EUGENE, Ore. -- The second day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials was fit only for Oregon ducks. Gray skies spit rain on the Hayward Field track, where webbed feet would have served the athletes better than spikes.
The weather didn’t bother Ashton Eaton. He grew up in Oregon and is a former University of Oregon Duck. He felt so inspired on his wet home track that he not only won the decathlon but smashed the world record with a scintillating victory that came down to the final seconds in the final event.
After competing in nine events over two days in everything from light drizzle to driving rain, the decathletes assembled at the starting line for the 1,500-meter run. Suddenly, the sun emerged and the showers ceased.
“He will do his part and we need to do our part,” the announcer told spectators, explaining that Eaton had to run a 4:16.37 to break the world record.
He was two seconds behind pace entering the bell lap. Track fanatics in the stands knew it and began yelling and stomping and pounding the old stadium’s green walls for the native son, as they did in the past for Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar and any other runner who needed an extra push to get home.
“I became a firm believer that the Hayward Field magic does exist,” Eaton said.
Eaton passed two others who had been trying to pace him. He crossed the line in 4:14.48 to score a total of 9,039 points, which broke the 11-year-old world record — held by Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic — by 13 points. He broke Dan O’Brien’s American record of 8,891 set 20 years ago. He won seven of 10 events, all except the shot put, discus and javelin.
When Eaton saw his time, he bent over, then brought his hands to his face. He became the latest in a long line of Americans crowned the world’s greatest athlete. O’Brien hugged him, as did Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson and Bill Toomey.
Despite the damp chill, the Trials offered plenty of performances that foretell success at the London Olympics. Only the top three finishers make the U.S. team.
Not much separates the athletes. In fact, the battle for third in the women’s 100 meters was so close that meet officials were still examining the photo finish snapshot of Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix, whose torsos appeared to be touching the line at the same instant. At first Tarmoh was declared the winner; she was even escorted to the press room to talk about her joy at making the team. But later, the finish was unresolved, declared a dead heat.
Carmelita Jeter, the second-fastest woman in history and 2011 world champion, won the race to make her first Olympic team.
Miami’s Lauryn Williams, trying to make her third Olympic team, finished sixth.
There was more suspense in the women’s 100 hurdles. Lolo Jones had to wait for the scoreboard to flash her name as the third-place finisher. Jones, who has been hampered by injuries, barely made the final. Jones, 29, was leading the race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she hit the ninth hurdle and went down.
Former St. Thomas Aquinas star Sanya Richards-Ross comfortably won her semifinal heat of the 400 meters.