For local Ashton Eaton fans who could not be in London on Thursday, the Tower Theatre in downtown Bend was the next best place. • Nearly 900 Eaton supporters made their way through the doors of the theater throughout the morning and early afternoon to watch on the big screen as Central Oregon's greatest athlete became the “world's greatest athlete."
Eaton, who grew up in La Pine and Bend, won the gold medal in the Olympic decathlon Thursday with a total of 8,869 points.
Fans of the 2006 graduate of Mountain View High School came to the Tower to watch the final two events of the 10-event competition: the javelin and the 1,500 meters. Eaton, the world record holder in the decathlon, set a personal best in the javelin of 203 feet, 3 inches, and then ran the 1,500 in 4 minutes, 33.59 seconds to secure the gold medal. He just missed the Olympic decathlon record of 8,893 points.
When Eaton, a 24-year-old former University of Oregon star, appeared on the screen just before his heat of the 1,500, the roar in the theater was deafening. And when he crossed the finish line, the crowd's reaction was even louder.
Eaton had claimed the title bestowed every four years on the Olympic decathlon champion: world's greatest athlete.
Spectators in the Tower continued watching as Eaton shared a warm embrace with his fiancee, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen, and his mother, Bend resident Roz Eaton.
Dave Hood, the Mountain View track and field coach and athletic director who coached Eaton in high school, was at the Tower.
“It's unbelievable," Hood said, holding back tears. “It's so emotional. Things flood at you when you're so close to a young man, and a great, great young person. He's not only a great athlete, but a great person. I think a lot of us thought that he would be successful and he would achieve at a high level. I don't think any of us thought it would be this level, this soon."
Hood said he was proud of the community for rallying to support Eaton, and he added that a parade or some similar community gathering will be staged when Eaton returns to Bend.
“Certainly I think everybody would like to help Ashton celebrate what he's achieved," Hood said. “And he's worked so hard for it, and he deserves it."
Karin Cavanaugh, house manager at the Tower Theatre, said she was thrilled that so many supporters came to watch Eaton. Admission was free to those who wanted to watch the live stream of the javelin and 1,500-meter decathlon events. NBC was scheduled to air delayed decathlon coverage later Thursday evening.
“It was just amazing to have the community all together, cheering for a local talent," Cavanaugh said. “And I don't think it could have gone any better. When you get so many people together that are so happy rooting for somebody, then to have him win...."
It was a golden moment for everyone in attendance.