Eaton says goodbye to track and field

The two-time Olympic gold medalist from Bend leaves as the greatest decathlete ever

By Mark Morical, The Bulletin, @MarkMorical

Eaton: History of a champion

May 2006: Wins high school state titles in the 400 meters and long jump for Bend’s Mountain View.

June 2008: Wins his first NCAA decathlon title for the University of Oregon.

June 2009: Wins his second NCAA decathlon title, then places second in the decathlon at the U.S. championships to earn a spot in the world championships.

August 2009: Finishes 18th at the world championships in Berlin.

March 2010: Breaks the indoor heptathlon world record with 6,499 points at the NCAA championships.

June 2010: Claims his third straight NCAA decathlon title; he also wins the Bowerman Award as the nation’s top collegiate track and field athlete. He finished his Oregon career with five NCAA titles and five Pac-10 titles and was an eight-time All-American.

February 2011: Breaks his own heptathlon record with 6,568 points at a meet in Tallin, Estonia.

June 2011: Wins his first decathlon as a pro at the U.S. championships in Eugene.

August 2011: Finishes second to U.S. teammate Trey Hardee at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea. It was the last time he did not win at a major championship event.

March 2012: Breaks his own world record again in the heptathlon with 6,645 points at the world indoor championships in Istanbul.

June 2012: Breaks the world record in the decathlon with 9,039 points as he wins the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene and qualifies for London.

August 2012: Wins the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in the 2012 London Games.

August 2013: Wins gold at the world championships in Moscow.

March 2014: Wins his second straight heptathlon world championships in Sopot, Poland.

August 2015: After taking a year off from multi-events and running the 400-meter hurdles, Eaton returns to the decathlon to break his own world record at the world championships in Beijing with 9,045 points.

March 2016: Running in his native Portland, Eaton wins his third straight heptathlon world championship.

August 2016: In Rio de Janeiro, Eaton ties the Olympic record with 8,893 points and wins his second straight Olympic gold.

— Bulletin staff report

He is only 28 years old, but Ashton Eaton is leaving his sport on his terms.

And he is leaving as the greatest decathlete the world has ever known.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist from Central Oregon, Eaton announced Wednesday that he is retiring from the sport of track and field.

Eaton most recently claimed the gold medal in the decathlon at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

A graduate of Bend’s Mountain View High School and the University of Oregon, Eaton is also a two-time world champion and the world-record holder in the decathlon.

“A majority of (the decision to retire) was I didn’t really have any passion to do the same thing,” Eaton told The Bulletin on Wednesday. “I checked all the boxes I had wanted to. I had some physical things. Last year I had injuries which I never had before. I didn’t want to have to leave the sport like that. I wanted to leave the sport on my terms, rather than on the terms of some injury, some loss, or some failure.”

Eaton had planned to compete in the 2017 world championships in London this coming August. But after a long break from track and field following the 2016 Games with his wife Brianne Theisen-Eaton, an Olympic heptathlete who took silver in Rio, he said he realized he lacked the motivation to start training again.

They hiked with friends, took up snowboarding, and thoroughly enjoyed their time away from the track and away from training.

“I was really tired of track and field and didn’t want to think about it for a while,” Eaton said. “I thought my attitude would change and I would start training and see how I feel. The longer we were away doing fun stuff and not training, the more I knew I didn’t think I had the passion or drive. I was questioning the purpose of it.”

About a week before they had planned to start training again this past November, Eaton told his wife he was ready to retire. She was ready, too.

Eaton and Theisen-Eaton, who have said they plan to start a family, announced their retirements Wednesday via social media and in side-by-side essays on the couple’s website www.weareeaton.com .

Eaton wrote on the website that “ … it’s my time to depart from athletics; to do something new. Frankly there isn’t much more I want to do in sport. I gave the most physically robust years of my life to the discovery and pursuit of my limits in this domain. Did I reach them? Truthfully I’m not sure anyone really does. It seems like we tend to run out of time or will before we run out of potential. That makes humanity limitless then, as far as I’m concerned. And I think that’s inspiring.”

He went on to thank his supporters, friends and family: “To USA & Oregon; My birthplace Portland, my roots in La Pine and Bend, and the University of Oregon. I am a product of this environment. Thank you for fostering possibility.”

At the Rio Games, Eaton tied the Olympic record in the decathlon with 8,893 points. He crossed the finish line in the 1,500 meters, the last of the decathlon’s 10 events, well ahead of France’s Kevin Mayer to become the first American decathlete in more than 60 years to win consecutive Olympic titles.

During his career, Eaton won five NCAA championships and five world titles, and he set five world records in the decathlon and heptathlon. He first set a decathlon world record of 9,039 points at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene in 2012 before going on to win Olympic gold in London.

He then broke his own world record with 9,045 points at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

Eaton said that if any decathlete has a chance to break his world record, it is Damian Warner of Canada, a 27-year-old who won the bronze medal at the Rio Games with 8,666 points.

The reigning Olympic and world champion had a cold welcome to his life after track and field Wednesday morning. Eaton said his first activity after making the announcement was to shovel the 3 to 4 inches of snow that had accumulated on his driveway in Eugene.

In his interview with The Bulletin, he said he is unsure of what type of career he will now pursue, but he is fairly certain it will not include track and field.

“I would say my involvement in the sport won’t be coaching or TV or commentating,” Eaton said. “My involvement in the sport probably won’t go past being an average spectator, with a little more vested interest in the athletes.”

Eaton, who has strong interests in education and technology, is calling 2017 his “data” year, as he looks to gather information from different industries to determine his new career path.

“I want to get up every morning excited to do what I’m about to do,” he said.

Theisen-Eaton, also 28, plans to start a blog on food, nutrition, and health education.

The support the Eatons received via social media on Wednesday was almost overwhelming, Ashton said, noting that Brianne was in tears much of the day reading the messages of support from fans, friends and family.

“It’s really hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s a really nice thing to know that so many people were impacted by something you did. It’s cool to know you had a positive influence on people’s lives. You look back at what made you get to where you are.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com

16074173
This image is copyrighted.