For decathlete champ Eaton, just 2 events at Millrose Games
NEW YORK (AP) The "world's greatest athlete" could be the fourth-best hurdler at Saturday's Millrose Games. And Ashton Eaton's OK with that.
Eaton is the Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the decathlon for the U.S., while his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, won silver at the last two world championships in the heptathlon for Canada. Other track and field stars will compete in their specialties multiple times before this summer's Rio Games, but for the decathlon and heptathlon, that's not realistic. Eaton, 28, and Theisen-Eaton, 27, each plan to complete the exhausting full event just once before going for matching gold medals in Brazil.
So on Saturday in the 109th edition of the indoor meet in New York City, Eaton will take part in simply the 60-meter hurdles and the long jump, and Theisen-Eaton will race only the hurdles.
"You learn by training; you get in shape by training," said their longtime coach, Harry Marra. "But you get sharp by running against the guy next to you competing."
The process of deciding which meets to enter and which events to do at each one can take weeks, Theisen-Eaton explained Thursday. They'll meet with their manager for hours, going over all the different options.
Marra wants them to compete in the long jump, which requires such precise timing, at least a couple of times during the season. They also need experience in their weaker events Theisen-Eaton is particularly committed to working on the javelin.
For the throws, they sometimes need to request a special invitation from a meet director to make the field because their personal bests wouldn't get them in otherwise. Or they may choose to go to smaller meets. Competing in the long jump and throws is especially important because decathletes and heptathletes get only three attempts in them.
Marra also would like to make sure Eaton races the 100 meters (which opens the decathlon) and Theisen-Eaton the 100 hurdles (which starts the heptathlon) as a "dress rehearsal" for how their full events will begin.
At last year's Millrose Games, Eaton competed in the hurdles and long jump and the high jump, if you count his leap over the 8-foot padded wall that stops the hurdlers' momentum beyond the finish line. Eaton had just set a personal best in the 60 hurdles and matched the time of Jason Richardson, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 110 hurdles.
"It's a sense that I rise above myself in order to just compete with them," Eaton said Thursday. "It's highly motivating I'm very much a competitor at heart. It's extremely helpful to have somebody that I know is that much better. For some reason, I believe I can compete with them, (and) I always end up doing well."
After Eaton won gold in London, coaching great Tom Tellez reminded Marra that unfortunately American fans remember only Olympic medals, not world championships. With the focus on Rio, Eaton didn't compete in a full decathlon for more than 24 months before the 2015 worlds during what Marra called "our work year."
Eaton then went out and broke his own world record in Beijing last August.
He'll need to complete a full decathlon during the U.S. Olympic trials in early July, with about six weeks of rest before the competition in Rio. Theisen-Eaton won't need to qualify for Canada, so she'll do her one pre-Olympic heptathlon at a meet in Austria in late May.
Eaton plans to compete in the heptathlon and Theisen-Eaton in the pentathlon at the world indoor championships next month in Portland, Oregon, in Eaton's home state. They train a couple of hours away in Eugene, where both attended the University of Oregon.
Theisen-Eaton figures that one hurdles race is the equivalent of three hurdles practices.
"It makes everything crisp," she said. "It gets you excited. It changes your mindset."
The hurdles aren't her strongest event, so racing against the specialists Saturday will help her hone her mental strategy for the starting blocks at the Olympics.
"I know there's going to be people in the hurdle race in Rio that are going to be better," she said. "How do I deal with that? How do I focus on my cues but also try to compete with them?"
For Allyson Felix, the Olympic gold medalist in the 200, Millrose also offers a chance to work on part of her own multi-event challenge. Felix will try for the 200-400 double in Rio, but she'll race the 60 on Saturday and work on her start.
In Millrose's signature event, the Wanamaker Mile, American Matthew Centrowitz seeks his second straight title and third overall.
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