Two University of Oregon graduates put on an impressive show during the opening days of the Olympic Track and Field Trials at historic Hayward Field in Eugene—with both men breaking records. Portland native Galen Rupp (class of 2008) set a new Olympic Trials record in the men’s 10,000 meters, and Ashton Eaton, a 2010 U of O graduate who grew up in Bend, set a new world record in the decathlon. This achievement is widely considered to garner the record holder the title “greatest athlete in the world.”
Having lived and trained in Oregon worked to both men’s advantage. Eaton’s events were peppered with rain storms, and Friday’s heaviest downpour came just as Rupp was stepping to the starting line. The rain-accustomed men were able to keep going through the lousy weather, and both came away with major victories: first place in their events and places in this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
Rupp, whom the University of Oregon Athletic Department’s website calls “one of the greatest distance runners in UO history,” got a good start in the 10,000 meters (a little over six miles). He kept pace with training partner and fellow Nike Oregon Project team member Dathan Ritzenhein, who was the top American finisher in the men’s half-marathon at the 2008 Olympics, and the two traded the lead for most of the race.
Toward the end, however, it was obvious that Rupp was going to pull out the victory. Ritzenhein came in third, with second place going to another Nike runner, Portland-based Matt Tegenkamp. Rupp’s final time, 27 minutes 25.33 seconds, was good enough to break the former Olympic Trials record by nearly 10 seconds.
“I was obviously really happy with the way the race went,” Rupp said at a post-event press conference. “I always feel really lucky to run here, basically on my home track—especially for such a big event like the Olympic Trials. I don’t think this meet could have gone much better for me.”
Rupp has been a track star since his days at Central Catholic High School in Portland. He took second place in the 2003 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships and won the state-wide cross country competitions as a junior and a senior. During his final year in school he was named Track and Field News’ Boys Athlete of the Year. His tenure at the University of Oregon saw many more honors, including winning an unprecedented six NCAA distance races in the same calendar year.
Things definitely couldn’t have gone better for Ashton Eaton, who was heavily favored to come out on top in the decathlon, a brutal competition that requires athletes to complete ten events in two days. Eaton exploded into the lead, breaking world decathlon records and earning the highest number of points in the initial two events, the 100 meters and the long jump.
Day two started more slowly, with a razor-slim victory in the 110 meter hurdles, but by the end of the afternoon that hardly mattered. Eaton was a shoe-in for the Olympics, and if he could manage to complete the 1500 meters in 4 minutes, 16.37 seconds or faster, he would set the new world record for decathlon.
Eaton finished lap three of four at 3 minutes, 9 seconds. He needed to pick up the pace to set the world record, and he managed to do it. With his fellow decathletes urging him across the finish line, Eaton achieved a time of 4 minutes, 14.48 seconds. The crowd roared, Eaton’s face started to crumble, and a whole tent full of journalists applauded with glee.
Eaton’s true calling found him later in life. He won the 4A state title in three events as a senior at Mountain View High School, but it wasn’t until he went to college that he tried the decathlon. He was hooked instantly.
“I really, really truly love this event…” Eaton told reporters following his event. “You don’t choose the decathlon. The decathlon chooses you.”
Seated between Trey Hardee, who will join him at the Olympics, and third-place finisher Gray Horn at the evening’s press conference, Eaton looked calm and relaxed. But he confessed to having moments of doubt about his performance at the Trials. “I wouldn’t be human otherwise,” he said.
Apparently he’s one of the few people who felt that way. “I don’t know if anybody’s ever matured in the event as quickly as he has,” said Bryan Clay, who won gold in the 2008 Olympic decathlon. “It’s mind-boggling to see his performance and to see how well he’s done in such a short amount of time.”
The world will be watching both athletes in London this summer, but no one will be cheering louder than the hometown fans in Oregon.