An Olympic gold medalist will showcase his world-class track and field skills today at a meet at Cal Poly.
Ashton Eaton, also the world record holder in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon, will compete in the Cal Poly/Shareslo.com Invitational, an event open to college and professional athletes.
Eaton won his gold medal in the decathlon at the London Olympics last summer, which he displayed in his appearance on the David Letterman Show in August.
Eaton trains with Harry Marra in Eugene, Ore. Marra founded the All-Comers Meet in Atascadero.
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“I came here to San Luis Obispo for the first time in 2011,” Eaton said at a news conference Friday. “I had my personal bests in all three of my throws. In
Eugene, it’s raining all the time. Here, it’s good weather … the crowd gets into it. The collegiate kids are having a great time.”
Eaton, 25, is expected to compete in the javelin, 110-meter high hurdles, the shot put and possibly the 4x400 relay.
Field events begin with the men’s javelin at 11 a.m. Track events are slated for 12:15 p.m.
Former Cal Poly star and two-time Olympian Sharon Day also is scheduled to compete in the women’s shot put, long jump and the 200. Arroyo Grande High and Cal Poly graduate Stephanie Brown Trafton, a three-time Olympian who won the gold medal in the women’s discus in 2008, won’t participate this year, according to event officials.
Eaton credits Marra’s influence as a coach to helping get him to the top level of his sport.
“He has so much dedication to the sport,” Eaton said. “He’s so zeroed in with his focus and determination. I believe in his philosophies and he has very good communication.”
Eaton attended high school in Bend, Ore., and was on the track team but he didn’t participate in the decathlon until he started competing collegiately at Oregon.
On Friday, Eaton said that his path was fortunate and several positive developments, including Marra’s coaching, helped him to an elite level.
“I’m very fortunate because of how few gold medalists there are,” Eaton said. “And especially in this event, to do it at a young age, that tells me the formula that worked for me doesn’t happen very often.”
Eaton said that with his success has come extra attention, which sometimes can be surprising to him while in public. People will approach him in the grocery store when he’s not expecting it and want to talk, for example.
He feels compelled to spend a little time and to be respectful because it’s the fans who make the sport what it is.
“I think there are different levels of stardom,” Eaton said. “Mine is not hard to handle.”
And he said he never had a moment where it became clear to him that he’d become an Olympic gold medalist, though he never ruled that out.
Eaton said he kept plugging away in practice, trying to improve steadily.
He recalled success and many failures, saying that “90 percent” of his practices were bad last year leading up to the Olympics.
“I’d think I gotta come back the next day and do more,” Eaton said. “I was confident that if I did specific things in each event that would take me to the next level.”
With his achievements came extreme dedication and he described it is a year of “all business.”
“It was hard to have a lot of fun,” Eaton said. “Maybe some fun in Istanbul (Turkey) at the World Indoors.”
In June at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Eaton broke Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old world record in the decathlon by finishing with 9,039 points and in the process, eclipsed Dan O’Brien’s 20-year-old American mark of 8,869.
Unlike track athletes who enter individual events frequently, decathletes only enter two or three meets per year in their 10-event competition.
Marra said Friday that events like the Cal Poly meet in which Eaton can choose three or four decathlon events help him to prepare.
“The European circuit attracts the top athletes in their specific event in the world,” Marra said.
Eaton also said that training in Oregon, dealing with the precipitation brings challenges that the Central Coast doesn’t face.
“The pole vault is not a good idea in the rain,” Eaton said. “So, you’re always indoors. It’s very nice to get a change down here. It’s what I need athletically and it’s not too far from home.”
Among the current Mustangs competing today, senior pole vaulter John Prader is looking for another strong season. Last year, he finished 14th at the NCAA Championships.