Decathlon

• 100-meter run

• Long jump

• Shot put

• High jump

• 400 meters

• 110-meter hurdles

• Discus

• Pole vault

• Javelin

• 1,500 meters

Ashton Eaton has a degree in psychology, so he is well aware of afflictions such as fear of success and post-Olympic depression.

He is not necessarily suffering from those, but they have crossed his mind as the two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist and perhaps the greatest athlete of his generation enters a new phase of his life.

Since graduating from Mountain View High School in 2006 and entering the University of Oregon, he has lived and breathed track and field. For the past decade, he has spent most of his waking hours training for the 10-event decathlon, learning to run, jump, and throw better than anybody else in the world.

Now, at 28, Eaton has achieved all of his goals in the sport — five world championships, five world records in the decathlon and heptathlon, and, of course, two Olympic gold medals.

At the Rio Games two weeks ago, he tied the Olympic record in the decathlon with 8,893 points while claiming his second gold medal. He crossed the finish line in the 1,500 meters, the decathlon’s final event, well ahead of France’s Kevin Mayer to become the first American decathlete in more than 60 years to win consecutive Olympic titles.

And then, it was over.

In an interview this week with The Bulletin, Eaton said he will likely compete next year, and possibly through the 2017 world championships in London, along with his wife, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton. But he does not plan to take part in the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Track and field athletes, and those in other Olympic sports, spend years toiling in the shadows, then find the limelight only once every four years. Just when Eaton has achieved some degree of fame, he is looking at retirement.

He reflected on his experience in Rio de Janeiro and spoke candidly about his uncertain future.

“You want something so bad, then when you finally get it, you’re afraid to have it,” Eaton said. “In my mind I thought, “After the games, after we accomplish all our goals, it’s just going to be great to relax and I’m gonna let everything go.” I just don’t feel like that at all. I’m not sure why. I know a lot of people who announce this is their last Olympics … a lot of athletes struggle with it, it’s very common. It’s not that I’m struggling. I don’t know what I want to do, but I know how to plan for the next step. It’s just the … period afterwards.”

Eaton and Theisen-Eaton, who won bronze in the heptathlon in Rio, will devise over the next couple of months their track and field schedules for next year and perhaps plot a more precise date for their retirements. They will leave their sport together, as they look to start a family over the next few years.

“It would be hard for me to imagine doing track without Brianne,” Eaton said.

Over the next few weeks, Eaton and his wife — who still live in Eugene but are considering moving elsewhere — plan to visit family, take long hiking trips with friends, and travel back to South America to explore Machu Picchu high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

“We’re getting into hiking and outdoors stuff,” Eaton said. “Being from Central Oregon I kind of grew up with that anyway. Brianne being from small-town Canada, she was always outside. After we’re done being professional athletes, we still want to be active, doing mountain biking, hiking and trail running, and snowboarding and winter sports.”

Eaton said next year he would like to take part in one more decathlon, and perhaps narrow his competitive focus to a single event, such as the 400-meter hurdles.

“This next year (the competition schedule) will be pretty much the same, but knowing that it’s going to change after that, it’ll be very different,” Eaton said. “When you do this and it’s the only thing you know …”

Eaton entered the Rio Games as the overwhelming favorite in the decathlon. But the final Olympic glory that would cap his incredible career was seriously challenged.

Mayer, 24 — with whom Eaton actually trained in Santa Barbara, California, in 2014 — was putting together the meet of his life.

In the pole vault, the eighth event of the decathlon, Mayer cleared 17 feet, 8½ inches. Eaton, meanwhile, missed on his first two attempts at 17-¾. If he did not clear that height on his third and final attempt, he would likely have to settle for the silver or bronze.

“Basically I knew if I didn’t make this it was over,” Eaton reflected. “It was a very interesting, very scary, one minute that I had. There was a lot of nerves. The whole culmination of my career was coming down to this bar, make it or don’t.”

Eaton cleared it.

“The pole vault, that was probably the definition of my career as an athlete,” he said.

In the 1,500, Mayer would have to beat Eaton by six seconds to take the gold. Eaton kept the Frenchman in his sights for most of the race, then passed him on the final lap.

“For him to have to beat me by six seconds, I knew that it would be very tough for him,” Eaton recalled. “When we were warming up, I was watching him, and I could see that he wasn’t even going to try to do it. He was just lightly jogging around with no shoes on. But, he had a great meet. I think I could have run faster for sure, but at that stage I felt fine, but I just didn’t know. If I go and pass him too early, what if something cramps up?”

Eaton celebrated briefly with Brianne, his mother, Roz Eaton, and his high school coach Tate Metcalf.

“It was just a really satisfying feeling,” he said. “I think I’ve learned that when you accomplish a goal like that, the fireworks and celebrations don’t just start going off.”

After lengthy media obligations and completing post-competition drug tests, Eaton did not return to his hotel until 3 a.m., he recalled. Then he was up at 5 a.m. to appear on NBC’s “Today” show. Eaton and Theisen-Eaton stayed for the closing ceremonies three days later and then boarded a flight home the next day.

Eaton’s 2016 Olympic experience was markedly different from 2012. While he was also the favorite four years ago — having set the world record for the decathlon at the Olympic trials in Eugene — it seemed his professional career was just beginning. And leading up to the Rio Games, Eaton appeared in many more NBC promos and commercials than he did in 2012.

“2012 was like, I COULD win,” Eaton said. “2016 was I SHOULD win. During the (Rio) games there was a lot more coverage or buildup around me, but because I’m competing I never really watched TV or never really experienced the effect of that. But in the (Olympic) village, other athletes were stopping me and asking if they could take a picture with me. In 2012, nobody had any idea who I was.”

Now more recognized, Eaton said he has posed for countless pictures with fans since winning in Rio. The humble athlete said he tries to oblige every well-wisher, but he admitted that it does get “overwhelming.”

“Being from La Pine and Bend, I’m just the same person, and I like to think I’m a small-town guy,” he said. “I try to be the exact same person that I was when I was in high school or college. But you just start getting treated like a different person, and it’s hard.”

Eaton is always thankful for and appreciative of all the love he receives in Central Oregon — a section of U.S. Highway 97 through La Pine bears his name, and his enlarged signature stretches across the home stretch of the track at Mountain View High.

Also different from 2012, when thousands flocked to downtown Bend for a parade in honor of the hometown hero, no such celebration is planned this time around. And that suits Eaton just fine as he tries to maintain a lower profile.

Eaton, who has long had an interest in science and technology, plans to spend some of 2017 meeting with different businesses, organizations, advisers and potential employers as he ponders his next career.

“I don’t know if I could sit around with a 9-to-5-type deal,” he admitted. “I’ve only done track. When you don’t experience things, you don’t know what you like. I tend to get pretty fired up and passionate about education, so maybe that’s a road I’ll pursue.”

Considering his commitment to excellence in the decathlon over the last 10 years, Eaton seems likely to find success in his next career, whatever that may be.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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