US team looks to dominate in the decathlon

Clay receiving Olympic gold medal in Beijing (2008)
London 2012 Olympic Stadium

EUGENE, Ore. — Decathlete Trey Hardee describes the state of his sport in the United States as "a tsunami of talent."

Hardee, along with veteran Bryan Clay and newcomer Ashton Eaton, are the decathlon's current stars. They've fueled whispers that, if everything goes right, the Olympics in London next summer could see a rare U.S. sweep.

Clay and Eaton will compete at this week's national championships at Hayward Field in Eugene. The top finishers in the event will determine the U.S. team at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, this August.

Hardee has a bye because he's already made the team as the reigning world champion. But to hold his spot, he'll have to compete in at least one event, so he'll take part in the long jump and 110-meter hurdles.

"I'm just going to go in and have a good time and enjoy the moment," he said.

Hardee holds the world-best mark in the decathlon this season after scoring 8,689 points in Austria last month.

Eaton is the decathlon's new kid on the block, but he is well known in Eugene. A former Oregon Duck standout, Eaton is a three-time NCAA champion in the decathlon and the world indoor record holder in the heptathlon.

Eaton credits his success to the fact that he had two athletes to "chase" in the event — Hardee and Clay.

"Now I feel to complete this whole thing, I have to prove myself," he said.

Eaton scarcely knew what the multi-events were about when he became a Duck. His high school coach in Bend, Ore., contacted Oregon's coaches to tout Eaton's potential.

He said he was nervous in 2008 when he did not earn a spot on the team that was sent to Beijing — although he admirably finished fifth. Since then he's gained confidence.

"I'm starting to realize that I can go out there and compete at a level where I'm comfortable and still score high," he said.

Earlier this year, Eaton broke his own world indoor heptathlon record with a win in Tallinn, Estonia.

Clay, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in Beijing, said the goal for him and Eaton is consistency, and not necessarily aiming for a high score.

"If you can execute that game plan, then I think the score will take care of itself." he said.

Following Beijing, Clay was thwarted in his attempt for a world championship when a hamstring injury prevented him from competing in the 2009 national championships, and therefore a spot on the U.S. team headed to Berlin.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the trio have in the decathlon among fellow countrymen will come from Jake Arnold, who won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007.

Because Hardee has already qualified, there is the possibility that the United States could send four decathletes to Daegu rather than the traditional three.

As for the U.S. team's success on the world stage this summer and next, that's anyone's guess. The United States has never had three decathletes on the podium at the world Championships. In the Olympics, Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell, and Floyd Simmons went 1-2-3 in 1952 in Helsinki.

"I really think it's a matter of health," Hardee said. "If I'm healthy I'll be on the podium, and if Ashton's healthy he'll be on the podium, and Clay too."

June 22, 2011
Anne M. Peterson, AP Sports Writer