Eaton took gold in the Olympic decathlon – the event that bestows the title of "world’s greatest athlete" – holding off his U.S. teammate Hardee on the final day of competition. The world-record holder in the event, Eaton accumulated 8,869 points for the win. Hardee finished second with 8,671 points. The 1-2 finish is the first time in 56 years that the United States has won gold and silver in the event, matching the feat of Milt Campbell and Rafer Johnson in the 1956 Melbourne Games.
And on a day when Usain Bolt was calling himself the “greatest athlete to ever live," Eaton’s traditional title was echoed by his top competitor.
"So Ashton doesn’t have to sound selfish or self-centered, Ashton is the best athlete to ever walk the planet – hands down," Hardee said. "The title bestowed upon the Olympic champion in the decathlon is 'world’s greatest athlete.' Ashton is the world-record holder in that event. The same [reason] Usain Bolt can be the fastest man on the planet – because that's the title that’s bestowed upon those event winners."
[Photos: U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton wins gold]
In a competition scored by the cumulative point totals of 10 events, Eaton won three – the 100 meters, long jump, and 400 meters. He also finished second in the high jump and third in the pole vault. That was more than enough to put Eaton in position to coast in his final event, the 1,500 meters, which saw him ease his way around the track en route to a seventh-place finish and more than enough points to claim the United States' 13th gold medal in the Olympic decathlon.
Only 24 years old and just hitting his prime in the event, the gold was Eaton's first Olympic medal. And while his dominance in the decathlon is just beginning, he’s in no hurry to duke it out with Bolt over who is the world's best athlete.
"There's no fight,” Ashton said of his title versus Bolt's. "Usain is clearly awesome in his own right. He's an icon of the sport and whatever. Titles are for, I don't know, books and stuff. I just like what I'm doing."
"I'm a great athlete, but to do 10 events, especially the 1,500, I’ve got to give it to him," the 100- and 200-meter gold medalist said.
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Hardee was never far behind Eaton, finishing second to his teammate in the 100 meters and holding the second-points position throughout the 10-event decathlon. Hardee finished third or higher in four events – the 100m, 400m (third place), discus (third place), and javelin (third place).
His silver is a redeeming moment following a tumultuous ride through the decathlon, including the 2008 Beijing Games, which saw Hardee foul out of the pole vault and lose his chance at a medal. Three years later, Hardee's London Games were thrown into doubt when he blew out his elbow in the world championships and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in September 2011.
"As the days and weeks and months and years pass, Ashton and I will look back on this and realize how special it really is and what this really meant," Hardee said. "…That [gold and silver] hasn't happened in a long time for the United States. It's something that Ashton and I, when we're 80 and 90 years old, our grandkids are going to puff out their chests a little bit. I'm honored to be a part of it."
Eaton became the new world-record holder in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, scoring 9,039 points and breaking the 11-year-old total of 9,026 set by the Czech Republic's Roman Sebrle. And he wasted no time getting off to a fast start in London, winning the 100-meter portion of his event in 10.35 seconds – good enough to break the record of 10.41 run by Bill Toomey of the U.S. in the 1968 Mexico City Games.
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