Dan O'Brien, Bryan Clay, Bruce Jenner, Bill Toomey, Robert Mathias, Jim Thorpe.
These are just some of the names in the list of the great American decathletes, a list that 2012 Olympian and decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton hopes to add his name to by winning the gold medal in London.
In the history of the decathlon, the United States has had an incredible winning tradition, medalling all but five times that the event was contested. They have boasted over half of the 23 gold medalists as 12 decathlete champions have come from the U.S. starting with Jim Thorpe in the second edition of the Olympic Games and so far ending with Bryan Clay, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist.
In 2012, it is almost assured that an American, whether it be Eaton or two-time defending world champion Trey Hardee, becomes the newest addition to the gold medal club. Both have had incredible success in recent years with Eaton winning the U.S. Olympic Trials and etching his name in the history books in the process, and Hardee winning every major title in the decathlon since 2009.
Coming into the Olympic Games, Eaton experienced somewhat of a meteoric rise to stardom. The recent University of Oregon grad began his career in the decathlon during the 2008 season following Beijing. He didn't really begin to impact the stage until 2011, when he finished second to Hardee at the world championships.
It was the U.S. Olympic Trials, though, that truly served as the 24-year-old Eaton's coming out party. He dominated the track events as has become his signature and set personal bests in some of the field events, as well. He did enough to break the 9,000-point barrier, something only the Czech Republic's Roman Sebrle had done before him.
In his final event, the 1500 meters, Eaton blew away the field and earned enough points to best Sebrle's world record. With Jenner and O'Brien in attendance and cheering him on, Eaton not only broke O'Brien's American record, but also broke the world record, single-handedly making him the best decathlete this world has ever seen.
Eaton has shown every measure of the world record-setting performance he displayed at the U.S. Trials so far in these Olympic Games. In the first event of the decathlon, he set a new Olympic record for decathletes in the 100-meter dash running the race in 10.35 seconds.
With a first-place finish in the 100, Eaton built a lead that he wouldn't relinquish. He added two more first-place finishes in the 400 and the long jump and finished second in the high jump. His worst finish was 10th in the shot put, traditionally one of Eaton's worst events. Even then, however, he placed high enough and received enough points to keep his lead over Hardee firmly supplanted at a little more than two hundred points.
Eaton is not only on pace to break the Olympic record held by Sebrle, but he has also given himself a chance to top his own world record. It will take a lot of strong finishes going forward but some of Eaton's best events still remain.
As it has been in the past, fatigue and injuries can affect performances in the decathlon. Unlike the rest of the track and field athletes who have days off in between semis and finals, decathletes have to complete five events in two days. That said, Eaton cannot afford to ride his day one lead if he wants to win.
Hardee is a great competitor and, like Eaton, has some very strong events remaining. He has put himself in a good position with a first-place finish in the 400 and two second-place finishes in the long jump and 100-meter dash, both times finishing behind Eaton. He is also the two-time world champion and even though he has a little under 250 points to make up, Hardee shouldn't be counted out, especially if Eaton does not have a strong second day.
Although the decathlon has fallen in importance in recent years, the glory to be had from winning this competition is something that no other athlete can claim. To win the decathlon you can't just be good at one thing, you have to be good at 10. Not only do you need to be able to sprint, but you also need to run a mile, throw a javelin and jump your highest and farthest as well.
The decathlon is not easy, not by any means and the winner of the competition earns every bit of the title, "world's greatest athlete." Records aside, Eaton just wants to be able to earn this title.
"You guys keep track of the (world record) pace," Eaton said, rolling his eyes. "I'll keep trying to do my best." - courtesy of ESPN
Less for the glory and the place in history and more for the gold, Eaton just wants to add his name to this list. He wants to be the Olympic decathlon champion and the way he performed on the first day of the competition, he has got to be considered the favorite to make his dream a reality.