American decathlete Ashton Eaton scores 9039 at the US Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon
Little more than two years after he exploded on to the scene with a world record for the men’s indoor heptathlon, American combined eventer Ashton Eaton has become the world record-holder for the decathlon.
Competing at the US Olympic Trials in front of his home crowd at Eugene, Oregon, and having to contend with far-from-ideal conditions on both days of the 10-discipline event, Eaton led from the outset and put together an incredible series of performances to set a world record of 9039.
He was on world record pace from the outset and opened his campaign by speeding to a 10.21 personal best in the 100m and followed it with a stunning 8.23m lifetime best in the long jump. Both performances are the best marks in history for those events within a decathlon.
Although he was slightly down on his personal bests in the shot and high jump, his marks of 14.20m and 2.05m were solid enough and kept him on track for a big score. He ended the first day by posting the fastest time of the field over one lap, clocking 46.70 in the pouring rain.
At half way he had amassed 4728 points – a day-one score that has only ever been bettered by 1996 Olympic champion and former US record-holder Dan O’Brien. At this stage of the competition, Eaton was more than 300 points ahead of two-time world champion Trey Hardee.
Today, Eaton picked up where he left off and ran a season’s best of 13.70 in the 110m hurdles, finishing 0.01 ahead of Hardee. A 42.81m throw in the discus was good enough to keep him comfortably in front, but it was the pole vault where he excelled.
Before this competition, Eaton’s best ever performance in the pole vault was a 5.26m clearance two years ago, while his best outdoors was 5.10m, also set in 2010. But in Eugene, Eaton was in the form of his life and went clear at 5.00m, 5.10m and 5.20m at the first time of asking, before setting an outright PB of 5.30m on his final attempt at that height.
All along, it was evident that Eaton had been on course for a big score. Before the pole vault, a US record had seemed very likely. But after his huge clearance, the national record was no longer in doubt and it was clear he was on his way to becoming the second man in history to break 9000 points.
The only question was – could he better that mark by 27 points or more to become the new world record-holder?
To add to the anticipation, the decathlon javelin was delayed by a torrential downpour. But once back on the runway, Eaton unleashed a throw of 58.87m – his best ever mark within a decathlon.
With just one event to go, the 1500m, Eaton knew that he needed to run 4:16.37 or better to break the world record. His PB was 4:18.94, but on numerous occasions in the past he has shown that he has the mettle required to give it his all in the final event of the decathlon.
Fellow competitor Curtis Beach – one of the best decathletes in the world over 1500m with a sub-four-minute PB – acted as an unofficial pacemaker for Eaton. As the athletes reached the home straight, Beach moved out of the way in the finishing stages to allow Eaton a clear run to the finish line, stopping the clock in 4:14.48 – his fourth individual personal best of the competition.
It brought his tally to 9039, bettering by 13 points the previous world record that had stood since 2001 to Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic.
Having finished first in seven of the 10 events, Eaton added a staggering 310 points to his own personal best, which was set exactly one year ago at last year’s US Championships.
Only one man – former US record-holder O’Brien – had ever held the world records for both the decathlon and the indoor heptathlon at the same time. Now Eaton joins him in that elite club, having set three world records in successive years for the indoor seven-discipline event.
Hardee – who since last season underwent surgery on his elbow – finished a distant second with 8383, booking his place on the team for the London Olympics.
Reigning Olympic champion Bryan Clay had a rollercoaster competition. After the first day he was on course for a top-three finish, but he had a scrappy race in the 110m hurdles and was disqualified for a hurdles violation. He decided to continue competing and was later reinstated in the sprint hurdles, but by that point he had already thrown away his chances by recording three no-throws in the discus.
But even a top-form Clay would have been no match for Eaton – arguably the most talented all-rounder the sport has witnessed.