World's greatest athlete takes humble approach

By Ann Killion, special to
LONDON - Ashton Eaton acted like he'd been there before. Even though, of course, he hadn't.

On Thursday night, when the Oregon star finished the 1500 meters to win the decathlon and claim the traditional title of "world's greatest athlete," he was all business. He leaned over to catch his breath and then waved to the crowd, and went to kiss his mother and his fiancée Brianne Thiesen (another Oregon Duck who competed in the heptathlon for her native Canada).

Eaton, 24 - who set the world record in the U.S. trials with 9039 points  - reacted with characteristic humility after winning the grueling ten-event medal that has been won by such legends as Jim Thorpe, Rafer Johnson and Bruce Jenner (pre-Kardashian) and propelled athletes to the cover of the Wheaties box.

"I think about all the work my competitors put in — exactly the same as I did — and I wonder why I deserved gold," said Eaton, who received his gold medal on Friday night.  "I can't believe it."

It was almost the opposite of Usain Bolt's over the top celebrations of his accomplishments. Bolt won the 200 on the same track Thursday night and declared himself, "a living legend," adding, "I'm also the greatest athlete to live." A debate immediately began about what feat was harder: Eaton's or Bolt's?

Trey Hardee, who won silver behind Eaton, had his fellow decathlete's back.

"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."

Hardee was right—Eaton would never say such a thing about himself.  True to his humble character, Eaton - who fell short of matching his world record points total - declined to be drawn into the debate.

"There's no fight," he said. "Usain is clearly awesome in his own right. He's an icon of the sport…Titles are for books and stuff. I just like what I'm doing."

Eaton - who took up decathlon at Oregon, where he won three NCAA championships and added two more in the heptathlon -  acted like he'd been there before.  He hadn't, but he'll likely be there again. At only 24, he was supposed to be the great future hope for the U.S. in the sport. Instead Eaton decided the future was now -  and maybe later, too. He will be hitting his prime four years from now in Rio.

Still it's unlikely - unless he has a personality transplant in the next four years - that he'll celebrate like Bolt, who demanded that witnesses "Bask in my glory."

Eaton had plenty of glory on Thursday night. He did not, however, demand that you bask in it.

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