BEIJING (AP) — This was going to hurt. No way around it for Ashton Eaton.
To get where the American decathlete wanted to go, he had to endure just a little more pain, dig just a little deeper. So Eaton gritted his teeth and charged ahead, grimacing as he stepped over a low railing and into the stands to wrap his exhausted arms around his wife.
That was about all the strength he had left. Setting a world record takes that much out of you.
With an all-out run in the final event, the 1,500 meters, Eaton finished the two-day event with 9,045 points on Saturday at the world championships. It was six points better than the mark he set at U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012.
“It’s like, ‘Where do you find the inner strength?’ I don’t know,” Eaton said. “But I think the important thing is to search for it.”
The 27-year-old Eaton hasn’t completed a full decathlon since capturing the world title in Moscow two years ago. That was also the last time he ran a 1,500.
But in the 10th and final event, with his Achilles and knee throbbing and the record within reach, he went for it. Eaton needed to finish in 4 minutes, 18.25 seconds to earn enough points. He used a faster runner, Larbi Bourrada of Algeria, to pace him around the track. And with the finish line in sight, Eaton pushed even harder.
He crossed the line, looked at the clock almost in disbelief — 4:17.52. Only, he didn’t have the energy to raise his hands. The only thing he could do was drop to the track, where he sprawled across two lanes. The runners finishing up the event carefully avoided stepping on him.
“I didn’t think this thing was possible,” Eaton said.
It always is whenever Eaton steps onto the track. Especially when he’s in this kind of shape.
On the first day, he broke the world-record time for the 400-meter decathlon event, finishing in 45.00 and eclipsing the old mark he shared with 1968 Olympic champion Bill Toomey by .68 seconds. He also ran the 100 meters in a championship-record 10.23 seconds.
Most of the second day, he was hovering within world-record range. What really did the trick was the javelin. He threw it 63.63 meters, not his best, but a mark that put him within striking distance going into the grueling 1,500.
“After his first warmup throw, I went down to give him a cue and he just said, ‘Coach, I’m ready,” said Harry Marra, who instructs Eaton and his wife, heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton. “I could see it in his eyes. He knew.”
Shortly after hugging his wife, Eaton ever-so-slowly made his way over for pictures in front of the on-track display flashing his world-record score in yellow letters. He leaned against it for support.
Later, he was front and center when the decathletes lined up on the track to take a bow.
“You’re always fighting for gold, but when the guy breaks the world record you can’t complain too much,” said Damian Warner, who finished runner-up to Eaton.
He’s taking some of the credit, too. Warner gave Eaton some of his pasta before the 1,500.
“I think that helped a little bit,” Warner said.
Eaton shot back: “Yeah, but my breath smells like onions so …”
A small price to pay.
“I knew he was in shape to be able to get the record,” said Theisen-Eaton, who won silver in the heptathlon. “You just don’t know what you have left.”
Turns out, plenty.
“The first day, you’re an athlete, anyone can do the first day,” said Eaton, who went to the University of Oregon. “The second day, you’re a decathlete.”
Some are better than others, but nobody’s better than Eaton — and he’s not done breaking records yet.
“You can bet I’m going try to get more,” Eaton said. “Because that’s the only thing to do.”