BEIJING – It’s not easy to upstage Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on a global stage, but Oregon Track Club Elite’s Ashton Eaton found a way to do just that on Saturday evening at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships.
He set a world record.
Just like in 2012 at the U.S. Olympic Trials at historic Hayward Field in TrackTown USA, Eaton did it in dramatic fashion, this time with a sold-out Bird’s Nest stadium urging him on in the final event: the 1,500 meters.
Needing to run 4 minutes, 18.25 seconds or faster – something he has done only once in 21 previous decathlons – Eaton showed his inner strength and resolve in the last 300 meters of the race. Following Algerian Larbi Bourrada on the last lap, he kept picking up speed and willed himself across the line in 4:17.52, then collapsed on the track. The strong finish enabled Eaton to break his own world record by six points with a score of 9,045 points.
This was Eaton’s second consecutive World Championship title, and third world major in a row, including his 2012 gold medal at the Olympic Games in London. After his phenomenal 400 to close Day One on Friday, when he set a world decathlon record of 45.00 seconds, there was little doubt that Eaton would take the gold.
But setting a personal best, which means a world record, was a different matter.
“It was just kind of difficult,” an emotional and exhausted Eaton said afterward. “I woke up this morning and thought ‘Oh my God.’ I haven’t felt that in a while. And the hurdles . . . I had trouble getting over nine and 10. I thought geez, I’m getting old.
“You know (with) the world record thing I was just trying to have fun. I knew that I was on track (to break it) and all that. But by the pole vault I was thinking, man, I’m getting tired . . . I don’t know if this thing is possible. And then in the javelin I got all fired up.”
Up until the javelin, which is the ninth of 10 events in the decathlon, Eaton, a 2010 graduate of the University of Oregon, had been close to, but still behind the world record pace he set in 2012 at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He was still 45 points off record pace at that point. But he came out with fire in the javelin, letting loose a throw of 209 feet, 4 inches (63.82m) on his first attempt. It put him within reach of the world record if he could run his second-fastest time ever in the 1,500.
“In the 1,500 I had a lot of doubts,” Eaton said. “I didn’t know if I could run that fast. When you do something nobody has ever done before there’s no script for that.”
Harry Marra, Eaton’s long-time coach, agreed.
“That was a gutsy 1,500,” Marra said. “He knew, when we warmed up, he knew he didn’t have quite the energy. The fatigue was really setting in, as it should. This is a tough, long two days. 16 hour days and four hours of sleep last night. So that was gutsy.”
Eaton said it all had to do with the mental strength and inner drive that is demanded by the rigorous decathlon.
“The first day you’re an athlete,” Eaton said. “Anybody can do the first day. The second day is when you’re a decathlete. Where does that inner strength come from? I don’t know but I think the important thing is to search for it.”
From a historical perspective, the only decathletes to ever put together a winning streak like Eaton has are Dan O’Brien, who won three World Championship titles (1991, ’93, ’95) and one Olympic gold; Tomas Dvorak, who won three worlds but could only win bronze at the Olympics; and Daley Thompson, who won the 1980 and 1984 Olympic decathlons as well as the 1983 World Championships.
A win next year at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro would cement Eaton’s status as the greatest decathlete of all-time with four consecutive major global titles, plus world records in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon.
When asked how many more points he could add to his world record decathlon total in Rio, Eaton said, “I don’t know but you can bet your ass I am going to try to get more.”
It was also a good day for the U.S. women’s 4 x 100 relay team, which included three current or former University of Oregon sprinters – English Gardner, Jenna Prandini and Jasmine Todd – along with veteran star Allyson Felix. The quartet finished second to Jamaica in 41.68, a season-best for U.S. national relay 4 x 100 squads.
“It’s exciting,” Prandini said. “It’s an honor to run on this relay. We’re all really young so I think from here we’re only going to build and get better and get ready for next year.”
“This is my second silver in the 4 x 1 and I definitely wanted gold,” Gardner said. “But I am happy with the way we performed and content with the silver . . . we told Allyson she was an honorary Duck today. I think we did ok, everybody performed well. I am proud of them.”
Great Britain’s Mo Farah won again – this time in the 5,000 meter final. The Portland-based Farah, who competes for the Nike Oregon Project, won his seventh consecutive world major title.
Farah showed that he could win off a fast pace, as in his 10,000 victory, and he could win off a slow pace, too. His winning time of 13:50.38 was the slowest in World Championship meet history. Farah out-kicked Caleb Ndiku of Kenya for the victory, running a 1:48.6 closing 800 and a 52.7 last lap.
UO alum Galen Rupp, who trains with Farah at the NOP under coach Alberto Salazar, had his best performance ever in a World Championship 5,000, finishing fifth in 13:53.90. Rupp was just ahead of U.S. teammates Ben True and Ryan Hill, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
“I just tried to put myself in a good position with a lap to go (but) those guys just had a better kick at the end,” Rupp said. “It was probably the best 5K I’ve run at a World Championships. Coming back off of a really hard race in the 10K I did everything I could. I just didn’t have the speed.”