Ashton Eaton sets world mark

Updated: June 24, 2012, 1:48 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

EUGENE, Ore. -- Meter by meter, Ashton Eaton kept swallowing up real estate on a track that has always felt like home.

Second by second, the clock to the side of that track ticked away -- daring him to cross the finish line in a time that would put his name in the record books.

[+] EnlargeAshton Eaton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAshton Eaton reacts after breaking the world record in the men's decathlon at the U.S. Olympic trials Saturday.

Eaton was every bit as relentless and stubborn as that clock Saturday. He set a personal best in the exhausting 1,500-meter finale and is now the world-record holder in the decathlon -- the cream of the crop in the event that determines the world's best athlete.

"It's like living an entire lifetime in two days," Eaton said.

He finished the grueling two-day event with 9,039 points in the U.S. Olympic trials to beat Roman Sebrle's 11-year-old mark by 13 points.

Eaton joined the likes of Bruce Jenner, Dan O'Brien and Rafer Johnson among the Americans who have held the world record. He did it on the 100th anniversary of the first Olympic decathlon -- and many of the American greats who have made history in the event were on hand to watch Eaton do the same.

He did it in terrible weather -- drizzle, rain, cold and then, finally, sunshine as he got ready for the final 1,500-meter push.

"He was in position for it, and he went for it and there was no letdown," O'Brien said. "The most impressive thing was that he kept up his intensity in this weather."

Eaton, the 24-year-old and a former NCAA champion for University of Oregon, needed a time of 4 minutes, 16.37 seconds in the 1,500 to break the mark. He finished in 4:14.48.

When it was over, he bent down and put his hands on his knees, then brought them up to cover his mouth. Tears were falling -- elated and shocked all at the same time.

A few minutes later, he took the mini American flag he'd been handed as a newly minted member of the U.S. Olympic team and stabbed it into the turf near the scoreboard that displayed his accomplishment: "World Record Decathlon. Ashton Eaton. 9,039 points." Photographers lined up for the historic shoot. Certainly, Eaton will own a copy or two by the time this night is over.

"I wanted it to be a special event because this is my home state, my hometown, my home university," he said to the crowd at Oregon's Hayward Field. "And just from the start, I just wanted to perform well."

What to do for an encore?

We'll see in six weeks in London, where he'll go in as the favorite, along with the man he beat, defending world champion Trey Hardee, who finished 656 points back.

"Going into London, I'm not going to change a thing," Eaton said. "Clearly."

Chances for an American medal sweep in London, thought to be a good possibility, were vanquished when defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay fell during the hurdles.

Clay initially was disqualified after missing the final hurdle. While his points for the event were reinstated under appeal, he struggled later in the discus and finished out of the running for a spot on the Olympic team.

Clay was the gold medalist in the Beijing Games, becoming the first American to win the event since O'Brien in 1996.

"There was a lot of hope and expectation there," Clay said. "To see it all go out the window is pretty disappointing."

USA Track and Field rules allow only the top three finishers in each event on the Olympic team, assuming they have the Olympic "A" standard of 8,200 points. They make no exceptions for an athlete such as Clay, who has Olympic gold and was considered a strong medal contender, but does not have the standard this year.

Because no other U.S. decathlete meets the criteria, the United States will leave one spot empty and may be giving away a chance at one of the 30 medals the USATF has set as its goal in London.

"Ultimately, what we come back to is that the fairest way to select the team is to have the athletes select themselves," USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer said. "U.S. talent is so deep in most events that for someone to pick even one spot on the team would be unfair to most athletes."

Clay was initially disqualified for two actions -- he knocked over a hurdle with his hand and did not attempt the final hurdle. His coach appealed, and the first DQ was rescinded but the second one was not. Then that decision also was appealed.

Clay continued with the remaining events while the appeals were considered. But he was hurt when he fouled all three of his discus throws, leading to zero points in the event and taking him out of the running.

[+] EnlargeBryan Clay
AP Photo/Morry GashBryan Clay pushes over a hurdle during the 110-meter hurdles in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic trials. Clay stumbled and was disqualified.

Clay concluded Saturday in 12th place with 7,092 points.

Eaton opened his pursuit Friday by setting world-best marks for the decathlon in his first two events, the 100 (10.21 seconds) and long jump (27 feet). He had a mark of 46 feet, 7 1/4 inches in shot put, cleared 6-8 3/4 in the high jump and ran the 400 in a driving rainstorm in 46.70 seconds to finish the first day in the mix for the world record.

He returned Saturday to equally dreary weather, but didn't slip. The results: 13.70 seconds in the 110 hurdles, 140-5 inches in the discus, and 17-4½ in the pole vault. His javelin throw of 193-1 meant he would need to top his personal best by at least 2.57 seconds in the 1,500.

The sun finally peaked out shortly before Eaton made it to the starting line, illuminating his green and black shirt and neon-orange shoes. He stayed on pace the entire time and crossed the line with nearly 2 seconds to spare.

Eaton also overtook O'Brien's American record of 8,891 points, which he set in 1992 -- nine years before Sebrle became the first man to break 9,000 points.

Back in 1976, Jenner put the decathlon squarely in the spotlight, winning the Montreal Olympics and becoming a celebrity when he returned home. He was on the front of the Wheaties box back then, and the fact that he's on the front of it now -- as part of a retro marketing campaign -- is as good an argument as any to prove the event no longer has the stranglehold on the public that it once did.

But that hardly diminishes this accomplishment.

Eaton went through the large part of the first nine events in dreary weather -- a long jump in drizzle, the 400 meters in a driving downpour. He smiled through most of it, and when he was introduced before the final 1,500 race, he waved to the crowd, then put his hands together to try and close the deal.

It was, he said, more than he expected.

"I thought I'd get a good 100, a good long jump and from there, just have a go at it and make the team," Eaton said. "But when you're in this place, in this atmosphere, this is what happens. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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