Ashton Eaton races out to big lead in decathlon at worlds

BEIJING (AP) The clock by the track isn't broken, Ashton Eaton. You really did run that fast.

The defending decathlon champion thought for sure there was some sort of malfunction after seeing 45.00 seconds displayed in big, bold numerals as he finished the 400 meters Friday night at the world championships.

That was a world-record time for the decathlon event, eclipsing the old mark he shared with 1968 Olympic champion Bill Toomey by .68 seconds. Even more, it bumped his score to 4,703 points and extended his lead to 173 points over Damian Warner of Canada heading into Saturday's final five events.

Eaton also remains within striking distance of breaking his own world record of 9,039 points set in 2012. He has the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 remaining. Should he reach a personal-best in all of them, he would finish with 9,302 points.

''If it comes down to the 1,500, I'm going for it,'' Eaton said. ''No question.''

Now, about that 400. It was certainly a surprise to Eaton, especially given how tired he was after a day that also included running the 100 meters in a championship-record 10.23 seconds. He one-upped himself in the longer race.

''I thought the clock was off by a second,'' said Eaton, who's married to Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the silver medalist in the heptathlon earlier in the week. ''I swear. They should go back and check it.''

These days, each time he steps on the track, a record mark is in jeopardy. But he doesn't compete in many decathlons anymore. This was his first in two years, because he's trying to save wear-and-tear on his body, especially with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the horizon.

Instead, he's been dabbling in individual events such as the 400 meters. He's learning to run it like a 400-meter runner would. He would've held his own in the 400 final won by Wayde van Niekerk, who finished in 43.48 seconds.

''No way in hell did I think I'd run that fast,'' Eaton said. ''I was like, 46-flat maxed out. But I saw in the heats before, some decathletes putting up some good times.''

So, he went for it. When he crossed the finish line, he celebrated. Not an end-of-the-first-day celebration, either, but one in which he raised his exhausted arms as high as he could and screamed as loud as he can. Records like this don't come around every day.

Still, it was a bittersweet day for the Americans in the event. As Eaton soared in the standings, two-time world champion Trey Hardee left with an injury. Hardee hurt his lower back in the long jump, and then struggled in the shot put before shutting himself down.

On a hot afternoon, Eaton stayed chill by wearing a cooling hood designed his sponsor. He said before the meet he was in world-record form.

He wasn't kidding, either.

''I can say I'm very capable of breaking the record right now,'' Eaton said. ''It's an interesting experience to do something I've never done before. I didn't expect to break that record (in 2012). Now I'm thinking, `Well, do you have to expect it? Or do you say to yourself, `Today's the day.'''

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