A conversation with Bill Cosby and Ashton Eaton

Published Jul 21, 2012 at 07:00AM

Rather than just field typical questions from a local reporter, Bill Cosby had his own idea about his interview with The Bulletin.

Why not, he wondered, ask a world record-holding decathlete to join in the fun?

Cosby wanted to connect with Olympic gold medal hopeful Ashton Eaton. The 24-year-old track and field star grew up in Bend, but earlier this week he was in Nuremberg, Germany, training for the London Olympics.

Why did Cosby want to talk with one of Bend's most famous former residents?

“Because I was a track man!” said Cosby.

During his time at Temple University in the early 1960s, Cosby competed in many events, including javelin, shot put and high jump.

Cosby was good — he even tried out for an Olympic team, though he didn't make the cut.

So we brought Cosby and Eaton together this week for a phone conversation.

Cosby's aim wasn't to reminisce about track life with Eaton — he had another motive in mind. And this idea, naturally, was about having a bit of fun.

Cosby asked Eaton to recall his best times and distances for each track event during his sophomore year of college (not his record-holding times). Cosby then compared these scores with his own personal bests.

Cosby would ask hopefully, “What was your best time in the (fill in event name)?”

Eaton would reply.

Then Cosby would sigh, pause and — sounding disappointed — say, “OK, so you got me again.”

(Cosby's stats were quite good. He came close to Eaton in the high jump, just an inch away from Eaton's best of 6 feet 9 inches. His results in the long jump, javelin and 400 meters were also within spitting distance of Eaton's college numbers).

Cosby shared memories of having to throw discus in the cage because he kept getting dizzy and nearly hitting people. Cosby couldn't compare times for the 1500 meters because after 440 meters, “that's where I stopped,” said Cosby. Eaton replied, “That makes you a lot smarter than me!”

As for hurdles, Cosby only did the low hurdles, saying he had short legs. Every time he jumped the high hurdles, Cosby held his palms high and ended up looking like toast popping up over each hurdle, he said.

Perhaps the funniest moment came when the pair compared pole vaulting scores — 16 feet 8 inches for Eaton (during his sophomore year of college) versus 10 feet 6 inches for Cosby. But Cosby had a good point: The pole wasn't exactly the same back then as it is today. “We had an iron pipe, a water pipe,” said Cosby. “Listen, you get tired before you even get to stick it into the chute.”

“You should have seen me. I was still vertical when I went over. I was still holding the pole vertically,” said Cosby. “I was scared to death with pole vault because it was such a long fall.”

Before parting, Cosby offered Eaton a piece of advice. After an event, if Eaton was feeling particularly tired and beat up, he should remember the phrase from the Bible, “And this too shall pass.”

But don't forget, Cosby said, when things are going well, remember that too, “This too shall pass.”

Eaton laughed and said he liked it so much, Cosby shouldn't be surprised if he ended up using the quote.

Afterward, Cosby said he was impressed with Eaton.

“The beauty is that he sounds like a wonderful, educated young man,” said Cosby.

Cosby loves track and field because each person is working toward his or her personal best. “That's why the person running last is still running hard.” Cosby said he and his fellow athletes used to talk with one another and would help each other — and he believes that sense of camaraderie among track and field athletes continues.

Cosby plans to say something about his talk with Eaton during the show Sunday in Redmond. The subject of track and field — and Ashton Eaton — is also likely to come up during Cosby's upcoming appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on Thursday night, the day before the Olympic opening ceremonies, according to a representative from the Fallon show.

— Alandra Johnson

Listen to clips of Bill Cosby talking with Ashton Eaton at http://www.bendbulletin.com/cosbyandeaton.