In 2006 as a senior at Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon, Ashton Eaton had never competed in the decathlon or heptathlon.
Now in 2016, on the eve of the two-day heptathlon competition at the 16th IAAF World Indoor Championships in his home state, he is in many ways the quintessential combined-events athlete. The intervening decade has seen Eaton’s meteoric rise take him to heights never before achieved in the history of the world.
Within four years of picking up the combined events as a first-year student at the University of Oregon, he scored 6499 points at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships to topple the nearly two-decades-old heptathlon world record held by former American great Dan O’Brien.
He’s since twice broken his own world record in the event – which now stands at 6645 points from the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey – and won two IAAF World Indoor golds. Such is his proficiency in the heptathlon that Eaton has only contested the event three times since completing his collegiate eligibility, resulting in two World titles, two world records, and the three highest scores in the history of the world.
That’s all while saying nothing of his outdoor accomplishments in the decathlon, which are as numerous as they are historic: Three-time IAAF World Championship medallist, including two golds, 2012 Olympic champion, and the first man in history to score more than 9000 points twice.
For all the 28-year-old has achieved, there remains several historic goals left on the table for the taking this Friday and Saturday in the Oregon Convention Center.
“I think it can get better by doing it in the place I was born,” he said at the Thursday IAAF press conference in the Pioneer Courthouse Square, where he hopes to return later this weekend for the heptathlon medal ceremony. “I love this sport because I get to travel the world and experience different countries, I get to interact with my fellow competitors from different countries, and it’s more of a global enterprise rather than the United States, this, that and separate.
“You have a lot of pride when you bring someone to your home, and I think that’s what I’m doing here. I want to show the city of Portland, where I was born what they were able to produce in the state of Oregon, and show everyone else who’s a visitor that this is a cool place.”
In fact, a win would secure him yet another cool position in the all-time record books. No one – man or woman – has ever won the IAAF World Indoor Championships combined events title in their home nation.
In fact, only 2006 bronze-medalist Russian Olga Levenkova has even finished top-three on her home soil in Championships, claiming women’s pentathlon bronze in Moscow that year. It should be noted that Mike Smith of Canada won heptathlon silver in the 1993 edition of the Championships in Toronto, but the heptathlon was a non-Championships event that year.
Additionally, no man in IAAF World Indoor Championships history has won the event – which was officially introduced in 1995 – in three consecutive editions of this now-biennial world gathering. Bryan Clay, America’s previous combined-events standard-bearer, came close with a pair of World titles in 2008 and 2010 preceded by two consecutive runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2006 – the latter coming in a five-point loss to Germany’s André Niklaus.
With all that said and without an indoor combined-event competition under his belt dating back as far as 2014, let alone this 2016 indoor campaign, how does The World’s Greatest Athlete feel about his preparation and his three-peat chances?
“I hold myself to high standards,” he said, referring last weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships. “Every time I go into competition, the general idea I have, is I’m going to try to PB. I don’t see any reason to do anything else, and I didn’t [PB at the USATF Indoor Championships]. I thought if I don’t PB maybe I’ll have good performances, and I also thought I didn’t.
“Sometimes you need that, though. After the Championships last weekend, I got really fired up. I said, ‘Ashton, basically get your head out, fix it, and let’s get ready for these Portland World Indoors.’”
The heptathlon begins Friday, March 18, at 11:30am Pacific Time with the 60 meters. Day two of the heptathlon starts Saturday, March 19, at 11am Pacific Time with the 60-meter hurdles and concludes with the 1000 meters, scheduled at approximately 7:35pm.