This excerpt is from the Dec 7, 2015 edition of IAAF’s Spikes magazine.
This is probably the event everyone wants to know about. How did you do it? What did it feel like? Where is the magic wand?
[Coach] Harry [Marra] always tells us that the year before the Olympic year is where all the work gets done. We had been running our little hienies off for most of the 2015 season which is pretty normal for us. But I think what helped most was doing the 400 hurdles the year before. I had gotten in great 400m shape. I ran more 400ms than I ever had. Compound that with heavy training leading into Beijing, then a masterful peaking plan from Harry and it’s kind of a no brainer.
But what really set it off was one of my first races of the year. It was at the Oregon Twilight meet at Hayward Field May 9th or something. We convinced [USA’s 4x400m Olympic silver medallist] Bryshon Nellum to come race. I was in lane five and he was in six. I took off like normal knowing I’d get out a little harder than him but it was around the 200m where my Beijing 45 flat journey began. Every step Bryshon took after the 200m line was getting faster. I was like “what the hell is he doing?” I went with him. We kept this up for the entire 200m. Neck and neck. He ended up beating my by .01 something; but I didn’t care. I wanted to know what the 200m business was about. I asked him and he told me that 400m runners start moving at the 200m gradually picking it up each stride. I had always waited until about 125-150 to go and then I’d hammer it.
So I ran a 400m in Atlanta a couple weeks before we left for Asia and it’s there that I really made a breakthrough. I had been practicing what Bryshon had said and I did it in this meet. I PBd by very little but I knew I’d run fast. I’d beaten a handful of great 400m runners (the track was made of bouncy balls so all times were slow. Asafa Powell ran 10.00…).
The next piece of the breakthrough was at the Canadian training camp in South Korea. It’s there I met [1992 Olympic 400m champion] Quincy Watts for the first time. He and Harry were roommates so we all had breakfast every morning. I told him about how I’ve learned to run the 400m, both old and new strategies. He basically gave me a few more tips and I simply used them. 1 – coming off the first turn, push a little harder for about 4-5 strides then settle back down. 2 – do the same thing going into the 200m, then basically do the Bryshon. This is getting long so I’ll make a final summary.
Before the race in Beijing Harry kept telling me to trust it. Trust what I had done and trust the new things I’d learned. He kept telling me that because I was pretty tired and thought maybe I’d be good for a 46 flat. But he kept saying I could take down Toomey [1968 Olympic decathlon champion Bill Toomey set the previous 400m decathlon best of 45.68 in Mexico City]. But I like to be honest with myself. So I’m in the blocks and I get out like normal, do the Quincy Watts and then when the 200m comes I do the Bryshon Nellum and then with 100m to go I do the Lashawn Meritt (I’ve watched him race and decided that he must try to hold his form the last 100m for a reason).
[Tweet “Ashton Eaton’s 45.00 400m: I basically copied Quincy Watts, Bryshon Nellum & Lashawn Merritt”]
So that’s what I did and I was blown away. I basically copied three people. I thought for sure the clock was off and in a minute they’d reset the time to 46 something. When that didn’t happen I thought I had pulled a VCB and went into lane six and was disqualified. When neither happened I thought “Harry was right.”