Ashton Eaton: The best athlete you've never heard of aiming for 10 out of 10
Today at the Olympics: World-record decathlete tells Simon Turnbull he wants gold but is happy unknown
It was Steve Ovett who described the decathlon as "Nine Mickey Mouse events followed by a slow 1500m". He did so with a glint in his eye, and his tongue very much in his cheek. He was taking the Mickey Mouse out of Daley Thompson at a time when the great British all-rounder was in Louisville Lip mode, telling the world that he was the greatest.
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And so he was. As holder of the world record for the decathlon, Thompson could claim in absolute terms to be indisputably the greatest all-round athlete the world had ever seen.
It is a valid claim that can now be made by Ashton Eaton. At the US Olympic trials at Eugene in his home state of Oregon in June, the 24-year-old opened with a 100m time of 10.21sec – 0.04sec quicker than Dwain Chambers' winning time in the individual 100m at the GB trials on the same weekend. He proceeded to clock 13.34sec for the 110m hurdles and clear 5.30m in the pole vault en route to a stunning haul of 9,039 points.
In doing so, Eaton eclipsed Roman Sebrle's 11-year-old world record by 13 points. And yet he lines up for day one of the decathlon at the Games of Olympiad XXX today as a virtual unknown phenomenon outside track and field circles. "I don't know what I have to do to get the profile of Usain Bolt," the Taekwondo black belt told The Independent. "Maybe make up a sweet new pose. But that's actually not my goal. I just really like competing in the decathlon and doing what I'm doing. As far as the global profile… if it comes, cool. If it doesn't, I'm indifferent."
It certainly hasn't come yet. In contrast to the world's fastest man, the world's best all-rounder can walk through London's Olympic Park without causing mass hysteria.
"I have been stopped a few times," he said. "Some volunteers have stopped me and asked to take pictures and stuff. I'm happy to oblige them but… I'm a normal person and it's weird for people to come up and ask to take my picture."
Last month Eaton shed his kit to have his picture taken for ESPN The Magazine, but it is the exposure of his talent over the course of the next two days that could help to gain something approaching the recognition he deserves.
Another tour de force of a world record performance would help, of course, but Eaton insists that Olympic gold is his sole aim.
"I'm not going for the record," he said. "And I don't expect it. It's unrealistic to think I'm going to get another world record – especially at the Olympic Games. There are lots of things that happen mentally and physically that I don't even know about yet, because I've never been to an Olympic Games. It's just what people have said.
"I think what I did in Eugene helped me mentally for these Games. Some of my marks weren't the best and I did some things that were good. The thing with the decathlon is it's never going to be perfect.
"That, I think, is the eternal struggle of the multi-events. That's what attracts most athletes to it. You're always striving to get 10 perfect events and it just never happens. But, of course, you always work to do that."
And pushing yourself to the physical limit. Asked what the world decathlon record feels like on your body the next day, Eaton paused for thought, then replied: "I think it would be similar to falling out of a tree and hitting the branches all of the way down."
What's on TV...
9.30am Canoe Sprint Men's K1 1,000m final, featuring Tim Brabants, followed by the C1 1,000m final, including Richard Jefferies, at 9.48am.
10.10am Athletics Men's decathlon 100m. The all-round event gets under way, with London-born Daniel Awde representing Great Britain. The long jump follows at 11am and the shot at 12.50pm.
10.45am Athletics Men's 5,000m round one. Mo Farah seeks to claim a second gold of the Games as qualifying takes place for Saturday's final. Nick McCormick takes part in the second heat.
11.35am Athletics Women's 800m round one. Home athlete Lynsey Sharp runs in heat four.
12pm Equestrianism Jumping Individual final round A. Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, Scott Brash and Peter Charles all take part, with round B taking place at 2.45pm.
1pm Sailing Men's 49er medal race. Britain's Steve Morrison and Ben Rhodes sit in fifth place ahead of today's finale.
1.30pm Boxing Women's flyweight (51kg) semi-finals. Nicola Adams, the last (British) woman standing and already assured of a medal, takes on India's Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte, while Ireland's Katie Taylor faces Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan in the lightweight last four at 2pm.
3pm Cycling BMX Men's and women's seeding runs – featuring great British hope Shanaze Reade in the latter and Liam Phillips in the men's event.
6pm Athletics Men's decathlon high jump, with the 400m round having been first off at 9.30pm.
7pm Diving Women's 10m platform preliminaries. Stacie Powell and Monique Gladding provide home interest.
7.05pm Athletics Men's javelin qualifying, including Britain's Mervyn Luckwell.
7.15pm Athletics Men's 110m hurdles semi-finals. Featuring Lawrence Clarke and Andrew Turner from home soil. The final takes place at 9.15pm.
7.45pm Athletics Women's 1500m semi-finals. Hannah England runs in heat one, Lisa Dobriskey in heat two while Laura Weightman takes part in the final section.
8pm Hockey Women's semi-final. Great Britain seek to better their bronze of 1992 as they take on Argentina at the Riverbank Arena, with the winners of the earlier match between New Zealand and the Netherlands awaiting in Friday's final.
8.05pm Athletics Women's long jump final, with the men's 200m semi-finals following at 8.10pm. Christian Malcolm was the only Briton to come through yesterday's qualifying for the latter, with a certain Usain Bolt also still involved.
8.30pm Boxing Men's light-flyweight (49kg) quarter-finals. Irishman Paddy Barnes takes on India's Devendro Singh.
8.45pm Athletics Women's 400m hurdles final, with the 200m final following at 9pm.
10pm Boxing Men's lightweight (64kg) quarter-final. Thomas Stalker takes on Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg of Mongolia.
BBC 1 9-1pm, 1.45-6pm, 7-10pm
BBC 2 1-1.45pm, 6-7pm, 10-10.40pm
BBC 3 9am-11pm
BBC 1 10.40pm-12am
Additional coverage on BBCi
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