Multi-event stars win with mind and muscle
April 1, 2010
AUSTIN, Texas -- Multi-event performers rarely choose their pursuit. It's almost as if the pursuit chooses them.
Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen, both from the University of Oregon, showed this on Thursday at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays.
Eaton claimed the men's decathlon with a personal-best mark of 8,310 points, and Theisen won five of the seven events that make up the women's heptathlon.
Theisen started competing in the heptathlon as a high school sophomore, because she "wasn't good at anything else."
"I was just average in all the jumps and sprints," said Theisen, who moved to an early lead on day one of the competition with personal-best marks in the high jump and shot put.
Theisen closed the heptathlon on Thursday afternoon with a remarkable win in the 800-meter run. Theisen considers this one of her strongest events, and normally she likes to take the pace out fast, run her own race and force others to play catch-up. High winds required a different strategy, and Theisen showed her ability to adapt in the midst of competition.
"I was nervous with the wind," she said. "I like to take the lead, but that wouldn't have been smart. I started slower, and I panicked a little because my time in the first 400 was slower than usual. But I had something left at the end, and I think my last 200 was the fastest I've ever run. It should have been, too, with this wind."
Through this, Theisen illustrates perhaps the most important muscle for a multi-event athlete - the brain.
"Each heptathlon gets easier. It's more mentally taxing than physically," Theisen said. "You just learn that when something goes bad, you have to forget about it. That's the most important thing, and when you're young and you first start, you don't know that."
Eaton was a sprinter and jumper in high school, but his coach lobbied him to Oregon as a potential multi-event star. Appropriately, Eaton won the first multi-event competition he entered as a college freshman.
"Anybody likes something they win. After that, I saw my potential," Eaton said.
Eaton claimed the world record in the heptathlon at last month's NCAA indoor championships, and at the Texas Relays, he was chasing Trey Hardee's collegiate decathlon record of 8,465 points.
The symmetry was amusing, because Eaton's physical build is strikingly similar to Hardee's, when he was with the Texas Longhorns. Eaton also competed at the World Championships last summer, when Hardee was crowned world champion in the decathlon.
Hardee was lurking during the 10 events on Wednesday and Thursday.
"He was here, supporting me, and probably trying to see if I would break the record or not," Eaton said. "I got to know him well. It's an honor to be anywhere in that conversation with him."
Initially, Eaton claimed to be scared of certain events like the pole vault and 1,500-meter run, because they were so far out of his comfort zone. But he learned that one of the keys to multi-event success is fluidity, and becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.
"I don't know what kind of mental stamina you need for this, I just know that I have it," Eaton said.