LONDON — The two-day Olympic decathlon competition went on without one of its greats, as the legendary Roman Sebrle pulled out Wednesday because of a heel injury, but even Sebrle seemed to know it was time for the sport to embrace a new legend.
Sebrle, the Olympic champion from the Czech Republic, bemoaned the bad timing of his heel problem, but gently pushed the spotlight toward American Ashton Eaton, who had broken his 11-year-old world record in the event just over a month ago.
Eaton assumed center stage at the Olympic Stadium as comfortably as if he were playing in his own back yard, taking an imposing 220-point lead in the sport’s most demanding competition as Sebrle limped reluctantly into retirement.
With 4,661 points after five events, Eaton seemed to be chasing targets well beyond the gold medal, which looked to be his for the taking barring a major mishap Thursday.
U.S. teammate Trey Hardee stood in second place with 4,441; Canada’s Damian Warner was third with 4,386.
“It is time for another man,” Sebrle told reporters after withdrawing before the second event. “He is amazing.”
Besides busily pursuing the Olympic gold, Eaton perhaps eyed his own world record of 9,039 points. He surely has in sight Sebrle’s 2004 Olympic record of 8,893 points. And he made clear that he hoped Hardee, a two-time world champion, would put together enough of a finish to secure the silver medal and a one-two finish for the United States.
Eaton, though, had little to say after his day’s work. As other decathletes extensively dissected their performances with reporters, Eaton seemed eager to get some rest. “Two questions,” he told one group of U.S. reporters without a hint of a smile.
“It’s decent,” Eaton said. “Good point position. Above the other guys. . . I’m okay with it.”
Belgium’s Hans Van Alphen, who stood in fifth place with 4,342 points, gushed on Eaton’s behalf.
“He’s pretty outstanding,” Van Alphen said. “He can make several mistakes [Thursday] and still have a chance of winning. The Americans have so many fast [athletes], it’s hard to beat them.”
Indeed, if reigning Olympic champion Bryan Clay hadn’t stumbled over a hurdle during the U.S. Olympic trials, ending his hopes of making the team, the United States might be angling for a podium sweep.
Though Eaton dominated, his chances of surpassing the record he set on a slower track and in bad weather conditions at the June 23 Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., looked iffy at best. Eaton, who majored in psychology at the University of Oregon, already has shown a tendency to save his best moments for his home track.
Last summer, he posted a better total at the U.S. world championship trials than he did at the worlds at Daegu, South Korea, when he got second behind Hardee.
Eaton topped the field in three events Wednesday, but did not score as high in any as he did during his world-record day in Eugene. His finish in 10.35 seconds in the 100 meters set an Olympic record in that sprint but fell short of the 10.21 he ran in Eugene.
The 46.90 he ran in the night’s last event, the 400, was the best of the field, but also trailed his world-record effort by 0.20. At the U.S. trials, he jumped 27 feet in the long jump; here, he managed 26 feet, 41/ 4 — the day’s best.
His heave in the shot put, 48-¼, stood just 11th best, but it bettered his Eugene throw of 46-71 / 4.
He tied for the second-best height of the day in the high jump, where his leap of 6-83 / 4 fell short only of the 6-11 managed by Cuba’s Leonel Suarez. It also matched his effort in Eugene.
Hardee’s marks were not as high as he would have hoped, leaving him with a host of decathletes nipping at his heels entering Thursday. He finished with the second-best time in the 100 sprint (10.42) and the third-best in the 400 (48.11), but got fifth in the shot put, sixth in the long jump and 10th in the high jump.
Three men — Warner, Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasynow and Van Alphen — stood within 34 points of Hardee’s total.
He wasn’t, however, planning to give ground Thursday.
“The day was just littered with a bunch of pars,” he said. “Tomorrow is going to be awesome.. . . It will be special for me to be on that podium.”
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