Decathlete Ashton Eaton Returns to Olympic Games Determined, Inspired

Athletics - Olympics: Day 12
Ashton Eaton of the United States competes during the Men's Decathlon Shot Put on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

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By Mashaun D. Simon

Decathlete Ashton Eaton is going into the 2016 Olympic Games with one focus: defending his golden crown.

The 2012 Olympic gold medalist was off to a strong start on Wednesday in the two-day, 10 event competition, winning the long jump by a massive 25 centimeters and placing second in the 100m.

To his relief, the 28-year-old made the 2016 U.S. track and field team in June with a minor injury—though just 10 days prior to qualifying he wasn't sure whether or not he was going to be able to compete at all.

In 2012, Eaton was the youngest member of the US team. At the time he felt as though he was the underdog, but now?

“Now I feel like a veteran. Now I am confident and have a wide range of experiences. I am confident that I can handle any situation thrown my way,” he said.

Ashton Eaton of the United States competes in the Men's Decathlon Long Jump on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

Eaton’s athletic pursuits began to become evident while in high school in Portland, Oregon. He had done it all – baseball, soccer, wrestling, football, track and even taekwondo. But it was track that created the opportunity for him to attend college.

The decathlon chose him—a combination of track and field events that tapped into his diverse athletic skills and history. He attended the University of Oregon where he was able to train exclusively in the decathlon. And at the end of his college career, he had become a well-decorated athlete with five NCAA Championships titles.

Expectations were high for him, and in many ways they still are.

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“Everyone expected me to [make the team] as the defending champ,” he said. “But people don’t realize that everything has to fall in place properly as well. There are a lot of talented guys in the decathlon in the US and that showed at the trials, where even with Trey Hardee out and injured, Zack Ziemek and Jeremy Taiwo stepped up and established themselves as real medal contenders.”

It is the support of his hometown, his family and Chobani that keeps him motivated. Earlier this year the decathlete inked an endorsement deal with Chobani, the Greek yogurt company, as part of their #NoBadStuff campaign. The tagline of the campaign is what attracted Eaton to the possibility of working with Chobani.

Ashton Eaton of the United States competes in the Men's Decathlon High Jump on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

“No bad stuff, it felt like something I have adopted as an athlete. Every day I am faced with some really frustrating situations,” he said. “[And] they do not always get better. But I can choose whether to take those situations and see them as learning experiences.”

And he believes his philosophy is an important mindset and perspective for young people.

With his sights set on Rio, being healthy, competing and winning, Eaton is confident. He also looking forward to returning to the environment of the Olympic Games.

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The diversity and inclusive nature of the Olympic Games is one part of what Eaton enjoys and appreciates the most. He describes the games as an awesome human invention that includes everyone. Add to that the message that the games provides for those watching.

“The Olympic games is the result of what happens when a person spends a large majority of their time and effort in pursuit of a goal. The Olympic Games is a contest, an environment that requires the ultimate amount of physical or emotional effort to get there,” he said. “When you see someone who makes it to the games, what you are seeing is someone who has put in a lot of effort to get where they are. That is basically what you are witnessing with each and every athlete.”

He calls it the manifestation of human capability.

“Everyone gets to the same place in a different way,” he said. “I like participating in that. I am proud to be part of that.”

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