U.S. missing its moment in decathlon
Greg Couch, FOX Sports
Fri Jul 13, 5:02 PM UTC
OK, Nike. We’re counting on you. Ashton and Trey doesn’t ring as smoothly as Dan and Dave, but times have changed, names have changed and we’re ready for you to turn these guys into American sports heroes.
Something nice and funny, please. Maybe deadpanning. The Olympics are only a few weeks away. We’re ready to fall.
If you don’t know, Ashton Eaton broke the world decathlon record last month during the US Olympic track and field trials. Trey Hardee won the world championship last year. There is a very real possibility that they will win gold and silver at the London Games. Meanwhile, track and field isn’t exactly overloaded with superstars whom general sports fan already know. Maybe a LoLo (Jones) here, an Allyson (Felix) there.
We’ve seen over the years that Americans are willing to fall for decathletes. Bruce Jenner. Dan and Dave.
“It’s a really special time in the US to be a decathlete, and it’s something that you don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” Hardee said before the trials. “The whole Dan and Dave thing is what can happen if you let your guard down. Not learning from that would be kind of tragic.”
It’s funny how people see Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. If you don’t recall, they were the 1-2 decathlon favorites going into the summer for the 1992 Barcelona Games. Reebok put a $30 million ad splash on them, starting with pictures of them as little kids, saying “Dan can run 100 meters in 10.3 seconds. Dave can high jump 6 feet 10-3/4 inches. This summer, they’ll battle it out in Barcelona for the title of world’s greatest athlete.” There was a whole series of commercials.
The US couldn’t wait. But then a problem came up: Dan failed to clear a height in the pole vault at Olympic trials and didn’t make the US team. Dave made the team, but with a foot injury, and managed only a bronze medal.
The whole thing blew up in Reebok’s face. It was always seen as a major embarrassment. But here’s the thing about that:
“You know what?” Bruce Jenner told me at the trials two weeks ago in Eugene, Ore. “I thought Dan and Dave was the best thing ever. That was `92, and we’re still talking about it. What great marketing, you know? It was a legitimate campaign; they were No. 1 and 2 in the world.
“Unfortunately, Dan no-heighted. Those things happen. But it was great for the event. Oh my God, we’re still talking about it.”
Hardee said that Dan and Dave are a cautionary tale, but really, Bryan Clay is. He’s the guy who won the 2008 Olympic decathlon gold. Ever hear of him? As for Dan’s known failure, here’s what’s mostly unknown:
He came back in 1996 to win Olympic gold.
Ashton and Trey could sell, but NBC seems ready to pitch Michael and Ryan, instead. Swimming’s Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are apparently about to get all the attention, with day-after-day-after-day competition and programming. The decathlon lasts two days.
It makes you wonder how much you actually get to choose which athletes you fall for.
Jenner made an even bigger splash than Dan and Dave by winning gold in 1976. The country was celebrating its bicentennial, and ABC set Jenner up as a rivalry against Soviet Mykola Avilov.
“ABC really featured the event in 1976,” Jenner said. “You look at it, we didn’t win the 100 in ’76; we didn’t win the 200, 400, 800. They were looking for something to do, and here I was (a favorite) going in.
“So ABC featured my event, spent a lot of time on it. And it was the last games before cable came, so there was no competition (on TV).
“I remember Dan winning in 1996, and when he was doing his victory lap, they were giving Michael Johnson his Olympic gold medal in the 200 on TV at the time because he just broke the world record and NBC was just hyping the hell out of it. They weren’t even noticing Dan, and I’m thinking. ‘Oh, man, Dan’s missing his moment.’ ”
Jenner said he had a hard time finding Clay’s results in 2008. Meanwhile, Jenner, keeping up with the Kardashians even today, has been able to milk his moment — to use his word — for 36 years. And counting.
US decathlon thought it was going to have a dream moment with Clay, Hardee and Eaton going for the medal sweep in London. That would have been something to promote.
Eaton was the up-and-coming superstar, but who knew how he would handle the pressure of the trials? Hardee was still coming off Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, and there was uncertainty as to how his arm would handle a javelin. Clay had been injured for most of the past two years.
In the end, Clay made a mistake on a hurdle and then had a meltdown on discus, fouling on all three throws and failing to make the team.
Still, two top decathletes in the Games is more than Dan and Dave produced. (Dan recently wrote a book “Clearing Hurdles” and was doing some reporting for Yahoo! Sports at the trials. Dave is the athletic director at Corban University in Salem, Ore.)
Hardee suggests that Dan might have been distracted by all the ads. Maybe so, but if track hopes to get some attention, it needs to throw away caution. Ashton and Trey are already in.
Ashton is 24 and an emerging superstar. His long jump on the first day of trials was farther than any of the long jumpers had jumped. Trey is 28 and solid at all 10 events.
Both are camera-friendly, and they seem to get along well. After the first day, Hardee said his biggest thrill in the first five events was watching Eaton long jump. And when it was over, Hardee said, “I hope that when Ashton’s record is put in the books and when it’s all written about, that there are parentheses and asterisk, everything you can put behind it to say how crummy the conditions really were, how impressive that mark really was.”
Eaton talked about decathletes as a team, a community, and put his arm around Hardee and said:
“It’s like we have the young, and the. . .”
“Old,” Hardee said, staring down at the table he was sitting behind.
“Veterans,” Eaton said.
Get to work, Nike.
Courtesy of FOXSports.com
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