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Eaton defends decathlon title; U.S. wins 400 hurdles

AP, Reuters

Deep in the second day of the decathlon, a rare hint of vulnerability from Ashton Eaton gave his rivals an unlikely glimmer of hope.

The man known as the world’s greatest all-around athlete had failed twice at a low height in the pole vault and faced a final attempt in the scorching afternoon sun at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday. His wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who had already won Olympic heptathlon bronze for Canada, was looking on anxiously, doubting there could be any crack in his composure.

An unlikely chance for his rivals to finally beat him?

Forget it.

“That was the moment I thought . . . your whole life has been about this,” Eaton said. “Getting ready for this. What are you going to do?”

His third attempt at 4.90 meters was perfection, and he went on to clear 5.20 and to make sure his invincibility in the 10-event competition would continue.

If there was any further doubt about his mettle, the javelin throw did away with that, too. After a bad first throw, he crept closer to the top mark of main challenger Kevin Mayer of France and made sure the concluding 1,500 meters was only a race for the Olympic record.

With a final thrust across the line he tied the mark of 8,893 points the Czech Roman Sebrle had set at the 2004 Athens Games. One second either way would have made the difference.

He went into the competition aiming to beat his world record, but expecting such a feat each time he competes just shows the mind set of the 28-year-old American. His inability to produce a record on demand showed he is merely human.

Grimacing in pain for the lactic acid building in his legs, Eaton immediately went over to congratulate silver medalist Mayer.

“To be so close to a world record holder, a man so gentle and humble, that already was exceptional,” Mayer said.

Eaton remained unbeaten in major competitions since he was left with silver at the 2011 world championships. And a second straight Olympic title puts him among only a few of the greats. Asked whether that put him in exclusive company, he said: “The decathlon is exclusive company.”

And even if it’s true that the decathlon requires traits of self-centered focus, Eaton remains a U.S. Olympic team member first and foremost.

So when Kerron Clement was running the 400-meter hurdles final as the decathletes were competing in the discus throw, he couldn’t hold himself back when his roommate took gold and crumbled to the ground in exhaustion.

He ran over onto the track and put his hands on Clement’s back with heartfelt congratulations. “I felt somebody,” Clement said. “I was on the ground, exhausted.”

In other action, Kerron Clement picked up on Thursday where the United States left off on the sultry evening before — hauling in more gold.

However tough his task was, it was made easier when Javier Culson, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Puerto Rico, was disqualified for a false start.

Kenya’s Boniface Mucheru Tumuti took silver, 0.05 behind, and Turkey’s Cuban-born Yasmani Copello, the European champion, won bronze in 47.92.

Four of the finishers produced national-record times, including Tumuti and Copello.

Dalilah Muhammad powered to a brilliant victory in the women’s 400 hurdles to become the first winner of the event from the United States in Olympic history.

The 26-year-old, the fastest woman in the world this year over the distance, blasted out of the blocks and held on to a commanding lead to take the gold in 53.13.

Sara Slott Petersen of Denmark claimed silver in 53.55, while Muhammad’s compatriot Ashley Spencer captured the bronze in 53.72.

Japan makes relay final

KYODO

The Japanese men’s 4×100-meter sprint squad progressed to the final at the Rio Olympics with the second-fastest qualifying time Thursday, a feat remarkable in itself, but made even more amazing by beating Jamaica in the process.

Japan’s team of Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Asuka Cambridge circled Olympic Stadium in 37.68 seconds, winning their heat and crossing 0.26 ahead of reigning Olympic champion Jamaica as well as sprinting powerhouses like Trinidad and Tobago and Great Britain.

The 37.68 time is a Japanese national record, taking 0.4 seconds off the old mark, and was only surpassed by the United States’ 37.65 in the first heat.