Ashton Eaton: Man of Steel

As a baby, Ashton Eaton was fired from his doomed home planet in a makeshift spaceship. Landing on Earth, he developed super-powers. No, hang on, that was Superman. But there are similarities…

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The world’s best-ever all-round athlete (Eaton) talks to SPIKES about overcoming the post-Games blues, rivals for Moscow gold, and his 2020 Olympic pole vault dream.

When you’ve banked Olympic gold and set world records for the heptathlon and decathlon, all before your 25th birthday, what else is there to achieve?

That was the question facing US multi-event superstar Ashton Eaton, who has already been there, done that and got the t-shirt. He has been wearing it so well, they need to make a new t-shirt.

After setting a world decathlon record of 9039pts in Eugene last June and winning Olympic gold in London in August, Eaton took a three-month break from training before hitting the track again in mid-November.

The initial rush of excitement at being back at his Eugene base was quickly replaced by an almost hollow feeling.

“I was just going through the motions,” says Eaton. “I’d already accomplished a lot of things I’d wanted to. It was like: ‘what do I do now?’”

An avid reader, Eaton needed a fresh injection of enthusiasm, and found it in the book he was reading at the time.

“It read: ‘competition is pretty much the essence of everything, it gives humans drive’,” he says.

“Then I saw the results from the indoors posted by the Europeans and Americans, and I got really excited. They were putting out some awesome marks and it got me motivated again.”

So a combination of literature, and the performances of his rivals such as Eelco Sintnicolaas (who set a PB to move ninth on the all-time heptathlon list), helped Eaton rediscover his mojo.

But where does the man, who has suffered only one defeat since the 2009 Berlin World Championships, believe he can improve? 

“That’s a good question,” says Eaton, who talks in deliberate, measured tones. “Subconsciously, after the 2012 season, and even after breaking the world record, I thought: there’s a bunch of stuff I can improve upon.

“Obviously, my throws can get better, which I’m excited about. My throws are more sub-par than the other events and that is why they can be more of an improvement, but I still think I can improve on everything.”

Now that is a truly scary thought. Last year he became only the second man in history to break through the 9000pts barrier, after Czech great Roman Sebrle’s 2001 landmark. Even scarier, since this interview, Eaton improved his javelin best from 61.96m to 66.64m.

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Watch out Lavillenie: Eaton fancies his vaulting chances at the 2020 Olympics.

At 25, he reckons his best years are ahead of him. 

“The good thing about achieving 9000pts so early in my career is that hopefully I will have a lot more chances to get in some really good decathlons.

“If I end up PR-ing in a number of events it will push me to 9100, 9200 or 9300pts. Everyday we are seeing improvement in practise, so this could happen.”

After starting back training so late, Eaton resisted any temptation to compete indoors, preferring to save himself for the outdoor season.

His campaign is to take on a slightly different approach this summer, as he plans to open his season at the Hypo Meeting in the small Austrian town of Gotzis in May. It will be the first time he has competed in the iconic multi-events competition, where both Sebrle and Tomas Dvorak performed so brilliantly.

“I think a lot of Europeans will be excited,” he says.

They should be. The Oregon athlete will then target the US nationals before hoping to challenge for gold at the World Championships in Moscow, where the target is clear.

“I definitely want to win the world champs. I have never done so before [Eaton took silver behind countryman Trey Hardee in 2011] and I don’t want to have to qualify through the US trials in 2015,” he adds with a laugh, referring to the fact that a win in the Russian capital will guarantee him a wildcard for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

He will start as clear favourite in Moscow, and can join an elite band of three athletes to hold Olympic and world decathlon titles at the same time. The others are Daley Thompson, Dan O’Brien and Roman Sebrle.

Yet Eaton identifies three genuine dangers to his gold medal prospects.

“Leonel Suarez has been medalling since 2008. He’s been very consistent. Unless he really messes up he’s going to be there. Damian Warner, the Canadian, who finished fifth in the Olympic Games, is super-talented and his potential is off the charts. And obviously Trey… [Hardee, the defending champion].”

Eaton, though, will be the man they all have to beat in Moscow. His talent is such that his monstrous long jump PB of 8.23m would have earned him individual long jump silver at London 2012.

He’s no slouch on the track, either. Eaton’s personal bests of 10.21 and 13.35 in the 100m and 110m hurdles are good enough to have booked him a spot in their respective Olympic semi-finals.

So has he ever considered specialising?

“We’ve talked about it, and if I did do it I think it would be in the pole vault for the 2020 Olympics, just for a bit of fun [he has a PB of 5.30m],” he says.

“I’ve thought about doing the decathlon and long jump double in 2016 but it is not so much fun on the body. If I was to do this, it would have to be the perfect timing of long jump at the very beginning of the Games and multi-events at the end.”