EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Ashton Eaton set a glittering decathlon world record at the U.S. Olympic trials on Saturday, riding the cheers of a thrilled home crowd to upstage a stellar cast of athletes.
The 24-year-old’s total of 9,039 points in wet and cold conditions bettered the 2001 mark of Czech great Roman Sebrle by 13 points and capped an extraordinary meeting for the American, who had already set decathlon records for the 100 metres and long jump legs on Friday.
“It’s like living an entire lifetime in two days,” Eaton told reporters after capturing the record on his own training track in Eugene, Oregon. “To do the best that I possibly could in my world makes me pretty happy.
“I really, really would never pick another event. The decathlon is the best.”
The world silver medallist will head to London in a powerful decathlon duo with runner-up and world champion Trey Hardee, but Olympic champion Bryan Clay’s hopes of defending his title were shattered.
Clay found trouble in the 110 metres hurdles and discus legs of the 10-event competition to finish 12th.
Eaton fell two seconds off world record pace with a lap to go in the closing 1,500 metres, but was lifted by a cheering crowd in his home town to a personal best of four minutes 14.48 seconds to secure the mark.
“I don’t care what anyone says, there is magic here,” he said of the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field.
Eaton had targeted the world record but “figured it would be when I was 28 in 2016,” he said. “So four years early.”
Dawn Harper ensured she will defend her gold medal at London after winning the 100 hurdles with a time of 12.73 seconds.
“The crazy part was I cramped up two or three times before the race,” she said after edging runner-up Kellie Wells and third-placed Lolo Jones.
As one of the top three finishers to qualify with the Olympic standard, Jones earned a shot at redemption at London, having crashed in the Beijing Games final four years ago when leading.
“I was filled with doubt and fear. It’s been a constant uphill battle, and to have the confidence to get through this - I’m just thrilled, thrilled to have another shot,” said Jones, who has been the subject of a major U.S. marketing campaign.
World champion Carmelita Jeter stormed to victory in the women’s 100 in 10.92 seconds to top Tianna Madison, who ran 10.97.
Third place was being reviewed after Jeneba Tarmoh and three-times world 200 champion Allyson Felix, Tarmoh’s training mate, tied with a time of 11.068.
Former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin earlier took a confident step forward on his comeback trail, breezing through the first round of the men’s 100 in an eye-catching 9.90 seconds.
Gatlin, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Games but missed four years of competition between 2006 and 2010 due to a doping suspension, had no problem with the frigid weather as he topped the time-sheets.
“It really defines warriors, how well you can get up for it,” he said with a smile.
Tyson Gay and Walter Dix, expected to be his main rivals in Sunday’s semi-finals and finals, also advanced without fuss.
Gay, in only his second race in a year because of hip surgery, clocked exactly 10 seconds to win his preliminary with the day’s second fastest time.
“I was a little nervous with the start ... but all and all it felt pretty good,” said the world’s second fastest man behind Jamaican Usain Bolt.
Olympic bronze medallist Dix also won his heat with a time of 10.03.
In the 400 metres, Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt topped the men’s semi-finals in 44.78 seconds and former world champion Sanya-Richards Ross ran 50.81 seconds to win her women’s semi-final. Francena McCorory had the day’s fastest time of 50.55.
Two-times Olympic shot put silver medallist Adam Nelson, hampered by a groin injury, missed his chance to make the U.S. team by finishing 15th.
The trials continue through July 1.
Editing by Ian Ransom