EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Watching American Ashton Eaton compete is to view the future of the decathlon.
Already the world record holder in the indoor multi-events, the 24-year-old appears mentally and physically ready to challenge Czech Roman Sebrle’s 2001 world decathlon record of 9.026 points.
“That only one guy has done it (top 9,000 points) is a testament to how tough the event is to master,” Eaton told reporters after a pre-U.S. Olympic trials news conference on Tuesday.
“But it is an obtainable mark, and if it is there, I am definitely going to go for it.
“Based on what I have been doing in practice, I would probably be able to get it, maybe sooner than later.”
Eaton’s rapid improvement in the field events, with the throws still a work in progress, has put him on that plateau.
Yet, the Oregon native refuses to paint himself as the favorite in a highly competitive decathlon this weekend at the U.S. trials in Eugene.
“I don’t think anybody but Cassius Clay (boxer Muhammad Ali) would answer that question with ‘Yeah, I am the one!’” he said of the two-day competition, which boasts not only Eaton but Olympic champion Bryan Clay and twice world champion Trey Hardee.
“I am confident that I can get personal bests,” Eaton said. “I am not sure how many points.”
Eaton, with a career best of 8,729 points, currently stands behind Clay (8,832) and Hardee (8,790), but there is talk he could soar this weekend not only beyond those marks but past Dan O’Brien’s two decades old American record of 8,891, which was the world record in 1992.
Already Eaton, whose girl friend is Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen, has set personal bests this season in half of the events that comprise the decathlon.
Yet, so tough are his competitors this weekend that many are saying the trio of Eaton, Hardee and Clay could sweep the medals at the London Olympics. The last Olympic clean sweep was by the United States at the Helsinki Games in 1952.
Eaton, who excels in the decathlon running events, shied away from such predictions because of the nature of the event, where injuries occur frequently, and the pressure it would put on the Americans.
He finished 100 points behind Hardee at the 2011 world championships when Clay was injured.
“My undoing was my own expectations for myself,” Eaton said. “Once I didn’t get those in the first two events, it kind of just went downhill.”
He responded in March by breaking the heptathlon world record indoors for a third consecutive year.
“The indoor multi-events caters to my abilities more than the outdoor,” he said. “It has the one throw. It is mostly speed and jumps which I feel like my body type is built for.”
He hopes to build on that success at the U.S. trials and has even bigger dreams for London.
“I think everybody would like to accomplish all their hopes and dreams and have it happen at the Olympic Games,” he said.
“If you could get a gold medal and break a world record and have it all happen at the Olympic Games, you might as well just quit because what are the chances of it happening again.”
Editing by John Mehaffey