With the new season looming mere weeks away, there is no denying the growing buzz in Eugene and around the nation as fall practices have begun. We are almost there.
But while preparations mount for the season to come, there are a few Ducks across the pond that are making some serious waves right now.
There are a few days of summer left, and with it every four years is the greatest spectacle of nationalistic pride through sport, the Olympic Summer Games. Perhaps it’s a chance to pass the time with sports of unusual appeal in the rarity in which they are seen outside of the Olympics–when was the last time competitive whitewater kayaking, synchronized diving, or dressage were featured on television outside of the games.
The dog days of summer are often a drag waiting for the return of fall sports, but the Olympics always make at least a brief stint of the stretch more palatable. This version of the Olympics gain an added bonus, as 11 athletes with University of Oregon ties have competed for Olympic glory, instantly making it must-see TV for any true Duck fan.
Nevermind the horrendous delay between competition and broadcast, with each event long-since spoiled by twitter or news affiliates, seeing our Duckies in action on the largest international stage is a site to behold. Sure, they are Americans (or Australian, Canadian, and Nigerian for three of the athletes tied to the UO in the competition), and there is pride to take from seeing American athletes compete at the top level, but it is so much more, they’re Ducks. They’re OURS.
Now, I don’t claim to understand the scoring of a gymnastics floor routine for example, but I cheered for Gabby Douglas, Ali Raisman, and the rest of the “fierce 5″ like I am a connoisseur of the sport. The Olympics have a way of doing that. Sports that have judges determining the final outcome rather than a definitive score made by way of a run, basket, goal, or touchdown seem subject to a lot of scrutiny and mystery, especially when they include gratuitously added aesthetics that seem completely unnecessary to executing a flip on a skinny beam. But I’ll still watch, we’ll all still watch with great intrigue, cheering on our American athletes every step of the way. But that enthusiasm for the games is elevated to heights unseen when a Duck, or in this case 11 Ducks, is involved.
Some Oregon Duck athletes of course did better than others. Some fell short of their goals, while others made quite a name for themselves even in defeat. Brianne Thiesen set personal bests in the heptathlon for Team Canada, Chamberlain Oguchi’s 29-point performance in a loss for Team Nigeria vs. the French basketball featuring numerous NBA players was so impressive that he has gone from almost complete unknown to a legitimate NBA prospect (perhaps the next Ivan Johnson).
But amidst the highs and lows of the 2012 Olympic Games, it will be impossible to think of Oregon’s impact on the competition without first considering what Ashton Eaton and Galen Rupp are doing in London right now.
It’s one thing just to make it to the Olympics to represent a country. It’s quite another to reach the games, and dominate the competition in every facet. That is exactly what Ashton Eaton, expanding on his world-record set in the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field by cruising to Olympic gold in London in the decathlon, an event recognized as being the marker for “the world’s greatest athlete.”
Yesterday in London, former Oregon Duck and Oregon native Ashton Eaton completed a dominant performance, right out of the gates the first-time Olympian setting the bar high with an Olympic record 10.35 second 100 meter dash.
Eaton then followed that performance with solid marks in each of the final first day events, including a win in the 400 meters clocking a 46.90. After the final event gave him 4,661 points, he ended his day with a 220 point lead over fellow American Trey Hardee and a gold medal in his sights.
Yesterday, Eaton closed the deal, bringing home a gold medal for the USA, his 8,869 cumulative point total just shy of the Olympic record. It was the first time that Americans finished 1-2 in the event since the 1956 games, the first time since 1964 that the top two finishers came from the same country.
The decathlon sets itself apart from other sports by the adversity and grueling nature. 10 events. Professional athletes make millions for perfecting one sport. Those who can successfully perform in two, such as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, are considers all-time greats. Consider not just participating in, but mastering 10 different sports. The World’s Greatest Athlete indeed.
In Eugene during the Olympic trials, Eaton set a word record with 9,039 points, the first time the record was held by an American since Dan O’Brien in 1992. The undisputed “fastest man in world” Usain Bolt agrees with the label of ‘world’s greatest athlete’ for the winner of the decathlon, and even Chip Kelly was quoted as saying that he wished they would have recruited Eaton to play football, recognizing the ability of the previous regime to transform another Olympic-caliber athlete in Jordan Kent into a quality receiver who then spent several years in the NFL.
Tomorrow, Duck fans old and new will get to see another former UO track star going for history of a different kind. Galen Rupp will run in the finals of the 5,000 meter, hopefully an encore to one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 Olympics last Saturday. Rupp already will go down as one of the greatest distant runners in Oregon history perhaps second only to Steve Prefontaine, but as of last Saturday he accomplished something Pre never did–win an Olympic medal.
Rupp alongside his training partner, England’s Mo Farah, gutted out a brilliant race in the 10k, with Farah assuming the lead before his home country while Rupp, bleeding from the knee from being spiked earlier in the race, out-kicked a Kenya runner in the final stretch to achieve the silver. After shocking the word with his gutsy silver medal winning race in the 10,000, many people including his coach Alberto Salazar believe he has a good shot at the podium in the 5,000 as well.
How significant is that? Well, considering that no American had earned a medal in the 10,000 in 48 years, and also given that no American has ever collected medals in both events at the same Olympics, it is pretty darn significant.
The University of Oregon can claim 11 total athletes in the London games, and the state of Oregon can claim even more Olympians with ties such as Mo Farah, Jesse Williams, and Nick Symmonds, but no one is stealing the spotlight quite the way Eaton and Rupp have. It seems odd to think but will be resoundingly true–years from now few if any will recall who won Olympic gold in the 10k at the London Olympics, but half the state will know Galen Rupp won the Silver.
What does this mean to have these two home-town athletes competing at this high of a level against the most elite global competition? While the performances have the media buzzing, the full effects, the full impact of this is not likely to be felt for years to come; but make no mistake, the effects will be felt for many, many years.
These accomplishments are historic, and in London, they are magnified to audiences around the world more so than possibly any other sporting event. Certainly more so than LeBron James and the Miami Heat winning the NBA “world” championship, for example. Heck, LeBron James winning the gold medal at these same Olympic is such a foregone obvious conclusion nobody much cares about that either.
Track & Field is a special in Eugene, but even in Tracktown U.S.A. it takes a backseat to Oregon Ducks football. In a couple weeks at least that will be the case, but for right now the accomplishments of Eaton and Rupp and all other American athletes with Oregon O’s in their hearts stand tall proudly above all others.
There is nothing that allows national pride quite like the Olympics. It’s a time to display the flag with pride, to cheer on OUR athletes with chants of ‘USA! USA! USA!’, but this time around that has been combined with ‘Go Ducks!’ as well. The medals won thus far with more yet to possibly come represent not just the United States, they represent Oregon. They are something to yield with pride, like the Rose Bowl trophy and two national championship earned by Duck athletes in the 2011-2012 season.
Go Team USA! Go Galen…Go Ducks!