LONDON — Instead of one victory lap, Ashton Eaton got four.
His Olympic gold medal in the decathlon was all but sealed when he reached the last event, the 1,500 meters, where he simply needed to finish in an average time to win the event on Thursday.
The world-record holder cruised over the four laps, crossed the line and fell to the track – partly of exhaustion but mostly out of elation.
Eaton finished the two-day competition with 8,869 points to defeat fellow American Trey Hardee by 198. It’s the first time the Americans have gone 1-2 in the Olympic decathlon since Milton Gray Campbell and Rafer Johnson in 1956.
“That’s what Trey and I really, really wanted,” said Eaton.
Especially this year, on the 100th anniversary of the event. At the 1912 Olympics, Jim Thorpe won the inaugural title.
Thanks to Eaton, the decathlon gold is staying in the United States. Eaton joins 2008 winner Bryan Clay and, of course, Bruce Jenner, in earning the honor as “The World’s Greatest Athlete.”
Even Usain Bolt, the star of the night with his victory in the 200 meters, was impressed.
“I’m a great athlete, but to do 10 events, especially the 1,500 – I’ve got to give it to him,” Bolt said.
Though the warm-and-sunny conditions in London were far better than the rain, wind and cold at U.S. Olympic trials in Oregon where Eaton broke the record earlier this summer, he fell short of the mark by 170 points.
Not that it mattered. His goal was simply to win a medal, not eclipse his world mark of 9,039 points.
“I’m satisfied,” Eaton said.
Given that Eaton is just 24 and heading into his prime, Hardee’s not sure anyone is going to catch up to him anytime soon.
“It’s safe to say my reign is over,” said Hardee, a two-time world champion. “I still think my best decathlon is ahead of me, but Ashton’s are, too.”
Eaton was consistent throughout the schedule. He started off by breaking Bill Toomey’s 44-year-old Olympic record in the decathlon 100-meter dash and took off from there. He also scored the most points in the long jump and 400 meters.
His only lackluster event was the discus, where he finished 22nd and lost points to the field. But it really didn’t matter as he built his lead back up in the pole vault, where he wound up third.
Soon after finishing the 1,500, Eaton was greeted by his fellow competitors, each giving him a congratulatory slap on the back. After hugging Hardee, Eaton dashed over to embrace his fiancee, Brianne Theisen.
“This is super hard to grasp,” Eaton said. “For me, I want 10 perfect events. If I really felt like I was the world’s greatest athlete, I’d get 10 great events. But I know that’s pretty much not possible. That’s the toughness of the decathlon.”