March 13, 2010

Rob Keys, Special to NCAA.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Ashton Eaton wasn't sure how to feel after setting a world record in the heptathlon.

"I don't know," Eaton said. "I've never had one before."

Eaton set the record in dramatic fashion, running a personal-best of 2 minutes, 32.67 seconds in the 1,000 meters on Saturday afternoon to finish with a total of 6,499 points in the heptathlon at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Eaton's total broke the previous mark of 6,476 points, set on the same weekend in 1993 by Dan O'Brien.

Eaton's record-setting performance came much to the delight of the crowd at the Randal Tyson Track Center, which became increasingly charged as the track announcer repeatedly updated the Oregon senior's status. He was on pace from the get-go, staying easily within the 31-second per-lap pace outlined by coaches before the race.

That was for the first three laps.

"Then the last 400 is the last 400. It's go," Eaton said with a smile. "I heard 1:32, right on pace, and I was like, 'Alright.'"

Eaton let loose with a short celebratory yell as a television camera closed in on him a few meters after the finish line, but was calm and composed - at least outwardly - as he answered questions from a pack of reporters after posing for a picture in front of a scoreboard displaying his world-record mark. When pressed to express what he was feeling, though, Eaton conceded some post-race butterflies.

"I feel nervous, I guess," he said with a laugh.

Eaton, in fact, said he was more nervous after the race than at any time during the two-day event.

"It's just the future, I guess," Eaton said. "I mean, I know I'm going to be doing track after college and I've only done the world (championships), so I don't know what that's like.

"I guess it's like going out of college and getting a job. You get nervous."

Despite being a three-time NCAA champion - twice in the decathlon and once in the heptathlon - Eaton said he didn't enter the meet with a world record in mind. As the event unfolded, though, Eaton said he knew he was getting within striking distance.

Eaton's teammates knew, too, though he laughed at the way they avoided mentioning it.

"I think everybody thought I didn't (know)," Eaton said. "My teammates were trying to be like, 'Shh, don't tell him.'

"I was like, 'Come on.' You've got to know something like that."

With all but the 1,000 meters to go, Eaton knew he needed to run a 2:34.58 to break O'Brien's record. Eaton's previous best was 2:38.02, but he looked in control from the first lap.

Eaton's effort overshadowed the effort of Duke's Curtis Beach, who ran the 1,000 meters in 2:27.88. Though no official world record is maintained in the 1,000 meters, that is the fastest indoor time ever recorded, surpassing the 2:29.42 Wisconsin's Joe Detmer ran here in 2007.

"I knew I had a shot from the beginning," Beach said. "I was just going to run the pace I wanted to the whole time."

Beach did just that, though not many in attendance seemed to notice. The crowd instead was focused on Eaton, a fact Beach took in stride.

"I'm so happy for Ashton," Beach said. "He's the type of athlete that everyone wants him to do well. I'm glad the focus was on him. I see his mark and hopefully that's a mark that I can shoot for one day.

"I'm going to enjoy competing with him at some meets down the road."

And even though he expressed some apprehension about his impending professional career, Eaton is ready to get down the road, too. He'll do it as the world record-holder in the heptathlon.

"I guess you call it a Cinderella story-type thing," he said. "It's all falling into place pretty well."