Ashton Eaton ties Olympic record, but it’s Bolt’s show again

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(ZUMA Press / MGN)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Ashton Eaton retained his title as the best all-around athlete in the world by tying the decathlon Olympic record in Rio de Janeiro – but within minutes, track and field’s ultimate superstar took back the center stage again.

What more could the now two-time Olympic champion Eaton do Thursday night to get just a little sliver of the limelight that beams so brightly on Usain Bolt?

Not much. But the ever-gracious Eaton is OK with that.

“I had the pleasure of being in the same era as Usain Bolt,” Eaton said. “I mean, the guy’s last name is Bolt. He’s the fastest man ever. You can’t write a story like that.”

You can try.

For his own impressive tale, the American made it back-to-back Olympic and world titles in the decathlon, an event Eaton has ruled since he rebounded from silver at the worlds in 2011 to claim the next four major gold medals available. From throwing, to jumping, to running, Eaton can do it all.

But then Bolt – a Jamaican who just deals in speed – roared around the bend at the Olympic Stadium to win the 200 meters in 19.78 seconds, completing act two of his three-part quest for gold and history in Rio.

Maybe there was some comfort for Eaton – and loads of other athletes looking for some attention – with Bolt’s suggestion afterward that he’s nearly done.

“On the straight, my body didn’t respond. I’m getting old,” said Bolt, who was trying to break his own world record of 19.19.

Friday’s 4×100-meter relay final is all that’s left now between Bolt and an historic three golds at three straight Olympics. Concentrating on not messing that up for Bolt, a Jamaica team led by Asafa Powell got into the final in an important moment for the big man’s legacy. They finished second in their heat behind Japan.

“There was some pressure to make it to the finals,” Powell said, relieved he didn’t have to deliver any bad news as Bolt prepared for the 200 final.

Wednesday produced an “awesome hour” for the U.S. track team, according to Tianna Bartoletta. By Thursday night, that had evolved into a pretty great 24 hours.

Alongside Eaton’s triumph, Ryan Crouser led an American one-two in the shot put, also setting a new Olympic record of 22.52 meters to win his first major title from world champion Joe Kovacs.

Dalilah Muhammad kept the U.S. total ticking on with gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles and Ashley Spencer added a bronze, with another American 1-2 only just thwarted by Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen. Kerron Clement also won his first individual Olympic gold in the 400-meter hurdles.

“We are making history out here,” Muhammad said of the U.S. team’s gold rush.

The crowd at a near-full Olympic Stadium was constantly reminded of that, as a series of medal ceremonies started with the words: “O say can you see…”

With three days remaining, the United States was up to 24 medals in track and field, eight of them gold. The U.S. won 29 medals, including nine golds, in London.

For a few short moments, the U.S. women’s 4×100 relay team was a little like Bolt: They were the only ones everyone was looking at. The team was running alone on the track, seeking to qualify after successfully protesting that they were bumped in qualifiers.

Leading off, Bartoletta nestled into the starting blocks in lane 2 for the team’s re-run – against the clock only – after they fumbled the baton in their original qualifier. With just the clock and the crowd for company, the Americans took the baton around in 41.77 seconds to reach the final.

“Our coach said before we went out there, ‘It’s just like practice, just the whole world will be watching,'” said English Gardner, who ran the third leg.

Eaton finished with 8,893 points, digging deep through the final lap of the last event, the 1,500 meters, to cross the line third, incredibly matching exactly the Olympic record after 10 events over two days.

“How can’t there be one stinking point in there somewhere?” Eaton said.

Eaton had briefly darted away from the decathlon to congratulate Clement as his teammate knelt exhausted in the midday sun after winning the hurdles, an indicator of the good feelings surging through the U.S. track team right now.

Croatia’s Sara Kolak won the women’s javelin, another first-time Olympic champion like Crouser.

And South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the favorite for the women’s 800-meter title, qualified fastest for the final as she breezed to victory in her semifinal in 1 minute, 58.15 seconds. Semenya, another compelling story at these games but for different reasons to Bolt, will run in the 800 final on Saturday.

By then, Bolt says he will be done at the Olympics forever.

“I’ve worked all my career, all my life, for this moment,” Bolt said. “So hopefully people can read about me as the greatest.”

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