Ashton Eaton was infamously dubbed the world’s best athlete by no less a person than Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt after the London Olympics.
The compliment came after the affable 26-year-old American had struck decathlon gold in imperious fashion in the British capital.
He’d already snared the world record in the gruelling 10-discipline event, becoming the only athlete to score over 9,000 points in the decathlon, and went on to better his silver-medal showing at the Daegu worlds in 2011 with gold in Moscow last year.
In March, he bagged his second world indoor heptathlon gold in Sopot, missing out on bettering his own world record by one second in the final, strength-sapping 1,000m.
It takes a brave athlete to walk away from what they do best, but that is exactly what Eaton has done this term, opting to put decathlon to one side and “enjoy” an outdoor season spent racing the 400m hurdles.
“I’ve only done four races and every time it’s been different. But I still have to count my strides!” Eaton joked ahead of Wednesday’s Diamond League meet in Oslo.
His all-round prowess in the basic event groupings, hurdling and 400m sprinting, cannot be denied: Eaton has run 13.35sec at 110m high hurdles and sub-46sec at 400m.
Boasting a best of 49.07sec from Hengelo on Sunday, it is said that Eaton tried the 400m hurdles one day whilst training for the Sopot World Indoors and mastered the difficult stride pattern at his first ever attempt.
He explained that his break from combined events was planned with a view to conserving himself for the 2015 world outdoor championships in Beijing and Rio Olympics a year later.
“I just wanted a break from decathlon,” he said. “I tried the 400m hurdles in practice one day and I liked it. It’s fun!
“I needed a break from the past few years especially ahead of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“The 400m is my base training so we just took a step further with the hurdles and that’s why I chose that event.”
Ever the competitor, Eaton, added: “When it’s something new, you can stay sharp as you focus on getting better – not fall into bad habits and routines. It’s now about new approaches, staying athletic and learning something new.
“When 2013 finished, I was very tired mentally as I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, it’s a lot of stress on the mind.
“I felt tired and needed a change and now I’ve done that, I’ll have no problem competing until 2020 when I’m 32.”
Eaton, married to Canadian penatathlete Brianne Thiesen Eaton, will not have it all his own way at the Bislett Games on Wednesday.
The field includes South Africaâ€™s LJ Van Zyl, a world bronze medallist who is coming back to his best form, and fellow American Johnny Dutch, a sub-48sec runner.