Inside Scoop: The Next Big Thing

In preparation for my big move, I had spent some time on the stadium rail, taking in the women’s 800 meter run. This was the seventh and final event making up the heptathlon, and despite a long two days of competition, the ladies looked completely fresh as they lined up to start. Oregon’s Brianne Theisen had pretty much wrapped up the heptathlon title already, assuming she ran a decent 800 meters. There was a lot of bunching in the standings behind her though, and a lot was at stake. Not only did the heptathlete’s finish count toward their team’s overall point total in the upcoming Pac-10 Track & Field Championships, but a trip to the NCAA Heptathlon Championship was on the line.
Two minutes and 14 seconds later it was over, and Ryann Krais, a sophomore from UCLA had won the race, finished second overall in the heptathlon, and probably secured a trip to the nationals. I’m not an expert, but I’m thinking that her 5,426 points was an improvement over her previous season best of “NP”, as listed on the Pac-10’s website. “No Points”? “New Participant”? “Nuclear Proliferator”? Whatever the case, I was inspired to carry out my own dash.

An exhausted but happy Ryann Krais

Speaking of which…For my money, pole vaulting has to be the most humbling of sports. There are no degrees of success on any given attempt – you either clear the bar or you have failed. And if things don’t go so well, you have a split second as you lie sprawled on the mat to reflect on your failure before the bar and/or your own pole most likely come crashing down on top of you. It brings to mind that scene in Airplane! where everybody on the flight lines up to slap the hysterical woman.

ASU’s Marcinko clears 15′ 11″

With that in mind, I was captivated by the efforts of Jeremy Marcinko, a freshman from Arizona State. As the height of the bar was inexorably raised, one athlete after another eventually failed on each of their three attempts to clear it, thus retiring from the competition. Marcinko crashed and burned on his first two attempts – sometimes badly – before somehow or another pulling it together and crossing the bar on his third and final attempt at one height after another, after another. It was a seminar on persistence, and when it was over he had out-vaulted all but one competitor. Ashton Eaton. Yes, that Ashton Eaton.

You mean you haven’t heard of Ashton Eaton? Truth be told, neither had I prior to that day. But now that I’ve seen him I can’t for the life of me figure out why he has such a low profile. Ever since the days of Jim Thorpe, the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” has been bestowed upon the man who is the reigning Olympic Decathlon Champion. Does the name Bruce Jenner ring a bell? His gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics catapulted him onto Wheaties boxes and into Household Name status (for a good, i.e. pre-Kardashian reason). Bryan Clay is the current “WGA”, having won the decathlon in Beijing in 2008, but when the London Olympics rolls around in 2012 he will be 32 years old. You read it here first – Ashton Eaton, presently of the University of Oregon, will take Clay’s place. Everything seems to come easy to him. Of the ten events that make up the decathlon, he won seven – and several by wide margins. He’s charismatic, he’s telegenic. And the name? Are you kidding me? It’s right out of celebrity central casting. The man has presence.

Eaton’s winning pole vault

None of this was news to Terry Taylor, aka the RV Goddess ( I got to chatting with this Oregon resident and huge fan of Ducks track & field, and found that in addition to being pretty much unbeatable in the decathlon, Eaton also holds a little thing called the world’s record in the indoor heptathlon. Terry verified that yes indeed, he is the total package and that on top of it all, “he’s a really nice guy”. It barely seems fair to the rest of the male population.

Ashton Eaton – Future WGA

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