Appeared in print: Wednesday, March 7, 2012, page C1
The last time Ashton Eaton needed a break from winter training, he shattered his own world record in the indoor heptathlon.
The 24-year-old Eaton is on the same path this week.
The Oregon Track Club Elite athlete is the lone American in a field of eight competitors in the indoor heptathlon at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, on Friday and Saturday.
The former five-time NCAA champion at Oregon is favored to win his first world indoor title, and judging by the marks he has been posting in workouts, he just might add to his world record of 6,568 points established in Tallinn, Estonia, last year.
“The goal is to win the competition,” Eaton said. “Then, increase the world record again. Just keep adding points to it.”
The long journey to Turkey and back is viewed by both Eaton and his coach, Harry Marra, as a welcome respite from the rigors and routine of training.
Eaton has competed only twice since winning the decathlon silver medal at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea, last August.
He took part in a few events at the Texas A&M Invitational in late January, and won the U.S. indoor long jump title on his third attempt with a personal best of 26 feet, 5 1/2 inches in Albuquerque on Feb. 26.
Eaton is believed to be the first American decathlete to claim an individual U.S. national title since Bob Richards won the pole vault in 1956.
“His training has been going really well,” Marra said. “But if you train all year-round, and you don’t play the games, it gets boring. You become stale. So, you get in a competition, test yourself, see where you’re at, clean off some rust.”
Besides his breakthrough in the long jump, Eaton recently clocked a 1-minute, 52-second time trial in the 800 meters on a cool, rainy day at Hayward Field, with Oregon Track Club Elite’s Russell Brown pacing him through three 28-second 200s, a workout that was widely discussed on the Internet.
“(That) helps mentally going into the rest of the year, but it’s not that big of a deal to me,” Eaton said. “Coach said run with Russell and hit these times, so I did.
“To me, I’ve always had the capability to do it, but the opportunity never really presented itself.”
Eaton also appears to be hitting his stride in the pole vault, an event that can often spell the difference in podium spots. Just last week, he moved up to a 5-meter pole, and the results have been impressive.
“It’s not an easy transition,” Marra said. “But Ashton seemed to adjust to it very well.”
For Eaton, of course, the end game this year is the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. That’s another reason why he and Marra are headed to Turkey this week.
“The primary benefit would be the ‘travel then compete’ aspect,” Eaton said. “If things go well this summer, then I will be facing a similar situation going into the (London) Games, long travel followed by competition.
“Secondly, it’s always good to get out of the States, out of my comfort zone, and face foreign competitors. There is something about seeing where you stack up against the other countries that makes competition interesting.”
The world indoor heptathlon entries are Cuba’s Yordanis Garcia (5,905), Czech Republic’s Adam Helcelet (5,935), Ukraine’s Olexiy Kasyanov (6,254), Belarus’ Andrei Krauchanka (6,282), Russia’s Artem Lukyanenko (6,071), Estonia’s Mikk Pahapill (6,362) and Russia’s Ilya Shkurenev (5,985).
If Eaton emerges as the winner, he will have taken another step forward toward becoming the “next big thing” in American track and field.
In the March issue of Track & Field News magazine, editor Garry Hill predicted the decathlon would be the event to provide a much-needed “face” for the sport in the United States this year, although he couldn’t decide between Eaton and Trey Hardee.
“It’s a nice compliment if it happens,” Marra said. “Ashton is ready to accept that role, but first things first. Let’s butter the bread before we take a bite out of it.”
After returning to Eugene, Eaton could make his first outdoor appearance in one of the throws at the Oregon Preview on March 18.
He won’t open up in the decathlon until the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field. The decathlon will be contested on the first two days of the Trials, June 22-23.