New York: Olympic decathlon champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton is gearing up for a title defense at the Rio Games, but figures to swallow some humble pie along the way.
As part of his build-up to the U.S. Olympic trials in July, Eaton has entered the Ostrava Golden Spike meet on May 20, where he will line up in the 100 metres alongside six-times Olympic gold medal sprinter and world record holder Usain Bolt.
"It's obvious that I'm going to get completely dusted," Eaton told Reuters while promoting the "Thank You, Mom," TV ad campaign by Olympic sponsor Proctor & Gamble on Tuesday.
"But what I hope to get out of that is to learn a little something. Whenever I compete against elite athletes I always learn something by osmosis, and also just have a little fun and maybe I run faster because I'm running with fast people.
"And I can just really get to see how much faster they are than me. I've always wondered."
That is not to be interpreted as a lack of confidence by Eaton, who broke his own decathlon world record to defend his crown at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. He also set the indoor heptathlon world record in 2012.
Eaton said he weighed whether to pursue football or track as a means of snaring a college scholarship when decathlon "chose me," when a University of Oregon coach thought his athletic skills were suited to the arduous, 10-event test.
"For the physical aspect, I'm very fast and I would say powerful," he said.
"And those lend themselves to being successful in the events that garner the most points - long jump, 100 metres, hurdles, shot put, 400 metres, pole vault. Those events are very much power and speed-based.
High jump and discus are another matter.
"I'm still trying to dial in the technique part of the high jump, trying to have it make sense to me," Eaton said. "And the discus is very much an event like golf, the harder you try the worse it goes. So you have to be very patient."
Another strength Eaton has going for him is his partnership with Canada's leading heptathlete, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, his former university teammate and wife since 2013.
They train together, spur each other on and offer constructive advice.
"Brianne and I are really great teammates and supporters of each other. It took us awhile to learn how to do that," said Eaton. "Now we absolutely feed off each other's advice and energy and encouragement and we've got a really good system now that makes us both really successful."
Theisen-Eaton is also much decorated as a heptathlon silver medallist from the 2013 world championships and 2015 world championships, as well as a pentathlon silver medallist at the 2014 world indoor championships.
"When I'm having a bad day or if she's having a bad day, the other one knows exactly what to say to help turn that around," said Eaton.
"Or very technical, specific advice to help in an event. She knows where I struggle and need help and assistance. She's really good at the high jump which helps.
The duo put partisanship aside.
"It's not Canada and the United States, it's the North America group," Oregon native Eaton said. "We represent North America." - Reuters