Ashton Eaton still basking in London Olympic glory
Here's a clue as to just how memorable a season Ashton Eaton turned in last year: The Olympic decathlon champion became an answer in a newspaper crossword puzzle.
There he was at 32 across, with the hint, "Decathlon gold medalist Ashton -."
After last summer, filling in the blanks was rather easy: "Eaton," the charismatic 25-year-old who had a season-for-the-ages as he set a world record at U.S. trials in June, with decathlon luminaries such as Bruce Jenner and Rafer Johnson in attendance. Two months later, Eaton joined their esteemed company by winning at the London Games.
Since then, he's been invited to many a dinner party in his hometown of Bend, Ore., where this topic naturally surfaces: Just what does he do for an encore?
That has even him puzzled.
Still, this promises to be another unforgettable year for Eaton - off the track, anyway.
On July 13, Eaton will marry Oregon heptathlete and Canadian Olympian Brianne Theisen.
"It's going to be a sweet day," Eaton said in a phone interview.
Just another in a long string of them lately for Eaton.
In his view, though, these accomplishments on the track are almost happening too soon. He really didn't expect to be this good, not this fast at least.
"It would be fantastic to spend your whole life trying to pursue something and then finally, at the last moment, you achieve it," Eaton said. "You know, instead of getting it in the middle of the pursuit and spending the second half giving it meaning. But I do think there's room for improvement for me."
Given that he broke a world record AND captured a gold medal in 2012, Eaton gets asked all the time which achievement means more. The short response is, "both." The longer explanation is a little more cinematic.
"The world record is like you we went to the theater to see this movie, and it was really good and it had an unexpected ending, and you left the theater saying, `Wow, that was such a great movie,"' said Eaton, who keeps his medal locked up in a safety deposit box at a bank. "The Olympic gold was like going to a theater and seeing a movie that had the ending you expected. But you left the theater thinking, `You know, that was a good movie.'
"It's the expected versus the unexpected."
That record at trials was definitely a surprise.
Over two dreary and drab days in Eugene, Ore. - a place where he rose to prominence as a standout with the Ducks - Eaton sparkled. He finished with 9,039 points, beating Roman Sebrle's 11-year-old mark by 13 points. That week, Eaton was just hoping to make the U.S. squad for London, not history.
Even now, he can't believe how well he did in such foul weather. It meant even more with Johnson, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist, and Jenner, the face of the decathlon turned reality TV star, cheering him on. Quite a few other big names from the past showed up, too, in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the modern decathlon.
"All those guys in the same place - so cool," Eaton said. "Down the line I'll look back and think, `Man, that was the time."'
In London, he had such a big points lead that he turned the final event, the 1,500-meter run, into nothing more than four victory laps to hold off teammate Trey Hardee. It was the first 1-2 finish by the Americans in the Olympic decathlon since Milt Campbell and Johnson in 1956.
These days, when he's not working on the long jump, he's helping pick out linens for the tables at the wedding. And after jumping over hurdles, he jumps in on taste testing different kinds of cake.
"Putting in my two cents," he said, laughing.
The honeymoon will have to wait, though. After all, both are planning on competing at the Moscow world championships in August.
"We'll save it for 2014, go somewhere fun," Eaton said.
Just like they did to celebrate Eaton's gold, taking trains, planes and automobiles to places such as Paris, Rome and Vienna.
Rarely was he recognized, either.
Even now, not so much.
Maybe he would be if he had his image on a Wheaties box. Many American decathletes before him graced the cereal cover after an Olympic title. Jenner did. So did Dan O'Brien and Bryan Clay. Eaton said there are no plans in the works for that to happen.
"I'm OK with that," Eaton said. "No big deal."
He's more focused on what people are saying in online track and field chat rooms.
Seriously, he reads everything and takes note.
"A lot of them don't bash me but say things like, `He needs to improve on his throws,"' Eaton said.
So, that's what he's working on - his throws.
"I would like to have a decathlon where all of my throws are really consistent and set the tone," Eaton said. "That I'm good all-around, not just a speed and jump guy."
Just recently, Eaton had a close encounter with a javelin during practice, with a flash of purple suddenly appearing over his right shoulder. Eaton was training in California with his fiancee when he went out to collect his two javelins from the throwing area. She was still working with her coach and had one toss left.
Eaton was 50 feet to the left of her when he heard his name being screamed.
"Like bloody murder," he said. "I knew instantly a javelin was heading toward my back. I was like, `This isn't going to be good.' But I ducked to my left."
The tip grazed his nose before sticking into the ground, resulting in a tiny scrape - and a shaken-up fiancee.
"It's all good," Eaton said. "Looking back on it now, it's just a crazy story."