BEIJING, CHINA – Ashton Eaton started day one of the World Track & Field Championships with a record-setting race, and finished the day with an even better one.
Eaton destroyed the all-time world decathlon best in the 400 meters by running 45.00, and making it look like he was in an entirely different race than his competitors. The closest finisher to him was nearly two seconds back, a massive gap in a 400 meter race.
Finishing the day with a total of 4,703 points, Eaton had a 173-point lead going into the second day, and was on pace – barring any disasters in the last five events – to at least threaten the championship record of 8,902 set by Tomas Dvorak in 2001.
Eaton showed his first real emotion of the day when he crossed the finish line in the 400. Seeing his time on the scoreboard, he began yelling and pumping his fist. It turned out his primary emotion at that moment was surprise.
“I thought the clock was off by a second I swear,” a happy but fatigued Eaton said moments later. “They should go back and check it.”
The previous world decathlon best in the 400 was 45.68, set by Bill Toomey in the thin air of Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics.
Eaton had an explanation for the extraordinary improvement in his time in the event.
“I did 400 hurdles last year and I ran some 400s against fast guys this year. The only difference is they start moving with 200 meters to go, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really tough, but it works.’ I PB’d a couple of weeks before I got here in 45.5 and did that technique. And so Harry (Marra) and I have been talking, and he said we just have to trust that (I) will run fast. . . . no way in hell did I think I was running that fast.
“Long story short is you know me, I just go and don’t hold too much back. So I did that and it turned into something completely unbelievable.”
Canadian record holder Damian Warner managed to stay close to Eaton until the 400, trailing by just 56 points after the first four events. Warner ran a decent time of 47.30 in the 400, but lost a lot of ground to Eaton in that one event. One of Eaton’s other major rivals, two-time world champion Trey Hardee, suffered a lower back injury in the long jump and was forced to withdraw after three events.
Eaton, the defending world and Olympic champion, got his day off to a good start by running a 10.23 in the 100 meters. The time was set a new record for the decathlon 100 meters at the world championships, and just .02 off Eaton’s personal best in the event. Warner had the second-best 100 time, 10.31, leaving him just 20 points back.
In the long jump, Eaton started strong, leaping 25-10 ¼ on his first attempt. But his second jump, which looked to be well over 26 feet, was a foul, and he was behind the takeoff board on his third attempt. Eaton’s mark was still the best of any competitor, outdistancing German Michael Schrader by nearly seven inches.
Eaton had a best of 47-7 ¾ in the shot put, three feet shy of his personal record, but a respectable mark. Though Warner recorded a personal best, his throw was three inches short of Eaton’s.
Hardee’s day was done after the shot put. The 31-year-old Texan has battled injuries since winning his last world title in Daegu in 2011. But when he scored 8,725 points in winning the U.S. Championships in June, the second-best mark of his career, it looked then like he might be healthy enough to contend for the gold here. On his third attempt in the long jump, however, Hardee came up hurting. He gave it a go in the shot put, but with the injury to his back could manage just 33-5 ¾, about 15 feet short of his best. After his second attempt, Hardee withdrew from the competition.
Nike Oregon Project’s Matthew Centrowitz finished fourth in his 1500 semifinal in 3:43.97, qualifying him for Sunday’s final. Centrowitz again showed his masterful tactical instincts in non-rabbited, championship-style racing. With a lap to go and in danger of being boxed in, Centrowitz somehow managed to pass two runners on the inside of lane one. He used the same tactic at Daegu in 2011, and it helped him win his first championship medal, a bronze.
“It was slow from the get-go,” Centrowitz said. “I was actually uncertain if it was going to be fast or slow, but I was happy to take the lead in the first part. I caught myself in a bad position with 400 to go, but I made a move I’ve done before in the worlds. A lot of times when the kicking starts they start to go outside of lane one and you can sneak by right in the middle there and on the inside and be in pretty good position . . . so the main thing is even if you are in a bad position you just try to stay comfortable and confident.”
Centrowitz said being in a race loaded with quality runners like Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop and sub-3:31 vets like Nick Willis and Silas Kiplagat didn’t bother him.
“You got to race them sometime whether it be the final or now. I don’t really pay too much note of who is in my heat. I just glance at it, but it is what it is and you just have to deal with it.
“I definitely had another gear on that last straightaway and fifth, fourth, third, it’s all relative, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same and today was just about qualifying as easy as possible.
In javelin action, Kara Winger of Vancouver took the last qualifying spot for Sunday’s final with a throw of 204-1.