|Ashton Eaton (left) and Trey Hardee, who earned decathlon gold
and silver at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Their competitive seasons are over, but Ashton Eaton and Allyson Felix keep winning.
The “world’s greatest athlete" and the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete at the London 2012 Olympic Games are the male and female recipients of the 2012 Jesse Owens Award, which honors the outstanding performers in the sport.
Felix won USA Track & Field’s highest award a record fourth time while Eaton is a first-time winner. Felix also won in 2005, 2007 and 2010.
Eaton, 24, of Eugene, Ore., won the decathlon in London after his world record breaking performance at the rain-soaked U.S. Olympic Trials, where he scored 9,039 points.
Earlier in the year, Eaton also bettered his own world record in the heptathlon with 6,645 points to win the World Indoor Championships. He even captured his first national title in an individual event by winning the long jump at the USA Indoor Championships.
Eaton said he rode the momentum from the 2011 World Outdoor Championships, in Daegu, South Korea, where he earned the silver medal.
“I knew what it felt like to be on the second tier of the podium and I wanted to feel what it would be like to be on the first tier,” he said. “With the Olympics on my mind, it was easy to check off the other goals as I went along.”
Felix, 26, of Santa Clarita, Calif., won three gold medals at the 2012 Games, the most by any U.S. track and field athlete, and was also the first woman since Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988 to become a three-time champion at the same Games.
Felix finally prevailed in the Olympic 200 meters after winning three world championships titles in the event, but settling for silver twice at the Games. She also ran legs on the winning 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays. The U.S. women smashed the world record in the 4 x 100 relay, clocking 40.82 seconds to become the first team in history less than 41 seconds. They broke a mark set 27 years ago by East Germany.
“I think what made this year so special was just the journey that I’ve been on my entire career,” said Felix, “from having silver medals in 2004 and 2008, I feel like that really motivated me and kept me really driven throughout.”
Felix is also a candidate for the international track and field federation’s top female award, which will be presented in Barcelona on Nov. 24. Shot putter Valerie Adams of New Zealand and heptathlete Jessica Ennis of Great Britain are the other candidates.
Eaton and Felix were part of a U.S. track and field team that won 29 Olympic medals, the highest total since earning 30 in Barcelona 20 years earlier.
Joining them as finalists for the Jesse Owens Award were Will Claye, Leo Manzano, Aries Merritt, Galen Rupp and Christian Taylor for the men and Carmelita Jeter, Chaunté Lowe, Brittney Reese, Sanya Richards-Ross and Jenn Suhr for the women.
Eaton and Felix will be presented their awards on Dec. 1, at the Jesse Owens Hall of Fame Banquet, which will be held in conjunction with USA Track & Field’s 2012 Annual Meeting in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Since the Games, both Felix and Eaton have had the chance to travel and experience life on stages other than the competitive arena, going behind the podium instead of on the podium.
Felix, who was in New York City on Monday to take part in Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards, has spoken passionately about promoting physical activity for children at venues including the Clinton Global Initiative.
She is heading to Africa on Tuesday with Right to Play, where she will meet children in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
“Right to Play uses sport for development,” Felix said. “We go into these places and teach kids life lessons.”
Eaton, who scored 8,869 points in London on the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s victory in the first Olympic decathlon, said people want to hear him tell his story. “It’s been more of me telling how I got to where I ended up,” he said.
At the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Eaton set decathlon world records in the 100 and long jump, as well as a personal best in the 1500 to break the overall world record and shatter Dan O’Brien’s 20-year-old American record of 8,891 in the process.
He said crossing the finish line in the 1,500 was his most memorable moment. “I didn’t think I would be able to do something like that,” he said. “Oregon is where I am from, the University of Oregon is where track and field happened for me, to be the 100th anniversary of my event, and to have the past American gold medalists there watching, you really can’t get any better than that.”
Felix’s Olympic Trials were more controversial, as she wound up in a dead heat for third place in the 100 meters. Jeneba Tarmoh conceded the spot to her without a runoff, and Felix credits the 100 – in which she finished fifth in the Olympic Games with a personal best 10.89 seconds -- with giving her the speed and toughness to win her first individual Olympic gold medal in the 200.
Felix, who had set an Olympic Trials record of 21.69 seconds in the 200 – breaking Flo-Jo’s mark from 1988 -- ran 21.88 seconds in London.
For track and field athletes, there’s only a slight letdown in the post-Olympic year because the World Championships will be held next summer in Moscow.
Neither Felix nor Eaton has plans at this time to run indoors.
“I’ve kind of been easing myself back into things,” Felix said. “I haven’t formally started with Bobby (Kersee, her coach) yet. I’m doing things by myself on the road and will be back with Bobby in two weeks. Then everything goes back into full force training.”
She said she is thinking of adding the 400 to her repertoire again, perhaps doubling like she did in the 2011 Worlds, when she was second in the 400 and third in the 200.
Felix ran a blistering 47.8 split in the 4 x 400 relay at the Olympic Games en route to the U.S. winning time of 3:16.87.
“I think I’m definitely open to it more, especially if I want to run in Rio,” she said of the 2016 Games. “Looking at the reality of that, seeing how my sprints are going will determine that. As I get older, the 400 may suit me more. I feel like I’m more accepting of that and open as we approach the next season.”
But the 200 remains Felix’s favorite. “I think I’m really in my prime right now with that event,” she said. “I’ve just got a lot of confidence from running at Trials and the whole year. I’m excited to see where I can go with it.”
Eaton said he is in Week 2 of his preparation cycle, “getting the body prepared. I’m in the weight room and getting ready to start the year again.”
He said he believes he can improve in all 10 of his events but added that “I don’t know by how much.”
Eaton singled out four events: the shot put, in which he was just starting to get his technique down at the end of the year, the discus and javelin, “which I haven’t figured out yet,” and the pole vault, which is “still a steep learning curve.”
He also hopes to run as fast in the 110 hurdles in the decathlon as he has in open competitions, set the world decathlon record in the 400 and perhaps qualify for the U.S. team in the 4 x 400-meter relay – which would give him a chance at winning multiple medals at a meet.
His main goal though, is simply having fun.
“In the Olympic year, I had a lot of expectations for myself. It was fun afterwards, but leading up, it was stressful. Now I’m relaxed. I’ve accomplished this goal. Now I’m seeing if I can fulfill my potential and see what new young athletes come up."
Eaton will compete in May in the decathlon hotbed of Gotzis, Austria, and then hopes to qualify for the IAAF World Championships set for August in Moscow.
But Eaton’s big event is his wedding on July 13, a couple of weeks before Worlds. Eaton is marrying Brianne Theisen, a heptathlete.
Plans are “going very well,” Eaton said. “Brianne is one of the most organized people I know and we have almost everything done.”
Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.