Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Come back, Ashton

Published:Friday | January 13, 2017 | 1:00 AM
AP American Ashton Eaton celebrates winning the gold medal in the decathlon at last year's Olympics in in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ashton Eaton may be right about retiring from the decathlon before the 2017 season begins. When you've set three world records, won the Olympics twice and have collected three gold medals at the outdoor World Championships as the 28 year-old American has, you're entitled to think you've done everything there is to do in the sport. No one can argue with that.

The stat freaks can sit in their corner and grumble that he should stick around until 2020. Then he could try to outstrip the likes of Great Britain's Francis Daley Thompson, who won the Olympic decathlon twice. Thompson just missed a medal in 1988, when he went for the hat-trick in Seoul, South Korea.

They don't know what the lactic acid burn feels like.

Even so, somebody has to convince Eaton not to retire. The mission, if he chooses to accept it, belongs to Eaton's coach Harry Marra. Marra has to persuade the decathlon king to come back in 2017, but not to the decathlon. His new target should be the 400-metre hurdles.

In 2014, Eaton took a holiday from the ten-in-one two-day marathon and had fun running the hurdles. The result was a personal best of 48.69 seconds and a TRACK AND FIELD NEWS world ranking of number 6. His potential in this event is enormous.

He has a 400 metres personal best of 45.00 seconds, but there's more to that number than meets the eye. That time came at the end of the first day of the 2015 World Championships decathlon. That means that he had already run the 100m, long jumped, competed in shot put and high jump by the time he settled in the blocks for the 400m.

To put it in perspective, 45 flat would have easily won a spot on Jamaica's 2016 Olympic team. At our National Senior Championships, the Olympic Trials, only Javon Francis went faster than Eaton's personal best.

Eaton, a 110-metre hurdler, too, with a personal best of 13.35 seconds, would probably find training for the 400 hurdles easy. Track fans nickname it the 'man killer', but Eaton's decathlon background should enable him to manage.

Athletic development doesn't travel in a straight line from theory to performance. Yet, it's hard to see Eaton struggling to break 48 in the hurdles. In fact, he can probably run as fast as 47.69 in 2017 if he concentrated on it. Times in that range would put him in the medal picture at the World Championships.

In fact, the winners in Rio and in Beijing at the last Worlds clocked 47.74 and 47.79 respectively.

In the same way that fans are quietly hoping that sprint guru Glen Mills will coax the incomparable Usain Bolt not to retire from the 200m a year early, I hope Marra will get Eaton up and over the hurdles.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980