August 10, 2012

Even Bolt agrees Eaton's 'World's Greatest Athlete'

Instead of one victory lap, Ashton Eaton got four.

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 Thursday night.

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 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, who's from Eugene, Ore.

Thanks to Eaton, the decathlon gold is staying in the United States. Eaton joins 2008 winner Bryan Clay and two-time winner Bob Mathias (1948, 1952) among Americans 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 the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon where Eaton broke the world record earlier this summer, he fell short of the mark by 170 points. Not that it mattered. His goal was to win a medal, not eclipse his mark of 9,039 points.

"I'm satisfied," Eaton said as he struggled to put his accomplishment into words.

Eaton, 24, was consistent throughout the schedule. He started off by breaking Bill Toomey's 44-year-old Olympic record in the decathlon's 100-meter dash and took off from there. He also scored the most points in the long jump and 400 meters.

Elsewhere on the track, Manteo Mitchell felt the pop in his leg and knew it wasn't good.

The American sprinter had half a lap to go in the first leg of the 4x400-meter relay preliminaries and a choice to make: keep running or stop and lose the race. To him, it was not much of a choice.

He finished the lap and limped to the side to watch the Americans finish the race and qualify easily for the final. A few hours later, doctors confirmed what he suspected: He had run the last 200 meters with a broken left fibula.

"I heard it and I felt it," Mitchell said. "But I figured it's what almost any person would've done in that situation."

Mitchell finished his leg in a more-than-respectable 46.1 seconds, and the United States tied the Bahamas in the second heat in 2 minutes, 58.87 seconds – the fastest time ever run in the first round of the relay at the Olympics.

The 4x400 relay team also will be without Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic champion at 400 meters, who tore his left hamstring and will miss the final Saturday.

Wariner joins Mitchell and 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt on the sideline. Merritt hurt his groin in 400-meter individual qualifying. The U.S. team probably will look to a 400-meter hurdler or short-distance sprinter to join Joshua Mance, Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum in the final.

In other track and field developments Thursday:

The United States and Jamaica reached the final in the women's 4x100-meter Olympic relay. The Americans easily won their heat in 41.64 seconds, with Tianna Madison, Jeneba Tarmoh, Bianca Knight and Lauryn Williams carrying the baton.

The Jamaicans weren't nearly as smooth, nearly botching the exchange between the second and third legs. The Jamaicans finished in 42.37 seconds, edged at the line by Ukraine.

Christian Taylor won the triple jump gold medal, overtaking U.S. teammate Will Claye with his fourth jump in the final. Taylor, the world champion, earned the Olympic title with a best jump of 58 feet, 5 1/4 inches.

David Rudisha of Kenya set the first world record on the Olympic track to win the 800 meters. He ran in 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, shaving one-tenth of a second off the mark he set in 2010.

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