Below the observatory at Westmont College is the track-and-field complex, where Harry Marra was very much in a state of observation. It was 10:30 on a recent morning, and Ashton Eaton was warming up for his first workout of the day. As the sleek but powerfully built Eaton (6′1″, 185 pounds) strode easily down the straightaway as if he were a racecar going 60 mph, Marra did not take his eyes off him. “If something’s not right, I can tell,” Marra said. “Coaches who spend this time on their cell phones might miss something. I want to be sure he’s ready to go.”
With such meticulous attention and Eaton’s reciprocal trust in Marra, they had the most successful year of any single coach-athlete combination in 2012. Eaton competes in the decathlon — a conglomeration of 10 running, jumping, and throwing events — and at the U.S. Olympic Trials, he shattered the world record with 9,039 points. Seven weeks later, Eaton validated his status as “the world’s greatest athlete” by winning the Olympic championship in London.
Eaton gave his thoughtful take on the two accomplishments, the world record and gold medal: “I think Eugene [Oregon, site of the world record] was more exciting. How do I put it? You know how you watch a movie, and you get an unexpected ending, and you leave thinking, ‘Man, that was a great movie.’ Then you watch another movie, and it kind of pans out like you thought it would — still a good movie, but without the unexpected ending. That was London.”
Eaton finished the decathlon at Eugene with an astonishing burst of speed in the last lap of the 1,500 meters. “After the trials, I was the one to beat in London,” he said. “London was not so much about getting good marks. London was more about not making any mistakes.” In a competition that is fraught with peril — failing to get over the bar in the pole vault, stumbling over a hurdle — Eaton had no anxious moments. “He never backed himself into a corner,” Marra said. “It was just, ‘Man, I control this thing,’ and the end result took care of itself.”
Now they are back at the beginning on the Westmont track, the same place where Marra and Eaton started their outdoor training in 2012. Throughout the month of March, they have taken advantage of the mild weather. They will stay until the Sam Adams Multi-Event Meet on April 5-6, after which they will return to their home base of Eugene, where Eaton had competed for the Oregon Ducks and now represents the Oregon Track Club Elite.
Eaton’s first full decathlon of 2013 will take place in late May at Götzis, Austria, site of the world’s most prestigious annual multi-event meet. Looming in August are the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow.
“I’d like to score 9,000 again,” Eaton said, adding that he will not get there by overlooking every step to the top. “Every time I’m on the track, I try to PR [set a personal record] in every event.” He gave an indication of what was to come a year ago when he ran the 400 meters at Westmont in 45.68 seconds. He has set decathlon world records in the 100 (10.21), long jump (27 feet), and 110 hurdles (13.35).
His weakest events are the throws, and that’s where he has room to blow up his score. His best javelin mark last year was 203 feet in London. He competed at Cal Poly this month and unleashed a throw of 218′ 7 1/2″. At 25, he still has youth on his side. “People say you peak at 26, 27, whatever,” he said. “I honestly don’t know. The body will start going south at some point, I imagine.”
He almost had a serious setback a couple of weeks ago. He was tossing javelins on the Westmont field with Brianne Theisen, an Oregon graduate who competes for Canada in the women’s heptathlon (she was 11th at the London Olympics) and is also coached by Marra. “I’m picking up a javelin with my back to her, and I heard this really loud scream, ‘Aaaaash!’” Eaton said. “I ducked to my left because I heard her voice coming from the right. … As I was turning my head, I saw the tip of the javelin right here [he pointed to a small scar beneath his nose]. It grazed my face and stuck in the ground.”
Theisen’s inadvertent throw was the second time she has sent a projectile his way — the first was the figurative arrow of Cupid. The two are getting married on July 13 in Oregon.
SAM ADAMS MEET: Admission is free to the decathlon and heptathlon competitions at Westmont Friday, April 5, at noon, and Saturday, April 6, at 11 a.m. Along with a number of visiting and area athletes trying to achieve scores, Eaton and Theisen will compete in selected events.