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Rio track & field: Eaton repeats as decathlon champ

By Raf Casert
Associated Press
American Ashton Eaton joins Bob Mathias (1948 and 1952) and Daley Thompson (1980 and 1984) as back-to-back decathlon Olympic champions.

Rio de Janeiro  — Deep in the second day of the decathlon, a rare hint of vulnerability from Ashton Eaton gave his rivals an unlikely glimmer of hope.

The man known as the "World’s Greatest Athlete" had failed twice at a low height in the pole vault and faced a final attempt in the scorching afternoon sun at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday. His wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who had already won Olympic heptathlon bronze for Canada, was looking on anxiously, doubting there could be any crack in his composure.

An unlikely chance for his rivals to finally beat him?

Forget it.

“That was the moment I thought … your whole life has been about this,” Eaton said. “Getting ready for this. What are you going to do?”

His third attempt at 4.90 meters was perfection, and he went on to clear 5.20 and to make sure his invincibility in the 10-event competition would continue.

If there was any further doubt about his mettle, the javelin throw did away with that, too. After a bad first throw, he crept closer to the top mark of main challenger, France's Kevin Mayer, and made sure the concluding 1,500 meters was only a race for the Olympic record.

With a final thrust across the line he tied the mark of 8,893 points the Czech Roman Sebrle had set at the 2004 Athens Games. One second either way would have made the difference.

He went into the competition aiming to beat his world record, but expecting such a feat each time he competes just shows the mindset of the 28-year-old American. His inability to produce a record on demand showed he is merely human.

Grimacing in pain for the lactic acid building in his legs, Eaton immediately went over to congratulate Mayer, the silver medalist.

“To be so close to a world-record holder, a man so gentle and humble, that already was exceptional,” Mayer said.

Eaton remained unbeaten in major competitions since he was left with silver at the 2011 world championships. And a second straight Olympic title puts him among only a few of the greats. Asked whether that put him in exclusive company, he said: “The decathlon is exclusive company.”

And even if it’s true that the decathlon requires traits of self-centered focus, Eaton remains a U.S. Olympic team member first and foremost.

So when Kerron Clement was running the 400-meter hurdles final as the decathletes were competing in the discus throw, he couldn’t hold himself back when his roommate took gold and crumbled to the ground in exhaustion.

He ran over onto the track and put his hands on Clement’s back with heartfelt congratulations. “I felt somebody,” Clement said. “I was on the ground, exhausted.”

For long, it has been Eaton’s knack to be better in giving than receiving.

Sometimes it can turn against him.

American Ashton Eaton shares his golden moment with his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton. Theisen-Eaton won Olympic heptathlon bronze for Canada.

During the heptathlon competition, he sat in the stands with a Canadian cap, showing support for his wife. Some accused him of being un-American and were critical.

It stung. After all, this is a proud athlete who already had the national anthem play at five major global championships.

“Have I not represented USA well? Yet u demand more. Ur respect is hard earned,” Eaton tweeted, defending himself and his wife. “I support the country that produced my wife.”

When a Canadian, Damian Warner took the lead in the opening 100 on Wednesday, Eaton immediately responded by taking the lead on the second event. He never looked back.

Today, the U.S. anthem will be played in Eaton’s honor again during the victory ceremony.

Still, seeing his wife get bronze was just as special.

“It was unbelievable. I was glad I got to watch every second of it, and she is a massive inspiration to me,” he said. “For us to have done this together is ...” and then he sighed, lost for words.

Good day for U.S.

Alongside Eaton's victory, Crouser led an American one-two in the shot put, also setting an Olympic record of 22.52 meters to beat world champion Joe Kovacs. New Zealand's Tomas Walsh won bronze.

And, Dalilah Muhammad kept the U.S. total ticking with gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles and Ashley Spencer added a bronze, with another American 1-2 in that race only just thwarted by Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen.

"We are making history out here,” Muhammad said of the U.S. team’s gold rush.

Dalilah Muhammad's gold in the 400 hurdles has helped the U.S. to 24 medals in track and field with three days of competition remaining.

With three days of competition to come, the United States was up to 24 medals in track and field, including eight gold.

For a few short moments on Day 7 the track and field competition, the U.S. women’s 4x100 relay team was a little like Usain Bolt: They were the only ones everyone was looking at.

Tianna Bartoletta nestled into the starting blocks in Lane 2 for the U.S. team’s re-run — on their own and against the clock only — after they fumbled the baton in their original qualifier, but got another chance following a protest.

With just the clock and the crowd for company, they took the baton around in 41.77 seconds to knock slowest-qualifier China out the final.

“We were laughing and joking out there,” English Gardner said. “Our coach said before we went out there, ‘It’s just like practice, just the whole world will be watching. Be patient, stay patient with each other, and just do your job.”

Baton beats

South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the outright favorite for the women’s 800 title, qualified for the final as she breezed to victory in her semifinal heat, pretty much unchallenged, in 1 minute 58.15 seconds.

... Croatia’s Sara Kolak won the women’s javelin, another first-time Olympic champion.