having to endure it at the Olympic Trials where the Eugene-based athlete broke Roman Sebrle’s world record of 9026 points. Needing to run a personal best, Eaton powered home the final 250 meters, passing early leader Curtis Beach (who stepped aside) in the final homestretch before crossing the line in 4:14.48. As the Hayward Field crowd gave Eaton an ovation, his time popped up on the scoreboard and Eaton knew he had overtaken Sebrle’s mark by 13 points.
“At first I was happy and then I kind of got sad because I really think Roman is a great guy, he had a really good record and has done a lot of good for the event in the sport. I almost felt like I took something from him. But at the same time I worked very hard so it was kind of bittersweet for me,” Eaton said Monday, emotion etched on his face clearly showing how much the mark means to him.
After running his fastest 1,500m ever, Eaton even drew praise from Sebrle, who passed along an e-mail to the young athlete.
“He said congratulations, enjoy the feeling and welcome to the club,” Eaton noted.
Eaton also touched upon the actions of Curtis Beach and Joe Detmer, two fellow decathletes who honored him during the race on June 23 by both pushing the pace and stepping aside later.
“For them, Curtis to step aside and Joe to take me through the line, it was really awesome. Most of the feedback for them was positive, but sometimes it was negative that being because some people don’t understand what the decathlon really is all about. It’s not always about finishing first in that race.”
Eaton also believes both the world record and his 1,500 finish may have elevated the decathlon profile heading into the Olympic Games.
“Because of what happened in Eugene, a lot of people saw it,” he said. “Coming into London, there is going to be a lot of support around the multi events. If it comes down to something in the 1,500 meters I think there will be a lot of support too.”
Since the race, Eaton says he has been recognized by fans, especially here in the Olympic city where he has been asked to pose for pictures, something he isn’t yet used to.
“I’m happy to oblige them, but to me I am just a normal person, it’s weird for people to come up and ask for my picture,” he said with a smile across his face.
To former world-record holder and Olympian Dan O’Brien, Eaton differentiates himself from the other elite decathletes in the 1,500m, the longest and most strenuous of all the events.
“That’s where he separates himself from myself, Daley Thompson, and Roman Sebrle, where he was willing to go for 4:14. I couldn’t do it,” said O’Brien. “That’s what makes him special and that’s why he is a world-record holder.”
“It’s the [1500m] event that makes the decathlon unfair. You have nine strength and power events, then you throw in an endurance race,” he says. “I think for Ashton he’s attacked it in a way that we haven’t seen athletes do in a long time.”
But Eaton doesn’t consider himself an overwhelming favorite entering the competition, which will be contested on August 8 and 9.
“I think with the multi-events,” he pauses, “if I was David Rudisha, I think I would feel like that. With the multi-events, there is a lot of things that could go wrong. So I never feel like I have it in the bag. I don’t care if I score 11,000 points, I’d never feel like I have it in the bag. I just like competing and doing well.”