On the first Tuesday night in February of 2017, hundreds of track & field fans gathered at the Downtown Athletic Club in Eugene, Oregon to say goodbye to Ashton and Brianne, the most prominent couple in American Track & Field.
Ashton Eaton is the reigning Olympic Gold Medalist and world record holder in the decathlon. Brianne Theisen-Eaton is the reigning World Indoor Champion in the Pentathlon. Many track insiders were surprised when they recently announced their retirement from competition.
It was a special night, with some unique and entertaining elements to the show, produced by Lindsay Marcum, with the help of the entire TTUSA team. For weeks, this event was the center of attention for the team. You only get one chance to say goodbye to a couple local heroes that have become icons of their sport.
And to show their support for the power couple, hundreds of track fans packed the DAC to share the moment. Many were eager to show how much they appreciate the efforts and accomplishments. There were a lot of laughs, some emotional moments, as well as several standing ovations.
I have had the pleasure of watching Ashton and Brianne perform from their arrival at the University of Oregon | Track & Field. As both a television broadcaster and a TTUSA partner, I have had a role in covering many of their performances. They have enjoyed big moments at of the biggest events in the sport, like the NCAA Championships, and the US Olympic Trials.
After the event, Ashton and Brianne stayed late to patiently greet a long line of attendees. Fans were eager to share a personal moment with this dynamic duo before they moved on to their next chapter of their lives, out of the public eye.
As our crew rushed to pack up our equipment, I paused for a moment to take a few pictures of the scene, and I felt a little sad that I would not get to see them compete again. I was also a little jealous of those who had the chance to stand in line, and share a unique moment with these two stars of the sport that we love. But for me it was back to work, as we had a lot of gear to load up, and a crew who needed to know what was next.
We packed all of the gear down to the lobby of the DAC, and I headed out to get my truck. After parking just outside a side door, I walked back inside to see the whole TTUSA team, kindly waiting to help us finish loading up. As i scanned the group, I noticed a new face that had not been there when I left. The man of the hour, Ashton Eaton was still there, thanking everyone in this group who had organized his tribute.
As I got closer to him, an unusual force of gravity took over and pulled me toward the “World’s Greatest Athlete.” As I shook his hand, I wanted him to understand so many things:
What a joy it was to watch him compete (I’m sure he heard that a few hundreds of times earlier this evening).
How much of a thrill it was to personally witness some of his greatest accomplishments in track & field from my seat in the control room – the best seat in the house.
That he had a loyal following of fans from this community and the State of Oregon.
How rare it is to find elite athletes who are not negatively affected by fame.
How his work ethic has inspired me to do my best every day, no matter how I felt.
I wanted to convey my appreciation for having a front row seat to the most electric moment I have ever seen in sport, in the summer of 2012. The site was Hayward Field for the US Olympic Team Trials. It was also the 100th anniversary of the decathlon competition. Te celebrate that anniversary, TrackTown had invited all the living Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalists from the United State to come and experience what would be another historic Hayward moment. In his final event, the 1500 meters, lifted the support of 22,000 fans, Ashton beat the clock, and broke the world record.
This iconic “Historic Hayward Moment” has ages well over the years, and for good reason.
- Multi-event announcer Frank Zarnowski’s delivered an iconic race call of a world record performance, while paying tribute all of those who came before him.
- All of the living US decathlon champions were in attendance to witness this very moment.
- The simultaneous exhaustion and exhilaration of Ashton, as he hugs his mom and his future wife, Brianne.
The reality of those of us who work behind the scenes is that no one ever sees us, or knows what we do. Over the years, I have edited together the highlights of many historic moments at Hayward Field. And few compare to end of the 2012 Decathlon competition. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.
So, as we shook hands, filled with the emotion of a decade of memories, I tried to speak. And instead of being eloquent, I nervously babbled some incoherent nonsense. And at one point, I had to just stop talking and catch my breath because I got all choked up. I can only hope that I was not the first to look stupid when I tried to speak, standing in awe of the world’s greatest athlete.
Why all this emotion? Is it because he was from our community, having grown up in Bend, Oregon. Or was because he was an Oregon Duck. Maybe it was because I started my partnership with TrackTown USA at the same time he joined the Oregon Track Team.
I’ve seen a lot of footage of Steve Prefontaine, but I never had the chance see him perform in person. I know there is a lot of love for Pre in the Oregon Track community, many who see him as their icon of the sport of track & field. But for me, Ashton Eaton is the iconic face of track & field. He can do anything, and has proven time and time again to be the best in the world at doing it.
At the end of a decathlon competition, all the competitors take the victory lap together. The journey is as important as winning. And the victory is always a shared victory, because they completed the task together. In many ways, that is how I feel that way about my profession, and my teammates. It takes a talented team of television professionals working together to deliver coverage of complicated events like a track & field. Our job is to enhance the event, and highlight the details of the competition. If you don’t know where to look, every event has subtle dramatic moments that will be missed. Television is complicated, intricate work. But if we all work hard on our craft, and work together, like Ashton and Brianne, we can achieve more than we ever thought possible.
So, I say to Ashton and Brianne…
Thanks for the memories, and for the motivation. Seeing you always warms my heart, puts a smile on my face, and a tear in my eye.