The word decathlon is of Greek origin, from deka [ten] and athlon [feat]. The sport first appeared in its modern form at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, where the legendary Jim Thorpe won the competition, and the winner is considered the world’s greatest athlete. No man in history has performed better in the decathlon than Ashton James Eaton.
Born in Portland, Oregon on January 21, 1988, he is the only child of an African-American father and a mother of European descent. His mother raised him alone –Eaton has had little contact with his father– and the two moved to Bend, a town in central Oregon, when Ashton was in fifth grade. His maternal grandfather, Jim Eaton, played halfback for Michigan State and lettered for the Spartans in 1960. The youngster inherited those athletic genes, first in taekwondo, where he earned a black belt at age 13 and later while lettering in football and wrestling at Mountain View High School. Eaton’s special talent was in track and field, where he finished second in the long jump at the state championship meet his junior year. As a senior, he won Oregon 4A state titles in the 400 meter dash and long jump while finishing second in the 200 to land Athlete of the Meet honors. Eaton was lightly recruited and considered playing Division III college football when his track coach, Tate Metcalf, approached him in the spring of his senior year and asked if he would consider the decathlon—an event Eaton had never heard of. Metcalf urged University of Oregon assistant coach Dan Steele to evaluate Eaton and Steele, a former decathlete, saw enough potential that he extended Eaton an invitation to join the Ducks’ storied track & field program.
Eaton enrolled at Oregon in the fall of 2006 without any experience in the throwing events –discus, shot put or javelin—and had never tried pole vaulting. Under Steele, he improved dramatically and earned 7,123 points to finish second at the 2007 Pac-10 Championships in only his second decathlon. The following year he won the Pac-10 Championships, won the NCAA title and scored a personal-best 8,122 points at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which was good for fifth place. In 2009, he successfully defended his decathlon title at the NCAA Championships and won the heptathlon title at the Indoor Championships. Eaton was named Division I Field Athlete of the Year following his junior season. Steele left UO in 2010 and was replaced by Harry Marra, who had trained 1992 Olympic gold medal winner Dan O’Brien [Daily Dose, July 17]. Eaton continued to excel, again winning the Pac-10, NCAA decathlon and NCAA pentathlon titles. In 2010, he was awarded the Bowerman as the best athlete in American collegiate track & field before graduating with a psychology degree in the spring . Mr. Eaton had finished his college career as the first male athlete to win three consecutive titles in the decathlon and having established a personal-best 8,457 points at the NCAAs in his senior season. The eight-time All-American joined the Oregon Track Club in 2010, where he continued to work under Marra. He won the first international medal of his career, a silver, at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu before raising the sport to a whole new level in 2012.
Ashton Eaton began the 2012 season in March by winning 5 of the 7 heptathlon events at the IAFF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, where he won a gold medal and set a new world record with 6,645. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, he set two world decathlon bests in day one, running the 100 meters in 10.21 and long jumping 27 feet. He also finished first in the high jump and first in the 400 meters to build a 300 point lead over his chief rival, 2009 USA Outdoor Champion Trey Hardee. On day two, he finished first in the 110 meter hurdles and pole vault, fifth in the javelin throw and eighth in the discus to lead by 317 points heading into the final event—the 1,500 meter run. Eaton ran a personal-best 4:14:48 to win the competition with 9,039 points and break Roman Sebrle’s 11 year old world record of 9,026 while also eclipsing Dan O’Brien’s American record of 8,891 set in 1992. Eight weeks later, he won the gold medal at the Summer Games in London, easily out-pointing Hardee. Eaton was named Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year and joined O’Brien, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and Bruce Jenner—many of whom were at the Olympic Trials on the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s victory in the decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm games—as American gold medal winners in track & field’s premiere event. He went on to win the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and 2014 World Indoor Championships in Poland. On August 28-29, 2015, Ashton Eaton broke his own decathlon world record by collecting 9,045 points at the World Championships in Beijing. There, he ran 45.00 in the 400 meters to break his own world record at that distance, marking the fifth time he has set a decathlon world record in the 11 years that he has been participating in the sport. Modern decathlon has been in existence for 103 years and during that time, the 9,000 point mark has only been surpassed three times. Ashton James Eaton has done it twice in three years.
“The first day, you’re an athlete. Anyone can do the first day. The second day, you’re a decathlete”– Ashton Eaton