BEIJING, CHINA – It’s not easy to upstage Usain Bolt, but Ashton Eaton found a way to do just that on Saturday evening at the World Track & Field Championships.
Set a new world record.
Like in 2012 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Eaton did it in dramatic fashion, this time with a sold-out Birds Nest stadium urging him on in the 1500 meters.
Needing to run 4:18.25 or faster, Eaton showed his inner strength and resolve in the last 300 meters of the race. Following Algerian Larbi Bourrada on the last lap, he kept picking up speed and willed himself across the line in 4:17.52, then collapsed on the track. The strong finish enabled Eaton to break his own world record by six points with a score of 9,045.
This was Eaton’s second consecutive world championship title, and third overall world major in a row, including his 2012 Olympic win. After his phenomenal 400 to close day on Friday, when he set a new record of 45.00 in the decathlon 400, there was little doubt that Eaton would take the gold. But getting the record was a different matter.
“It was just kind of difficult,” an emotional and exhausted Eaton said afterward. “I woke up this morning and thought ‘Oh my God.’ I haven’t felt that in awhile. And the hurdles . . . I had trouble getting over nine and ten. I thought geez, I’m getting old.
“You know (with) the world record thing I was just trying to have fun. I knew that I was on track (to break it) and all that. But by the pole vault I was thinking, man, I’m getting tired . . . I don’t know if this thing is possible. And then in the javelin I got all fired up.”
Up until the javelin, which is the ninth of ten events in the decathlon, Eaton had been close to but behind the world record pace he set in 2012 at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He was still 45 points from record pace at that point. But he came out with fire in the javelin, letting loose a throw of 209-4 on his first attempt. It put him within reach of the record, if he could run his second-fastest time ever in the 1500.
“In the 1500 I had a lot of doubts. I didn’t know if I could run that fast. When you do something nobody has ever done before there’s no script for that.”
Eaton’s long-time coach, Harry Marra said, “That was a gutsy 1500. He knew, when we warmed up, he knew he didn’t have quite the energy. The fatigue was really setting in, as it should. This is a tough, long two days. Sixteen-hour days and four hours of sleep last night. So that was gutsy.”
Eaton said it all had to do with the mental strength and inner drive that is demanded by the rigorous decathlon.
“The first day you’re an athlete,” Eaton said. “Anybody can do the first day. The second day is when you’re a decathlete.
“Where does that inner strength come from? I don’t know but I think the important thing is to search for it.”
The only decathletes to ever put together a winning streak like Eaton are Dan O’Brien, who also won two world titles and one Olympic title, Tomas Dvorak, who won three worlds but only took a bronze at the Olympics, and Daley Thompson, who won the 1980 and 1984 Olympic decathlons as well as the 1983 world championships.
A win next year at the Rio Olympics would give Eaton a very convincing case that he is, indeed, the greatest decathlete of all-time. Eaton not only would have four consecutive major titles in the decathlon, but he also holds both the outdoor world record in the decathlon, as well as the world indoor title in the heptathlon.
Asked how many more points he could add to his record total in Rio, Eaton said, “I don’t know but you can bet your ass I am going to try to get more.”
It was also a good day for the U.S. women’s 4 x 100 relay team, which included three current or former University of Oregon sprinters – English Gardner, Jenna Prandini and Jasmine Todd – along with veteran star Allyson Felix. The quartet finished second to Jamaica in 41.68, a season-best for U.S. national relay 4 x 100 squads.
“It’s exciting,” Prandini said. “It’s an honor to run on this relay. We’re all really young so I think from here we’re only going to build and get better and get ready for next year.”
“This is my second silver in the 4 x 1 and I definitely wanted gold,” Gardner said. “But I am happy with the way we performed and content with the silver . . . we told Allyson she was an honorary Duck today. I think we did ok, everybody performed well. I am proud of them.”
Great Britain’s Mo Farah won again – this time in the 5,000 meter final. The Portland-based Farah won his seventh consecutive world major title.
Farah showed here that he could win off a fast pace, as in his 10,000 victory, and he could win off a slow pace, too. His winning time of 13:50.38 was the slowest in world championship meet history. Farah out-kicked Caleb Ndiku of Kenya for the victory, running a 1:48.6 closing 800 and a 52.7 last lap.
Galen Rupp, who trains with Farah under Alberto Salazar, had his best performance ever in a world championship 5,000, finishing fifth in 13:53.90. Rupp was just ahead of U.S. teammates Ben True and Ryan Hill, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
“I just tried to put myself in a good position with a lap to go (but) those guys just had a better kick at the end,” Rupp said.
“It was probably the best 5K I’ve run at a world championships. Coming back off of a really hard race in the 10K I did everything I could. I just didn’t have the speed.”
This was Ryan Hill’s second race at a world championships, and the Bowerman Track Club runner said he had hoped for a little more.
“I wanted to get top five, top three so it’s a little bit of a disappointment,” Hill said. “But it’s also an improvement. I can say I finished seventh now instead of tenth (at worlds). I’m getting a little bit closer.”
Both Hill and Rupp said they would most likely race in Brussels.