By striking gold in the decathlon at the second consecutive Summer Olympics, American Ashton Eaton has redefined the “world’s greatest athlete” title that goes with it.
Completing the two-day, 10-event, track-and-field battle may be unimaginable to most, but the Oregonian believes everyone in the world has the same two choices — stop or keep going. He and his heptathlete wife Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the bronze medalist for Canada in that event this summer, choose the latter. Two-and-a-half hour workouts are routine, but mental toughness is always being flexed. Sponsors like Gillette, Nike and Chobani help to keep him running financially though his endorsement deals to date are sparse compared to many major league athletes. At 28, Eaton has little interest in fashion despite appearing on Vogue’s August cover.
Two days after his own Olympic crowning moment, he was still very much all about the competitive edge, explaining, “My personal mantra is, ‘We should all try to transcend our limits.’”
WWD: Have you had the chance to celebrate?
Ashton Eaton: No, [laughs]. I will probably sit around and eat something bad. It wouldn’t even be that bad. I’d just eat a lot of it — noodles with white wine sauce or something like that. The last few months have been pretty strict.
WWD: You retweeted Bill Murray’s idea to have the Average Joe try to compete in Olympic events. What is it people don’t realize about what’s needed to do what you’ve done?
A.E.: It’s not necessarily about the grit. It’s just a lack of understanding and education of the physical and mental output it takes. You can’t really explain it to someone. You can say, “Oh, that was really tough.” And that literally means nothing to someone. If you can give some sort of comparison, because that’s really all track and field is about any way.…Usain Bolt runs a time and you get to see what everybody else’s time is. It would just be interesting to compare Olympians to somebody who doesn’t train their whole life.
WWD: Is it true you didn’t know who Gigi Hadid was even after working together on an all-day Vogue cover shoot?
A.E.: Very true. I don’t really watch TV and I’m not on Instagram or any of that. I only use Twitter mostly for my own personal news. I’m completely oblivious to all of that stuff — sometimes I think luckily.
WWD: What stays with you from meeting Caitlyn Jenner (the 1976 U.S. decathlon gold medalist)?
A.E.: My coach has known Caitlyn since way back when she was competing in the decathlon. My coach competed and trained with her a little bit. She just gave me some words of encouragement after the World Championships last year, going into this year. She’s very sweet.
WWD: You were criticized for wearing a Canadian flag baseball hat to cheer for your wife and tweeted your defense. Do you think people understand where you’re coming from?
A.E.: I think they know now. It was also maybe a little bit of bad timing, because I was tired from watching my wife. It was about midnight by the time I got back to my room. And she had had a hard day at the track during the competition, so it was already a little bit emotional for her. I was there trying to support her so for somebody to be calling me a traitor or questioning my motives.…Maybe I responded a little too quickly. But what I said I still believe. I feel it’s right. Regardless of the fact that she’s my wife and I would support her throughout, the spirit of the Olympic Games is to have all these countries together to push each other.
WWD: Will you be back at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo?
A.E.: If not as an athlete, I’d like to be as a spectator. But I haven’t thought of anything past two nights ago.
WWD: Are you and your wife competitive at home?
A.E.: I’m constantly trying to better myself, she’s constantly trying to better herself on the track, so when we’re at home, we try not to do that a lot. When we do, it’s mostly about making fun of or making light of it. I’ll do a chore faster than she does, or she’ll remember something that I forgot.
WWD: What is one of your lifetime goals?
A.E.: Being at university for me was utopia in a sense. You had all these really young, enthusiastic people running around with mental and physical stimulation, constantly throwing out new ideas. But there were a lot of things missing. They’re not necessarily geared for people maximizing their potential. I know it’s really a long shot to say, “Yeah, I’m going to start up my own university. I’m going to get professors and people to join and we’re going to have this whole deal.” But somehow I think it would be a good idea.
WWD: Why did you want to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle as a boy?
A.E.: In short, it was the first cartoon that I saw. But I liked how they were fighting crime, doing little kicks and splits and they were funny. I liked how each one was different.
WWD: What goes on at the Olympics that the cameras don’t capture?
A.E.: The dining hall is the coolest place to be because every country in the world is represented at the Olympic Games and we all dine under the same roof. Regardless of conflicts outside of the Olympics, we’re in there with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and we’re all eating peacefully and just enjoying the Olympic Games together.