Ashton Eaton looks to push performance boundaries even in retirement

The two-time Olympic decathlon gold medallist has turned to science and engineering for his post-athletic career.

In this picture taken on 19 August, 2016, United States’ Ashton Eaton gestures during the medal ceremony for decathlon, in the athletics competitions of the Rio Olympics.   -  AP

Two-time Olympic decathlon gold medallist Ashton Eaton has turned to science and engineering for his post-athletic career but the American former world record holder told Reuters he has found a way to straddle both worlds.

Eaton, who retired from athletics in 2017, is studying for a second degree in mechanical engineering and is also part of a project at U.S. tech firm Intel aimed at helping athletes squeeze every last bit of performance out of their bodies. While the company lists his job as: ‘Product Development Engineer’, Eaton's LinkedIn bio simply reads: “2x Olympic gold medallist, decathlon. Now pursuing engineering.”

“Ultimately [I] decided I wanted to learn the fundamentals of science and engineering,” Eaton told Reuters in a recent interview.

“[Intel] asked if I would like to join the project and I just saw it as an awesome opportunity to mix what I knew with my passion about learning about science and tech.”

‘Huge leap forward’

The 32-year-old said the project was focused on using technology to show athletes the difference between how they think their body is performing and the actual measurable data. “If you can bridge the gap between what it feels like... and what you actually did from a skeletons perspective, that is a huge leap forward for how people can not only train but start out and learn how to do these things,” he added.

“That is what our project is working on; to extract how the skeleton is working and hopefully use that to not only give athletes insight and improve their performance, but also help fans who are watching sports deepen their understanding of what is going on.”

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The technology is already being used to help athletes who are having to adjust training schedules ahead of the rearranged Tokyo Olympics, which were supposed to start this month but have been pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to his two Olympic golds at London and Rio, Eaton also set the decathlon world record of 9,045 points in 2015, though this was later beaten by Frenchman Kevin Mayer.

“For me, the thing that gave me the most satisfaction, or allowed me to be O.K. with being done, was breaking the world record,” he said.

“I loved going to the Olympics and winning medals but, for me, increasing the points was always motivation.”

“That is why I love the decathlon, why I love track and field, because it is so measurable. If progress is your goal, you know where you stand.”

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