Oregon Live: It's all about the journey for Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the planet's most athletic couple

This article was originally published on the Oregon Live website.

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton are at the top of their game. Aston Eaton won 2012 Olympic gold in the decathlon. Theisen-Eaton is the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion. These photos follow them as they train for world championships and ultimately the Olympics at the University of Oregon. Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton warm-up on the track before heading indoors for technical training. Thomas Boyd/Staff

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton are at the top of their game. Aston Eaton won 2012 Olympic gold in the decathlon. Theisen-Eaton is the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion. These photos follow them as they train for world championships and ultimately the Olympics at the University of Oregon. Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton warm-up on the track before heading indoors for technical training. Thomas Boyd/Staff

The world's most athletic couple is not satisfied.

Not with medals. Not with records. Not after standing on the award stand wrapped in a flag.

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton can be better. They know it. Technique can improve. The jump can go longer or higher. The throw can travel farther.

At the top of their profession, they are relentlessly focused on staying there through the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

On this cool, sunny day recently on the Hayward Field infield, Eaton is fuming about the discus.

Eaton won 2012 Olympic gold in the decathlon. He set the decathlon world record of 9,039 points at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.

To get the record, he ran the 1,500 meters - his 10th event in two days - in 4 minutes, 14.48 seconds, fans in the packed stands at Hayward coming to their feet as he neared the finish line.

The roar of the crowd continued as Eaton turned to the scoreboard to see his time. When the time flashed up his eyes brimmed over. It was one of those goose-bump moments that make sports worth watching.

But now Hayward is mostly still as Eaton and coach Harry Marra work on discus technique.

The discus is not Eaton's best event, and so one in which, perhaps, there is the most room for improvement. On the track, in the 100, the 400, the 110 hurdles, and in the long jump, Eaton is good enough to compete in open events.

Marra sees hope with the discus.

"Ashton, that's a home run," he says.

Eaton shakes his head.

"No, it's not," he says. "It's going to the fence and he's catching it."

Marra spent a decade as Team USA's decathlon coach. He has guided seven decathletes past 8,000 points, the event's equivalent of a .350 batting average or 2,500 yards rushing.

There might not be a better technical multi-events coach alive. He likes the improvement he sees in Eaton's fundamentals.

"It's not going anywhere," Eaton complains after another throw.

Marra smiles.

"It's March," he says. "It doesn't have to go anywhere until August."

• • •

As a reigning world champion, Eaton already has qualified for the IAAF World Track & Field Championships this summer in Beijing.

Theisen-Eaton almost certainly will represent Canada in the heptathlon. She was the world championships silver medalist in 2013 and won the Commonwealth Games gold a year ago.

Next year, the Rio Olympics loom.

The Eatons met at the University of Oregon, where they were teammates. Eaton was a three-time NCAA decathlon champion and Theisen-Eaton won three NCAA heptathlon titles.

They often train together, each serving as another set of eyes for the other. It's maybe the most accomplished two-athlete training group anywhere. Ever.

"Harry sees the stuff," Theisen-Eaton says. "But Ashton feels the stuff."

Coaching the Eatons is a full-time job for Marra.

But even though they're the only two athletes he currently coaches, Marra doesn't work for them. He is employed by Oregon Track Club Elite.

He doesn't hang out with the Eatons away from practice, and doesn't want to.

"Maybe after all of this is said and done I'll be their friend," Marra says. "I don't dislike them. But it's my job to teach them how to run, jump and throw. I don't want that compromised."

The Eatons are all business at practice. So is Marra, who comes to every workout with a detailed plan.

"If I didn't," he says, "they would chew me up."

It's hands-on, focused, intense, and sometimes draining. It works within the prism of the Eatons' marriage because they have learned where the boundaries are.

Theisen-Eaton is the cook. Eaton is the kitchen cleanup crew. He has video games. She has favorite television shows, such as "The Bachelor."

They have learned what to say, what not to say, when to pipe up and when to be quiet.

"When he is trying to give me input, it's usually because I'm struggling with something," Theisen-Eaton says. "When I try to help with something, it's because he is struggling."

Sometimes the help is welcomed. If not, it's better to let it drop.

Sometimes, there isn't anything left to say.

They've been together all day, already seen it, already lived it. When they come home, they are physically, emotionally and mentally drained.

"When you're training seriously, you don't really do extra-curricular activities," Eaton says. "You sit at home, read, go on the Internet, watch a movie."

Then they go to bed. When the new day dawns, they do it all over again.

• • •

The shot put looks deceptively simple from the grandstands. There is one heavy ball, thrown with one arm.

As Marra breaks it down under Hayward Field's west grandstand, it becomes unbelievably complicated.

Marra at work is a lesson in biomechanics. Much of the impetus for a put comes from the lower body. The footwork has to be right, the hips have to engage, the body weight has to transfer.

It takes place in a 7-foot circular ring, which means there is a lot happening in an enclosed space.

In practice, it's a lot like a baseball swing. In fact, the Eatons warm up by swinging a bat.

Massage therapist Don Butzner records video of each throw on an iPad. The video is dissected after each practice attempt.

A technical imperfection at any point in any of the moving parts detracts from the throw. And since so many things have to happen for the throw to be perfect, perfection remains out of reach.

Shot-putters spend their career refining the technique. For athletes in the multi-events, it's a small part of one practice. There are nine other events for Eaton and six for Theisen-Eaton that require just as much focus and attention to detail.

It's exhausting, as much mentally as physically.

"One of the things that we're learning as we get older is that the improvements come less often," Eaton says. "And they're less significant. The range of improvement is smaller."

Time hurries. Perspective changes. The horizon narrows.

Eaton was 24 when he set the world record and won Olympic gold. He is 27 now, and will be 28 when the world comes to Rio de Janeiro next summer.

Former world record-holder Dan O'Brien won his only Olympic gold medal and the last of five world outdoor championships at 30. No multi-event athlete goes on forever.

"There is a sense of running out of time," Eaton says. "Between now and Rio, I'll only do three or four decathlons. And then you go on to 2017. Say I win Worlds. So I'll do five."

Major League Baseball players have 162 games each season to get the swing right.

For a multi-event athlete, every competition has to count.

One thing that separates the multi athletes who win Olympic medals is that for them, every one does.

Marra remembers seeing Eaton in 2009 at the USATF Outdoor Championships.

Former UO assistant Dan Steele was Eaton's coach then. Steele told Marra to watch the kid, who had a chance to be someone special.

Eaton's athleticism took Marra's breath away. But it was watching Eaton adjust during a difficult high jump competition that impressed him most.

Steele called Eaton over for a technical consultation after he missed a clearance.

"Ashton was in a high-pressure situation, trying to make the U.S. team for Berlin," Marra says. "I don't know what Steele said to him. I don't remember, and that's not the point."

The point? Eaton was calm and completely focused on his coach, drinking in every word. There were no jitters. He wasn't distracted. Eaton was a 21-year-old college student, but the stage wasn't too big.

Marra remembers thinking: "This guy could be great."

• • •

Theisen-Eaton arrived in Eugene a year after Eaton did, which means as brilliant as her career trajectory is, she is No. 2 in her own house.

By the time Theisen-Eaton won her third NCAA outdoor title, Eaton already had three of his own. Theisen-Eaton set the Pac-12 heptathlon record in 2012. Eaton set the world decathlon record a month later.

She made the 2012 Canadian Olympic team. He won the gold medal.

"I had to learn to get over the fact he was more accomplished than me," Theisen-Eaton says. "I had been doing the same things he did up until he broke the world record. But because he was a year ahead, he would always be doing one thing better.

"It's almost like once he already had accomplished something, it wasn't as significant."

Life experience brings life lessons. Theisen-Eaton's last two years -- winning silver at the 2013 World Outdoor Championships in Moscow, and gold in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow -- have helped her step out from her husband's shadow.

Athletics Canada recently named Theisen-Eaton co-outstanding athlete of the year with high jumper Derek Drouin.

As it turns out, Theisen-Eaton is accomplished at the world level, too.

"They play off each other really well," Marra says. "Brianne is an athlete and Ashton is an athlete."

And in many ways, they are athletically different. Where Eaton is spectacular on the track from the 400 down and plays catch-up in throwing events, Theisen-Eaton is solid across all seven heptathlon events.

"She doesn't have a weakness," Marra says

In a practice session under the west grandstand, Marra and Theisen-Eaton bear down hard on the javelin.

Marra believes the javelin - the sixth of the seven heptathlon events - could be a difference-maker in Rio if the battle for gold comes down to Theisen-Eaton and British stars Jessica Ennis, the 2012 Olympic champion, and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Ennis holds the world heptathlon record in the 100 hurdles of 12.54 seconds. Johnson-Thompson has high jumped 6-5 1/2 and long jumped 22-9.

"Holy cow, that's big time stuff," Marra says. "But Bri can throw far. If she does, if she wins the javelin, she can look over at her competitors and say, 'OK girls. Who is going to run now?'"

Theisen-Eaton has something else going for her that Ennis and Johnson-Thompson do not.

"The best training situation in the world," she says.

• • •

While Theisen-Eaton was building up for the Commonwealth Games, Eaton took a sabbatical from the decathlon last year.

He trained for and competed in the 400 hurdles, a completely new event for him.

He held his own on the summer circuit in Europe against athletes who train full time only in the 400 hurdles, another measure of his extraordinary athletic ability.

"Our approach last year was to have as much fun as possible," Marra says.

It paid off for all concerned. Eaton says he enjoyed traveling on the continent and competing regularly.

There were no expectations. The pace of competition was completely different.

"Instead of sitting in my hotel room, taking adequate breaks and making sure I wasn't doing anything stupid to tax myself before a meet," he says, "I thought, 'I'm running one event and I usually do 10. It's going to take 50 seconds. I'm usually competing for 24 hours. I can afford to explore a bit.'"

So Eaton saw the sights and made friends.

He was part of a traveling group with some of the U.S. hurdlers, becoming buddies with Lolo Jones, Queen Harrison and Nia Ali.

"It made me realize why I did track in the first place," Eaton says. "Because it's fun. The competition was fun. The athletes are fun. The traveling is fun. The training is fun."

It's as good an explanation as any for what drives track & field's power duo. Well, that and the sheer satisfaction of doing what they do better than anyone else on the planet.

They certainly aren't in this for the fame.

Eaton didn't appear on a Wheaties box after winning Olympic gold, the way many other U.S. Olympic stars have.

The Eatons were approached for a possible reality television show. But, eating, sleeping, playing video games and putting the shot don't provide the kind of fireworks that produce ratings.

Don't go looking for "Keeping Up With the Eatons."

They don't need the attention, or even seem to want it.

There are no hangers-on when the Eatons practice. No flunkies, no gofers. When it's time to work with the hurdles under the west grandstand, Eaton helps set them up.

Imagine Mike Trout wheeling out the cage for pregame batting practice.

When they are done with hurdles, Eaton helps carry them off the track to put them away.

Then it's on to the next event.

Because as good as the world's most athletic couple is, there still are improvements to make.

The work is never done.

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/trackandfield/in...