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  Oregon Athletes Take Center Stage at World Championships
   
     
   
Oregon Athletes Take Center Stage at World Championships

By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
August 10, 2013


Galen Rupp

Moscow, Russia - The 14th edition of the IAAF World Track & Field Championships got underway on Saturday in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and several Oregon athletes had their moments in the spotlight. Former UO star Ashton Eaton had an up-and-down day in the decathlon, but, when the dust settled at the end of the day, Eaton held a nine-point lead at the midway point of the event.

In the 10,000 meter final, Galen Rupp was with the leaders on the last lap and in a position to win the first world championship medal ever in that event for the U.S. However, Rupp fell just short in the stretch drive, finishing fourth in 27:24.39 behind teammate and winner Mo Farah of Great Britain.

Nick Symmonds began his quest to win a medal in the 800 meters by advancing to the semifinals with a victory in his heat. The former Willamette University standout still has two races to go, but has to be considered, at the least, a strong contender to win his first medal at a major international competition, and the first medal for the U.S. in the 800 meters in 16 years.

Bend native Eaton, who won Olympic gold and set the world record in the decathlon in 2012, gave his competitors an early wake-up call when the competition got underway at 9:35 am local time with the 100 meters.

Eaton blasted to a 10.35, just .01 seconds off the fastest-time ever run in a world championship decathlon 100. Though his start was fairly cautious, since there had already been a false start in his heat, Eaton pulled away impressively from the field over the last 50 meters.

The long jump, the second event in the decathlon, is always one of Eaton's best disciplines, and it was no different on Saturday. He improved on each of his three jumps, ending up with a mark of 25-4 1/2 to take the overall lead by 59 points after two events.

As the current world record holder in the decathlon, Eaton is the odds-on favorite here. But no reigning Olympic champion has ever gone on to win the next world championship gold. Every decathlon competition is a minefield - ten events where anything could go wrong. The physical and mental struggles were evident on Saturday.

Shot put was one of Eaton's weaker events until he made dramatic improvement in the last two years. He struggled again with his form in the shot put on Saturday, but showed his maturity, managing to keep his cool and improve on each of his three attempts. His best mark of 47-2 ½ was respectable, though it was more than three feet short of his personal best of 50-6 1/4. Still, he kept the lead.

Meanwhile, 2011 world champion Trey Hardee of the U.S. was hanging tough after three events, just 121 points behind Eaton, but disaster struck Hardee in the high jump. Hardee missed three times without clearing a height, effectively ending his chances to repeat as champion.

While Hardee struggled, young Gunnar Nixon appeared willing and able to rise to the occasion. The 20-year-old Nixon, who won the world junior title in 2012, seemed at ease on this stage despite his youth. He had personal bests in two of the first three events, recording better marks than Eaton in both the long jump and the shot put.

Nixon, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas put on a show in the high jump, clearing 7' ¼" and, with Eaton only able to clear 6-4, Nixon took over the lead. Going into the 400 meters, Nixon was ahead of Michael Schrader of Germany by 110 points, and Eaton by 116 points.

Eaton said later that his motivation was lacking after "a long three years," in which he won gold at the Olympics, silver at the 2011 worlds, and set a world record.

"I was kicking my butt last year to be in really good shape and to do great things - which I did. Finally, (we're) here in August, and I'm feeling pretty exhausted. Coach (Harry Marra) said basically, 'Get your head out of your (rear) and get into the lead.' I thought, 'Okay, I might as well.'"

Coach Marra's mini pep talk worked wonders, as Eaton dominated the 400 meters, running 46.03 to Nixon's 48.56. While his lead is a slim nine points, Eaton felt confident going into day two.

"I'm in the lead now," Eaton said, "and typically the hurdles might increase that lead and discus and everything else is solid." Symmonds felt just as positive after winning his heat in the first round of the 800 in 1:46.90.

"I didn't have to expend too much energy to get through this one. I wanted to just be top 3 and then just hold off anyone who wanted to challenge me for one of those spots.

Symmonds said he wasn't fazed by his new status as one of the favorites in the 800, especially with the absence - due to injury - of world record holder David Rudisha, as well as the other two medalists at the London Olympic Games.

"I've been doing this for so dang long now, I'm used to coming in as a favorite, coming in as an underdog, coming in as a young kid, and coming in as a veteran," Symmonds said. "I said earlier this year you have to have a lot of different tricks up your sleeve if you are going to make it to the finals. I'm the only person in the world, I believe, to make the last three global finals, so I know what it takes no matter how (the race) goes out."

Symmonds will run the 800 semifinals on Sunday, and, if he qualifies as one of the eight finalists, the finals on Tuesday evening.

For Rupp, the highest-finish ever for an American in the 10,000 meters at the World Championships was no solace to missing out on a medal by 1.78 seconds. Rupp won the silver medal behind Farah at the Olympic Games last summer, but couldn't quite manage to duplicate that feat here.

"I did a good job staying up front with the leaders, but I just didn't have it that last 200. The goal here was to medal and I'm disappointed that I didn't," Rupp said.

 
 

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