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Bend Native Ashton Eaton Gets Set to Compete in Berlin

By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Bend Bulletin
August 18, 2009
Ashton Eaton

BERLIN - Ashton Eaton gets to find out today how much gas he has left in the tank. After going through a very long competitive season, Eaton will test himself in his sixth decathlon of the year beginning today at the World Track & Field Championships in Berlin, Germany. The fact that he is also facing some of the best all-around athletes in the world for the first time could be a daunting prospect for a 21-year-old in his first major international competition.

However, Eaton chooses to view the situation from a more positive point of view. "I am approaching it just like I did the Olympic Trials last year, like I have nothing to lose," he said in a phone interview before leaving for Germany. "It will be a good experience to have . . . I am hoping for a PR (personal record) but I just want to have fun. This will be a meet where I can get some good international experience."

The Mountain View High School grad arrived in Berlin on Friday last week, in time to watch UO teammate and girlfriend Brianne Theisen place 15th in the women's heptathlon at the championships. Theisen, 20, was the youngest athlete in the heptathlon field and Eaton, who will be a senior at the University of Oregon next month, is one of the youngest in the field of 41 athletes from 24 different countries.

While he is young and has no international experience yet in the decathlon, Eaton figures to be competitive in this meet. His best score of 8,241 ranks him as 11th in the world so far this season, and, with a better mark in the pole vault at the NCAA meet, where he had a sub-par effort in that event, Eaton believes he could have come into this meet ranked higher, perhaps even ranked as high as fifth.

Eaton's coach, Dan Steele, UO associate director of track and field, has emphasized that Ashton should be relaxed and have fun while competing here, but has also stated, "He could do a lot of damage if he gets hot."

Several of Eaton's strongest events come on the first day of the competition. His best mark of 10.49 in the 100 is the second fastest among all the entrants, and his 46.34 in the 400 ranks ahead of all of the other 40 decathletes. Strong performances in those events could give Eaton confidence heading into the second day, especially if he registers decent marks in the other three first day events.

He is solid in the long jump, the second event of the competition, with a best of 7.79 meters, 25-6¾. The other first-day events are the high jump and the shot put. In the latter event, especially, Eaton is still a work in progress, but very few decathletes are strong in every discipline. If Eaton is able to PR in one or two of the more technical events, like shot or discus, it will bolster his chances at a top ten finish.

The decathlon competition overall looks to be wide open at this meet. 2008 Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay did not compete at the U.S. championships due to an injury and, therefore, is unable to compete in Berlin. Veteran Tom Pappas, who has the 10th best mark of all-time, was also unable to compete at the U.S. championships, and German Michael Schrader, who owns the third-best mark in the world this year at 8,522, has a broken foot and will not compete either.

World record holder Roman Seberle of the Czech Republic is the reigning world champion, but his sixth place finish in Beijing and his poor form so far this season have led many prognosticators to dismiss his chances to defend his title.

Those developments would seem to open the door for a new champion. The top contenders appear to be the 21-year-old Cuban, Leonel Suarez, who has the top mark in the world this year, 8,654 points, Trey Hardee of the U.S., third in the world in 2009, and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Andrei Krauchanka. But there are likely five or six others who could move into medal contention.

The decathlon gets started at 10:05 am (Central European time) with the 400 meters, the last event ofthe first day, scheduled for 8:45 pm in Berlin, which is 11:45 am in Oregon.

 
 

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