Given his decathlon dominance at his young age, Ashton Eaton is poised to become the best decathlete in a of a quarter century, since Daley Thompson.
Eaton has certainly had a pretty good six-week stretch.
On June 23rd, he placed first at the US Olympic Trials, breaking the world record in the process. He raised the bar to 9,039, just the second time in decathlon history anyone has broken the 9,000-point barrier. Once in London, Eaton stood alone once again, winning by nearly a 200-point margin to take home the gold.
It's much too soon right now to anoint Eaton the best of all time. If he remains the top decathlete through the 2016 Rio Games, however, he will warrant consideration against anyone in the history of the event.
Looking towards 2016, Eaton has to be considered the clear favorite to repeat. The only decathlete within striking distance in London was fellow countryman Trey Hardee, who is 28 and will be past his prime when it comes time for the Rio Games.
At 24 years old, Eaton is only going to get better in the decathlon. Going a step further, he has already done more at his age than anyone has in decades.
The last decathlete to win Olympic gold at such a young age was Robert Zmelik, who was 23 when he won in 1992. Since then, the gold medalists have been Dan O'Brien (age 30), Erki Nool (30), Roman Sebrle (29) and Bryan Clay (28).
When we look at world-record holders, we have to go back to the days of Daley Thompson and Jurgen Hingsen to find someone Eaton's age. Thompson set a world record in 1980 at the unfathomable age of 21. Hingsen would kick off a rivalry by taking the title from him in 1982, when he was 24 as well.
By the time they peaked in 1984, Thompson had held the world record on four occasions, Hingsen on three. Fittingly, they ended up tied with a world record of 8,798, 170 points better than Bruce Jenner's 1976 mark that Thompson first beat.
Though Eaton only beat Sebrle's score by 13 points to set the current world record, it was the decathlon standard since 2001. That said, unless Eaton can put some distance between his mark and Sebrle's, it will lack the historical significance of what Thompson did in besting Jenner.
If he keeps up his current pace, Eaton should become the first decathlete since Thompson to win consecutive decathlon gold medals. Unless he can break 9,100 points, medal at the 2020 Games, or both, he won't top the impact Thompson had on the event.
Even so, there would be no shame if Eaton falls short of Thompson. He would still safely secure a place as one of the best there's ever been.
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