For Ashton Eaton, the Olympics are far too special to be diminished in any way.
“I think the Olympic Games is the best thing that humanity has ever created,” Eaton said Tuesday in an interview with The Bulletin. “It’s one of the only things that brings the entire world together in kind of a celebration of human ability. The only other things that do that are the internet and the postal system.”
That is why it was easy for Eaton to speak out in favor of postponement of the Tokyo Games on Twitter last week. And when the news came Tuesday that the games would officially be postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eaton was satisfied and happy for the athletes and fans.
“It’s just the best thing for everybody,” he said by phone from his family’s apartment in San Francisco. “The fact that it’s not canceled and only postponed is great. I think this is the best possible outcome here.”
Eaton, who grew up in Central Oregon and graduated from Bend’s Mountain View High School, won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Games.
Eaton, 32, and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, 31 and the 2016 Olympic heptathlon bronze medalist from Canada, retired from track and field three years ago but have stayed in touch with current decathletes and heptathletes from various countries.
“Many athletes aren’t able to train in their respective countries,” Eaton said. “All their facilities are closed, basically. And if not, they’re training outside in not-ideal conditions. Putting myself in their shoes was easy from that perspective. I know this is the right thing because I wouldn’t be able to plan properly. I don’t think the games would have been very fun or fair if we kept along this path.”
The postponement calls for the Tokyo Games to be staged no later than summer 2021, according to The Associated Press. Although an exact one-year postponement to July 23-Aug. 8 is possible, the Tokyo Games do not have to open in July.
Eaton said that staging the games about a year later than originally planned makes sense for many reasons, including training cycles for the athletes and for fans who want to attend.
The USA Track & Field Trials, originally scheduled to start June 19 in Eugene, were also postponed, likely to be rescheduled for the months or weeks leading up to the rescheduled Olympics.
“I do think having 12 months for the social and economic volatility to stabilize, and give some people some time to figure some things out, would be good,” Eaton said. “If they did it six months from now, athletes, businesses and sponsors might still be in a panic.”
Eaton and Theisen-Eaton moved from Eugene to San Francisco a few months after retiring. They have been busy pursuing new careers, attending school and being new parents to their son Ander, who is 2 months old.
Eaton is also working for Intel and taking online classes at City College of San Francisco as prerequisites for an engineering degree. The couple is considering a move back to Oregon for Eaton to earn that degree at either the University of Oregon, Oregon State or Portland State. (Eaton earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Oregon before turning professional in track and field.)
“It (the pandemic) hasn’t changed our plans, maybe just the timeline,” Eaton said. “It’s hard to say. But the plan is still the same.”
At Intel, Eaton works with the Olympic technology group, which creates technology that can track and analyze human motion with cameras and deliver results in 3D.
The family was planning to attend the Tokyo Games as spectators, and Eaton said they still plan to attend the Olympics in 2021.
San Francisco was one of the first cities to institute a “shelter in place” response to the pandemic, doing so on March 17. Eaton said he and his family have been getting outside about once a day for a walk or a run, or to buy groceries.
“I think our mayor did a good job with that, not waiting (to call for shelter in place),” Eaton said. “People seem to be abiding by those rules. Now we’re just waiting it out.”
Eaton said that for Ander, life is continuing as normal.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting story to tell him when he’s older,” Eaton said. “We’re kind of documenting it day by day.”