The golden years of athletics’ “power couple”

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Quite often, a power couple are brought together not just through a love for each other but also a common love for something else.

For the iconic athletics duo Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, their common love was mulit-eventing.

From the moment they tied the knot in 2013, until their simultaneous retirement in 2017, the pair went to work as huge pioneers of their time.

Aston broke records and won golds in a period of sheer invincibility, while Brianne achieved things no Canadian had ever done before in the event to give her country a new lease of life.

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But despite the huge heights they reached, it took some time before either of them could make a real impression on the big stage.

Ashton’s first world championships saw him finish only 18th as a 21-year-old. However, he soon overcame his early teething troubles to go on his incredible and unparalleled run at the top.

For Brianne however, the path was a bit more complicated.

As a junior she was not much different from any other Canadian multi-eventer, finishing third from bottom at the world junior championships in 2006.

Despite winning her first international medal at the Pan-American Junior Championships the very next year, winning a  senior medal in the European-dominated heptathlon was probably till a pipe-dream.

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The cycle still continued into seniors for Brianne, which saw her finishing outside of the medals at the worlds in 2009 and then missing the next world championships due to injury, with her return from the injury producing a 10th – at the time 11th – placed finish at the 2012 Olympics.

She was still an idol in her home country though, who once upon a time were happy just to have a representative in the heptathlon. But at that point there were no real signs that the then-23-year-old would one day become her country’s first ever multi-event world champion.

However, in 2013, two things happened that changed the young Canadian’s life forever.

The arrival of the world championships in Moscow that year suddenly saw Brianne presented with a promising  chance of picking up her first ever senior global medal.

Both the respective Olympic and the world heptathlon champions Jessica Ennis-Hill and Tatyana Chernova were ruled out of the competition, with Ennis-Hill out due to pregnancy while Chernova was suspended for doping.

And with the competition now wide open, the former Pan American junior champion powered her way to an astonishing silver medal, smashing her PB by nearly 100 points to become the first Canadian ever to win a global heptathlon gold.

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During this time however, another huge change had occurred barely a month before, when she married her former college partner and the Olympic Decathlon champion Ashton Eaton, who also won gold at the same competition that year to cement their newly found status as the sport’s latest ‘power couple’.

It all came together for them after that moment, with each year seeing a new medal for both of them to fashion until their retirement after the 2016 Olympics.

But perhaps the couple’s defining moment came earlier that year in Portland at the world indoor championships, as Brianne prepared for a tight and gruelling pentathlon competition less than a year after a slightly disappointing world outdoors.

Despite being the favourite for the outdoors, producing a huge world lead of 6808 points prior to the championships, Brianne instead lost out on gold to the returning Ennis-Hill, who had only returned to training less than a year before it.

Perhaps it was written in the stars for her to win it, perhaps Brianne had messed up on the big stage. But whatever the case, the pentathlon at the world indoors presented a huge chance for her to redeem herself and achieve her long-awaited moment at the very top.

Near the end of a long and gruelling day of competition, Brianne sat second going into the final 800m event of the day. After all her years of just missing out on the big stage, what she needed was the run f her life to overtake Ukranian Anastasiya Mokhnyuk, who sat 150 points in the lead.

However, the 800m was Theisen-Eaton’s territory and she proved it loud and clear, storming to an indoor 800m personal best, before a long and nervy wait at the end of the race finally ended with her crowned champion of the world.

It was a huge moment of joy, pride and relief. Finally, world gold was Brianne’s and naturally, her husband Ashton came rushing over for a short but sweet embrace before leaving to let her soak up her moment in the spotlight.

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Finally, the ‘power couple’ had come full circle. World and Olympic champion Ashton also took gold the day after in the men’s heptathlon to make it the one and only time that both simultaneously would hold a world gold medal.

Silver medallist Mokhnyuk was subsequently disqualified from the competition after testing positive for Meldonium, meaning Brianne had triumphed over the world, over dopers and over her own past disappointments as well.

Of all the years that both had spent on the track, off the track and through their subsequent retirement the year after, 2016 was certainly the goldest of all their golden years together.

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First published on: 14 February, 2019 2:27 pm

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