Marra wins 2016 IAAF Coaching Achievement Award

Oregon Track Club Elite combined events coach Harry Marra chats with two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton and 2016 Olympic heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton after a workout.

Longtime decathlon guru Harry Marra has been named the recipient of the 2016 IAAF Coaching Achievement Award, it was announced Friday at the annual IAAF Athletics Awards Gala in Monaco.

Marra currently serves as the combined events coach for Oregon Track Club Elite, a post-collegiate training group of professional track and field athletes based in Eugene, Ore.

He is best known for guiding the careers of two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton, and his wife, 2016 Olympic heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton, also known as Team Eaton.

At the Rio Olympics last August, Eaton became the third man in history to claim back-to-back gold medals in the decathlon, joining U.S. legend Bob Mathias and Great Britain’s Daley Thompson. Theisen-Eaton earned her first Olympic medal with a third-place performance in the heptathlon.

Marra, who spent 10 years as head coach of the USA National Decathlon Team (1990-2000), accepted the prestigious IAAF honor on behalf of the coaches and athletes he has worked with throughout a celebrated coaching career that has spanned five decades.

“I accept this award on behalf of all my colleagues in coaching who work hard, learn their trade, have great integrity, play by the rules and demand a high code of ethics for themselves and the athletes they coach,” Marra said. “Each and every athlete I have ever coached has played an integral part in my growth and success as a coach. I share this award with them.”

Marra has been successful at all of his coaching stops.

Prior to serving as the USA National Decathlon Team coach, he spent 12 seasons as head track and field coach at San Francisco State, four years as head coach at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., and three years as an assistant at UC-Santa Barbara. Marra has also written numerous articles and lectured around the world on various aspects of athletics training.

He has coached seven different decathletes who have scored more than 8,000 points: Eaton, Paul Terek, Sheldon Blockburger, Bart Goodell, Paul Foxon, Brian Brophy and Steve Koel.

Team Eaton huddles under the cover of the West Grandstands at Hayward Field during a training session. From left to right, Ashton Eaton, Harry Marra, Brianne Theisen-Eaton and physio Don Butzner.

“I went into coaching for two reasons,” Marra said. “One, to give back to the sport that gave me so much. And secondly, and perhaps most important, I went into coaching to help athletes reach their full potential.”

There is no better example of those sentiments than the combined achievements of Team Eaton. Marra was recruited to Oregon in the fall of 2009 to take over as the Ducks’ multi-event coach, primarily responsible for the training of budding superstars Eaton and Theisen-Eaton.

Besides his two Olympic gold medals, Eaton is the reigning two-time World Champion in the decathlon; the world record-holder in the decathlon with 9,045 points; a three-time World Indoor Champion in the heptathlon; and world record-holder in the indoor heptathlon with 6,645 points.

Eaton, 28, said Marra is easily the most dedicated coach he has ever encountered.

“I’ve never met a coach who has spent more physical and mental time and energy toward their coaching mission,” Eaton said via e-mail. “Others can say they are dedicated but what are they using for their measure? If they used Harry, almost all would fall below his threshold.

“Of course, when he’s at the track, he’s focused. But it’s when he’s not around, he’s thinking about track. At the office, at home cooking dinner, in the middle of the night, on an airplane, watching TV, in the car; he’s thinking about how to win the fight, all the time.

“Our relationship is special because I recognize that he does all the heavy lifting … I don’t have to waste my precious energy and time thinking about all the nuances of technique and training. I just do the executing. For that, I respect him, thank him and love him. And he knows it.”

Theisen-Eaton, a native of Canada, has also flourished under Marra’s watch.

Longtime multi-event coach Harry Marra was honored by the IAAF on Friday as the recipient of the 2016 Coaching Achievement Award.

In the heptathlon, she is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, a two-time World Championship silver medalist, Canadian national record-holder with 6,808 points and consecutive three-time champion at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria. Indoors, she won the gold medal in the pentathlon at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland and was a silver medalist in 2014.

“Harry is unlike any other coach I’ve had,” Theisen-Eaton said via e-mail. “His commitment to Ashton and my success has been unwavering. He’s spent the last seven years dedicated to helping us achieve our goals. (He’s) at practice every day an hour early setting up hurdles, cleaning out shot put rings, and opening all the equipment storage bins.

“He tirelessly planned the correct competitions to go to and organized how to get Ashton’s pole vault poles there. He spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to fix our many technical problems in all the events, and he constantly put us before his family by traveling the world for training camps and competitions over 200 days of the year.

“Not once did he even bat an eye at any of these demands we put on and expected of him. I will never be able to repay or thank him enough for all that he’s done for us. He’s dedicated a decade of his life to helping us and that is extremely rare to find.”

You can read the full IAAF press release on the 2016 Athletic Awards HERE.