The title of “World’s Best Athlete” isn’t one that should be thrown around lightly, but Ashton Eaton is certainly deserving of the praise.
Eaton, the decathlon world-record holder and defending Olympic champion, is in Rio looking to once again prove exactly that. Here’s everything you need to know about the 28-year-old:
1. He Starred at the University of Oregon
Born in Portland, Oregon, Ashton was raised by his mother after his parents–Terrance Wilson and Roslyn Eaton–divorced when he was just two years old. They moved to La Pine, a small town in Central Oregon, and then again to Bend when Ashton was in fifth grade and showing great potential in athletics.
“You could see he was going to be a complete stud,” said Tate Metcalf, Eaton’s high school track coach. “He was very close to his mother, and she wanted to do everything right for him.”
At Mountain View High School, Eaton played football, wrestled and ran track, where he won state in the 400m. He considered playing Division III football–his maternal grandfather, James Eaton, had played running back at Michigan State–but ultimately chose the University of Oregon when Metcalf sold him on the decathlon.
Although Eaton had never even heard of the event–or done any of the throws–he was a superstar for the Ducks. He was a five-time NCAA champion (decathlon as a sophomore, junior and senior; heptathlon as a junior and senior) and won the 2010 Bowerman Award as the nation’s best collegiate athlete.
2. He’s the World-Record Holder in Decathlon
At the 2012 Olympic Trials at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, Eaton put on a show for his home-town fans, finishing first in seven of the 10 events on his way to 9,039 points, breaking Roman Sebrle’s 11-year World Record.
Three years later, Eaton upped his own record at the 2015 World Championships with a mark of 9,045.
“I was just thinking about sitting on the couch when I was little watching somebody like Michael Johnson or Carl Lewis jump and run – that’s the reason why I’m here today,” said Eaton, who also set a decathlon world record in the 400m that day. “I thought maybe there’s a kid on a couch somewhere and if I break this world record, they may be inspired to try and do something or get excited, so yeah I did it for them.”
Overall, Eaton has competed in eight major international competitions, winning gold six times (2012 Olympics, 2013 and ’15 World Championships, 2012, ’14 and ’16 World Indoor Championships) and silver once (2011 World Championships). His only non-podium finish came at the 2009 World Championships, when he was still in college and finished 18th.
3. He’s Married to One of the Best Female Athletes in the World
Do we always agree? No. Do we get frustrated with one another? Sometimes. Are we one another's biggest fan? Absolutely. Today we are thankful that we both have the perfect (training) partner, someone who just gets what we're going through and is there to help in anyway they can. 💪🏾 👊🏻 Today, take the time to thank your partner for being there for you. 📷 | @jeffcohenphoto #whatsyourgold #endeavoralways #weareeaton #eaton #teameaton #workoutwednesday #wonderfulwednesday #thankful #trackandfield #hepathlon #decathlon #olympics #roadtorio #rio2016
While a freshman at Oregon, Eaton met Brianne Theisen, a Canada native who was visiting on a recruiting trip. She eventually made the decision to go to Oregon, they began dating Valentine’s Day 2008 and were married in 2013.
Now known as Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the 27-year-old won silver in the heptathlon at the 2013 and ’15 World Championships and took bronze at the 2016 Olympics.
“Our lives are more organized because if one of us gets lazy, the other is snapping their fingers to say, ‘OK, get back to it,'” says Brianne.
4. His Half-Brother Is a Marine
Although Ashton never had much contact with his father, he is close to his three half-siblings from that side of the family.
That includes Verice Bennett, a United States Marine who received the Silver Star in December 2011 for his service in Afghanistan.
“Until now, I didn’t know what gravity it held to hold the American flag at something like the World Championships or the Olympics,” wrote Ashton. “What an honor.”
5. He & His Wife Like to Give Back
#TBT to our most memorable adventure of running a 2k race in Kenya, at 10,000 feet, with a bunch of the local kids & our sponsor child, Philemon. Yes, this is a staged picture because we were bringing up the rear in the actual race. Got our butts kicked! Want to see how you can be involved? Visit teamworldvision.org. 📷 | World Vision – Lindsey Minerva #Kenya #Africa #WorldVision #TeamWorldVision #cleanwater #sponsor
When they aren’t training together, Ashton and Brianne are doing humanitarian work together.
They work with Team World Vision, helping raise money to provide clean water for those in need. In October, they made a trip to Kenya to visit they projects they support, as well as to meet Philemon, a child they sponsor.
“It was a very surreal experience understanding that you now have the ability to make someones life better, and looking that someone right in the eyes,” they wrote on their blog.