Beijing World Champs, Day 8: In praise of Ashton Eaton, World Record Holder, by Alex Mills

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Eaton_AshtonDiscBookW-Beijing15.JPGAshton Eaton, 43.34m Discus throw, photo by PhotoRun.net

Ashton Eaton's WR has a back story. Here is the behind the scenes story, by Alex Mills, on all the drama, emotion, training and love that go into such an effort.

It is a fascinating story...

A performance of total grit and determination from Ashton Eaton to break his own world record by the finest of margins was the undoubtably the highlight of the penultimate night at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.

Crowning a sensational series of performances, in which he broke the world decathlon bests and championship records on one of the biggest stages of all, Eaton reiterated his position among the titans of sport by breaking his previous record in the most dramatic of fashions, at the Bird's Nest Stadium.

Eaton_Ashton400m-World15.JPg400m in 45.00, photo by PhotoRun.net

Needing to run 4:18.25 in the final event, the 1500m, to break his previous best tally of 9,039 points, Eaton went out steadily going through 400m in 1:09, remaining in the pack, though he soon began to move up and as Algeria's Larbi Bourrada then took up the lead, passing 800m in 2:21.56, Eaton went with him. But there was still ground to make up.

As he hit the bell already giving his all, with every strain and sinew illustrated on his face, the American had to somehow produce a 63.5-second last lap in order to make history. Digging deep into his reserves once more, he found an extra gear, yet his fate still hung precariously in the balance, with 200m to go he had to break 30 seconds. Charging down the home straight, arms pumping, fists clenched, the crowd roaring him home, he continued to stay strong, crossing the line before collapsing to the floor.

The time on the clock 4:17.52! Some 0.73 quicker than the time he needed. The world's greatest athlete had got even greater, unfrickinbelievable.

Throughout the race, his wife, Brianne-Theisen Eaton had been standing by the track watch the clock on her phone anxiously hoping it matched up to what he needed.

Here's how she saw it: "I was taking splits on my phone. He had said he was going to run 70, 70, 70 and then 48 for the last 300" so I knew he was on pace but going with 400m to go I didn't think he looked good. I thought it's not going to happen and then all of a sudden on the back stretch he got this extra kick and that's when it was like he's going to do it!"

With the crowd going delirious, the Olympic and now double-world champion picked himself up, broken both physically and mentally, he headed for the stands to celebrate with Team Eaton, with barely a dry-eye between them as Brianne, coach Harry, mum Roz, agent Paul and many more were all embraced and gave thanks for the part they'd played.

"The older I get, the more I realise we're making choices that impact the experiences we're having, those choices include giving a lot of stuff. Of course, track is temporary so it's not the end of the world, but you just feel like you miss a lot like friends and family. So it's just an accumulation of those feelings and when you do something you just realis, I'm doing this for a reason, and when that reason manifests itself it's pretty emotional" he explained post race.

As for Theisen-Eaton, it was experience that made her more emotional than she'd expected: "I always said Oregon [first world record] was the best and nothing would top it, I wouldn't say this topped it, but it was the same amount of emotion, which is crazy because I feel like when you do something once, it's kind of not as exciting, but that was not true in this case."

"It says a lot when you break a world record at a world championships because it's not an ideal situation, the days are super long, it's super hot out. He just handled himself really well, so him to have do it have not having done a dec in two years, to be able to come back and do that, I think that's great. It was just a nail-biter at every event and that was what was so exciting." she said.

After a well deserved victory lap, Eaton took a phone call from the man who's record he had first beaten in 2012 and the athlete who had first inspired him to do the decathlon, Roman Sebrle: "I just remembered this yesterday. There was a newspaper on my kitchen table when I was a teenager and the front page had this picture saying if we were to send an athlete to a galactic universe from earth who would it be? It had all these other sportsmen and then, right in the middle it had Roman Sebrle throwing the javelin and he was the one we would send. I had no idea what decathlon was, and barely knew what track was, so that was my first real deal with the decathlon." Eaton said. "Then, in 2012, when I broke the world record, I was emotional then because I thought I'd taken something from such a great person. Because he had the record and he's such a great guy. I got to talk to him and he said you know that I broke the world record so that somebody else would look at it and try to break it, so now it's your turn to inspire somebody else."

Eaton_AshtonHelmet-WorldCH15.jpgAshton Eaton, with his Nike cooling hat (love it), photo by PhotoRun.net

"I'm just so happy that he broke the world record and became the first man to break 9,000 points to show that it is possible, I don't think I would have broke 9,000 if it hadn't been for him."he said.

What made Eaton's achievement even greater, was the fact that this was his first decathlon competition since winning his last world title in 2013. Ashton Eaton, having taken a year out from the event in 2014 to test himself over the 400mh. Then being forced to miss the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis due to a last minute injury: "It [WR] was really good because Ashton had an up and down year because he was really fit and ready to compete in Austria and that was devastating for him. I know because he was in really good shape and he just got kind of lost wondering what he was doing and if he should still keep going in track." she said. "So, to see him get back like this, it's like a lot of people don't understand because people don't see all the work he puts into it. So, it's just a cool perspective from my end to see all the work that has gone into it. I'm just so happy for him.

As for Eaton's return to multi-events, it was an experience that made him realise almost instantly how much he loved it: "When I got here 2 days ago, getting ready to go out for the 100m, then I realised how much I missed it and I think it was at that moment that I said this isn't about records or trying to be too serious, this is about trying to have fun with these guys because you don't get a lot of opportunities to do this."

Eaton_AshtonHJ-WorldCh15.jpgAshton Eaton, 2.01m high jump, photo by PhotoRun.net

Throughout the two days, talk began to grow and grow about whether Eaton really do it, as he continued to perform excellently, staying almost bang on WR pace. Having started with a CRP in the 100m, he then flew out to 7.88m in the long jump, 14.52m in the shot and 2.01m in the high jump before the sensational 45.00 400m raised hopes ever more. Nevertheless, with the challenge of a tough second day still to go and the margins still way too tight for Eaton himself to begin to think about the record, it became even more clear how far into his mental and physical reserves he would have to dip into in order to get the win.

Eaton_AshtonSP-WorldCh15.jpgAshton Eaton, Shot Put, 14.51m, photo by PhotoRun.net

Starting the morning with a steady 13.69s in the 110 metre hurdles, Eaton then took on the toughest three events of the day, excelling in all three. First, he threw beyond expectation in the discus going out 43.34m, then in the pole vault, one of his best events, Eaton survived the aches and pains, to launch himself to a final clearance of 5.20m, continuously overcoming the frustrations of first time failures. Finally, needing a big throw in the javelin to set himself up for a manageable target in the final event, Eaton stayed calm before firing out to 63.63m in the third round to put himself in a great position to achieve his goal, though it might have been even easier had he not slipped over the line when producing a huge throw in the second round.

Eaton_AshtonHH-Beijing15.JPGAshton Eaton, 13.69 for 110m hurdles, photo by PhotoRun.net

After 9 of the 10 events, the American stood 8,216 points, requiring 824 points from his final task to achieve the magnificent feat by running at least the second fastest time of his career.

"I was doubting myself in the rest room before I went out, thinking man I don't know if I can run that, but I had a lot of people believing in me, like my coach, my wife, my family, my manager, they were all saying you can do it! I knew the time I had to run, I just had to try what other option did I have?" Eaton admitted post race.

Eaton_AshtonLJ-WorldCh15.jpgLong Jump, 7.88m, photo by PhotoRun.net

Aside from Eaton, there were some other great performances as was shown by the fact it was 100% PB's for those on the podium. Canada's Damian Warner was rewarded for excellently consistent performance by a total of 8695, taking silver to add to the bronze he won two years ago, improving the Canadian record for the second time in just five weeks. "Getting the silver medal was nice, you always aim for gold but when the guy breaks the world record you can't complain too much, I had a great year overall, I'm moving in the right direction and I can't wait for next year." he said afterwards.

Bronze went to Germany's Rico Freimuth's who hung onto third to claim his first major medal with a score of 8561

To make an already great competition even better, seven men scored 8400 points or more for the first time in world championship history.

Eaton_AshtonPV-Beijing15.JPG5.20m pole vault, Ashton Eaton, photo by PhotoRun.net

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