DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA – At the end of the first day of the decathlon at the World Track & Field Championships on Saturday, Ashton Eaton walked past the media waiting for him in the mixed zone, ignoring their pleas for a quick comment.
The unhappy expression on his face said it all, though. Eaton was not pleased with his performance on Saturday, yet he was, in fact, leading the best decathletes in the world at the time.
What gives? Everyone who knows Eaton knows that he is one of the nicest and most genuine athletes you will find in track and field, or any sport, for that matter. And, he was ahead.
It was a revealing episode and gives some insight into the process of transformation Eaton must go through as he seeks to move from being a phenom in his event to becoming a world or Olympic champion.
Eaton went on the next day to finish second in the decathlon and claim the silver medal behind winner and repeat world champion Trey Hardee of the United States. When Eaton appeared in the mixed zone after day two, his demeanor was different than the evening before. The first thing he did was to apologize to the members of the media for not stopping to talk after day one.
Eaton proceeded to talk about his mental state during the grueling two-day competition. He admitted to being frustrated that he wasn’t putting up the times and marks here that he normally does.
“I’m so young in this sport – this is just my 16th decathlon. It wasn’t going very well. I knew I was leading yesterday but I was just so frustrated with myself. I wasn’t taking it very well.
“It was very much of a grind mentally . . . you can see it on the cameras every time, when I was getting down on myself.”
Eaton continued to reflect on this this during a press conference appearance on Monday in Daegu.
“It was good to compete with the other guys and see where I matched up. I learned a lot at this track meet because not everything went well. It’s easy for me to go and compete in Eugene and score a ton of points because of the home crowd and everything. But travelling halfway across the world to compete in a major championship is a little different. When things started to go bad Trey tried to pick me up but I wasn’t having it.
“Now that it’s over I can look back and say, ‘Yeah the next time this happens it is going to be ok.’ I was worried about the points and not necessarily my place, and that is not the right thing to be worried about.”
|Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton
Eaton’s friend and rival, Trey Hardee, said he was feeling the same thing during the competition, and he felt he never got into a good rhythm until the javelin, the ninth of the ten events.
“It was a decathlon,” Hardee said. “They’re not all fun, they’re not all great. You don’t feel good during all of them. No one really had a great meet. This was all about mental toughness.”
Eaton’s coach, Harry Marra not only agreed with that assessment, but he actually believes that the struggle Eaton encountered in Daegu may prove to be the best thing, in the long run, that could have happened.
“Of all the decathlons, no two are the same. He had great expectations, but the beauty is he fought off the demons and came through with flying colors.
“In every decathlon, you will learn something about yourself, whether it is something good that happens or something bad. I told Ashton after day one, ‘You’re going to learn some things about yourself here. How are you going to respond? Are you going to rise to the occasion, or are you going to roll over and play dead?”
“Ashton said to me, ‘You know maybe my naivety came into play because I really thought I was going to roll through this thing.’
“I always want to see him win and do well, but (coming in second) will serve him better than winning. Easy, because you always have to go through a hard time. I am tickled pink – it will help him.”
Eaton referred to the German word for the decathlon – “Zehnkampf,” which literally translates as, “ten struggles.”
“I feel like I had ten struggles this meet,” he said.
However, both Marra and Eaton, teacher and student, agree that going through the struggle now may lead to triumph in the future, maybe even Olympic gold in London.