EUGENE, Ore. - Dozens of Northwest runners, jumpers and throwers will compete for slots on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team starting this weekend. Once again Eugene, Oregon is hosting the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field. The qualifying action could help determine whether the London Games this summer feature a love story.
By tradition, the Olympic decathlon champion assumes the title of the "world's greatest athlete." Those are big shoes to fill. But Oregon's very own Ashton Eaton aspires to fill them.
Eaton lettered in three sports -- football, track and wrestling -- at Mountain View High School in Bend. He then won the NCAA decathlon championship three times as a University of Oregon Duck. For the past two years, he's competed professionally.
Olympic qualifying in the decathlon starts with some of Eaton's strongest events, the 100 meter dash and long jump. Then the 10 event competition becomes more difficult with the shot put and high jump. The first day finishes with the 400 meter sprint.
Tired yet? But wait, there's day two, starting with the high hurdles, and then in quick succession: discus, pole vault and javelin. The decathlon finishes with the metric mile, a 1,500 meter race.
Eaton says he enters the trials feeling well prepared.
"If I do what I normally do, or just compete like I normally compete, I don't think there should be a problem," he says. "But I also know it's the decathlon and I don't like to say, 'I'm going to make it for sure.' I'm confident that I'll perform well."
Eaton is not the only one in his household with Olympic dreams. Next week, his fiancée, Brianne Theisen, attempts to qualify for the Summer Games in the heptathlon. That's the seven event endurance fest.
Theisen was a three time NCAA heptathlon champion at the University of Oregon, which is where the couple met.
"It's important to us to go to the Olympics together because we both know how badly we want it," Theisen says.
"I honestly think it would affect my performance if she didn't go," Eaton adds. "I don't know the other way around. But it's just like, we go home and we train together and we talk about it. It's just something we both really, really want."
However, there's a twist. Theisen won't compete for an Olympic slot on her home field in Eugene. She'll travel to Calgary next week for the Canadian Olympic Trials.
See, Theisen grew up on the plains of Saskatchewan and retains Canadian citizenship. She figures Canadian fans won't hold it against her if they see her cheering in London for her American fiancée.
"A lot of them also went to NCAA schools and have friends in the U.S.," she says. "So I think, you know, they understand."
Ashton Eaton doesn't foresee any problems with divided loyalties in the relationship either.
"Yeah, she's Canadian and yeah, I'm going to be for the U.S. team," Eaton says. "But if everything goes well and she has the opportunity to hold up the Canadian flag, I'm going to be freaking out. The whole experience is cool. It has nothing to do with countries; it's just an event."
Eaton and Theisen say if there's a neutral zone in the athlete's village in London, they'll find it.
Finding time for a proper wedding is also a challenge of not quite Olympic proportions. They've put off getting hitched until July of 2013.
Thanks to KLCC's Rachael McDonald for sharing tape for this story.
On the Web:
U.S. Olympic Trials event schedule:
Canadian Olympic trials - heptathlon:
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