Two Olympic decathlon gold medals. Rewriting the world record not once but twice. Ashton Eaton really can’t envision accomplishing much more in an event that comes with the label of world’s greatest athlete.
So, he’s stepping away less than three weeks shy of his 29th birthday.
Eaton and heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton announced their retirements Wednesday in side-by-side essays on their website.
Considered the first family of multi-events, Ashton and Brianne met at the University of Oregon as teenagers and married in July 2013. Their coach, Harry Marra, officiated the wedding.
Ashton hinted he might be moving on to other things soon after defending his title at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. He leaves with his world record standing at 9,045 points, which he achieved at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. It was six points better than his previous record set during dreary weather in front of a hometown crowd in Eugene, Oregon, at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.
“Frankly there isn’t much more I want to do in (the) sport,” Ashton wrote. “I gave the most physically robust years of my life to the discovery and pursuit of my limits in this domain. Did I reach them? Truthfully I’m not sure anyone really does.
“It seems like we tend to run out of time or will before we run out of potential. That makes humanity limitless then, as far as I’m concerned. And I think that’s inspiring.”
Some of Ashton’s top rivals were already weighing in on Twitter. Fellow American Trey Hardee , who finished with silver at the 2012 London Games, posted a tribute to Ashton that ended with: “He carried the legacy flag of American decathlon champions and stuck it in the ground atop Everest.”
Hardee also referred to Ashton as “GOAT” — Greatest Of All Time. That’s high praise in a long line of distinguished American decathletes, which includes Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Bill Toomey, Rafer Johnson, Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien and Bryan Clay, to name just a few.
Ashton’s biggest influence may have actually been Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic — the decathlete who inadvertently inspired him and whose colossal world record Ashton would eventually break.
Here’s how the story goes, as recounted by Ashton: As a kid, he happened upon a newspaper with a headline along the lines of “Galactic Olympics “ or “Interstellar Olympics,” with the article wondering who would represent Earth should one take place. The opinion was Sebrle.
“I considered myself knowledgeable about sports. But out of all the athletes in the world we were choosing this man I had never seen doing something I’d never heard of; the decathlon,” Ashton wrote. “I left to go about my day and forgot about that experience until five years later when I heard that word again; ‘decathlon.’ This time, I was being asked if I’d consider trying it. I said ‘sure.’”
Since then, he’s ruled the sport.
His departure comes before the expected retirement of another big name from the world of track and field. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt of Jamaica indicated that 2017 would be his final season of sprinting.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever have another Usain Bolt or another Ashton Eaton,” Hardee said in a phone interview. “But there are kids coming up ... and it’s going to be great to watch who fills those gaps.”
Through the years, Ashton’s constant training partner has been Brianne. They’re highly supportive each other, with Ashton sitting in the Rio stands while wearing a Canadian cap to root for his wife.
The 28-year-old Brianne, who represents Canada, won the bronze medal in Rio. She wrote in her essay how she usually got nervous before her final event.
But rather than her usual thrill of finishing, Brianne was mentally exhausted.
“I have never been so thankful to be finished something in my life. I felt like I never wanted to do another heptathlon again. This feeling confused me,” she wrote. “I took 3 months to completely get away. I didn’t think about those feelings. I didn’t want to make any decisions based on my mental exhaustion. But as the start of the 2017 season drew nearer, I felt more and more resistant to begin training.”
In his essay, Ashton closed with this line: “To Brianne; I’ve never seen such a high level of strength sustained for so long. I love you. What now??”