Theisen won back-to-back NCAA titles for the Ducks, and was 11th at the London Olympics. Eaton won three consecutive NCAA titles, and then at the U.S. Olympic trials last summer, in lousy weather in Eugene, he broke Dan O’Brien’s 17-year-old world record by 23 points. Theisen and Eaton’s mom Roslyn rushed to the finish line of the 1,500 metres — the final competition of the gruelling 10-event decathlon. The three hugged and sobbed.
“Being there to see him break the world record and then win the Olympic Games is the best experience I’ve ever had because I know how hard he works, and I see him at practice every day, and see him doing all this stuff, and to see that come true is so cool,” Theisen said. “You think, I can’t even imagine how that would feel like.”
The world record launched Eaton into U.S. sporting stardom. He was an answer in a newspaper crossword puzzle. Annie Leibovitz photographed him hurdling over a supermodel for “Vogue.” He posed nude for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue.
“He was so funny, he said ‘I don’t think I want to do this, it’s just too revealing, I wouldn’t want you to do Playboy,“’ Theisen said. “I laughed, ‘This is nothing like Playboy Ashton, I wouldn’t want to do Playboy either.“’
After his victory in London, Eaton appeared on Late Show with David Letterman.
“He was nervous at first, he was like ‘Some of these people are really witty, I can’t come up with really quick jokes.’ But I thought he did a really good job.”
Theisen said despite Eaton’s profile, she never feels she has to share him.
“Sometimes he gets busy and I don’t see him a lot, but I have him for the rest of my life,” she said.
The couple trains together with Mara, Theisen estimates, about 70 per cent of the time. While they’re both multi-eventers, Theisen said their bodies are very different — Eaton is more explosive and powerful with more fast-twitch muscles, while Theisen said she’s a mixture of fast and slow-twitch.
“I have to work more to be more powerful,” she said. “And he catches onto things technically a lot more quickly than I do. He’s just an amazing athlete, he’s built to do the decathlon whereas I still work I think a little bit harder.”
While they’re both self-motivated, it helps sometimes to have a sympathetic partner in their corner.
“There are times when he’ll have a bad practice, or I’ll have a bad practice and the other one will try to help,” Theisen said. “When we get home he’ll say, ‘Hey Bri, come watch this video, this is what you should look like doing high jump.’ And there are times when I’ll say, ‘Ashton, this is what it should feel like. Do you feel like this?’ We help each other.”
Theisen laughs at people who believe world records and Olympic gold medals only come with strict diets and good sleep habits.
“I live with Ashton and I see what he eats — Kraft Dinner, hot dogs. . . he plays video games until 2 in the morning,” Theisen said. “It’s so funny. Overall we’re pretty low-key, normal people.”
Mara has coached the couple since “Nov. 3, 2009.” He can recite the date, because “They’re two special people,” he said.
“They’re actually very good athletes, but they’re better human beings than they are athletes,” the coach said. “That’s saying a lot because they’re excellent athletes.”
Their strengths, Mara said, are similar. They can deal with the chaos and uncertainty of the two-day multi-events.
“Survive and be successful. They both deal with that very well,” he said. “Olympic final in the 100 metres, eight guys across the track, every one of them could win, every one of them is equal. It’s who deals with the tensions and the distractions and the physical components the best who will probably win.