Saturday, June 23, the second day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, was big for Ryan Martin, and enormous for Ashton Eaton.
A week after his graduation from UCSB, Martin turned sped down the stretch of the 800-meter semifinals to qualify for Monday night’s final that will send three runners to the London Olympics.
Eaton took off like a shot in the final lap of the decathlon 1,500 meters and pushed his score to 9,039 points, a new world record. The Oregon Elite decathlete topped the record of 9,026 set by Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic in 2001.
Martin will join an elite field in the 800 final, including Khadevis Robinson and Nick Symmonds, who have eight national championships between them. Also making the cut was UC Irvine’s Charles Jock, the NCAA champion.
After finishing fourth behind Jock in the collegiate championships, Martin said he was motivated to prove himself in the trials at Oregon’s Hayward Field. “I’m going to race with a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I didn’t do well in the NC’s. I’m better than that.”
Martin went to the starting line for the second semifinal knowing what he had to do – earn an automatic qualifying spot. “The first heat had some fast runners, so I knew I was going to have to take third or better.” He was running second down the backstretch of the final lap when a sudden cavalry charge dropped him to fifth. “I got pushed around a little bit,” Martin said. But he kept his focus, ran down Tevan Everett and Rob Novak, and broke clear into third place behind two Oregon half-milers, Tyler Mulder and Symmonds. Martin’s time was 1:47:37.
Five runners advanced from the first heat, led by Robinson (with the best time of 1:45.83) and Duane Solomon, a former USC runner from Lompoc.
The men’s 800 will conclude Monday’s schedule of events at 7:47 p.m. Martin said the day off will help him. “I’m going to do a lot of R and R and maybe watch a movie,” he said.
Eaton, meanwhile, was on Cloud Nine after his record-shattering performance in the decathlon. It seemed the clouds were against him on Friday. Rain poured down when he competed in the last two events of the day – the high jump and 400 meters – and he fell off a world record pace, although the American record (Dan O’Brien’s 8,891) seemed within his reach.
But his coach, Harry Marra, had other ideas after Eaton cleared 17’ 4 ½” in the pole vault Saturday. Two events remained.
“I asked Harry, ‘What do I have to do to get the American record?’” Eaton said. “Harry said, ‘Ashton, the world record.’”
Eaton went out and threw the javelin 193’1”, and then he knew exactly what it would take in the 1,500 meters – a time of 4:16, four seconds faster than he had ever run it. He ran the first two laps conservatively, but with the Eugene crowd of 21,795 cheering him on, the 24-year-old Oregon native accelerated briskly, running the final lap in 62 seconds to finish in 4:14.48.
Marra, who started his coaching career after training in Sam Adams’ decathlon program at UCSB, hugged Eaton beyond the finish line.
“There was no conversation,” Eaton said. “Just mutual laughter and emotions.”