Lessons from the G.O.A.T

Ashton-Eaton-Decathlon-Javelin-United-States-London-2012-Olympics

Eaton, 2012 Olympic Decathlon Champion, competes in the penultimate event, the javelin throw.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get free advice from the greatest athlete on the planet? (GOAT for those who are stumped refers to the Greatest of All Time, not the farm animal.)  Well here are some tips from Ashton Eaton2012 Olympic Champion and World Record Holder in the Decathlon, the grandaddy of all Track & Field events.

Forget all this talk about WODS, burpees, followed by double unders and 20 power cleans. Try this WOD over two days. First day: run 100 meters, long jump, throw a shot put, high jump, and then run 400 meters. Sound not too terrible? If you’re crawling after day one, just remember you’re only half way done. Get ready for tomorrow: Run 110 meter hurdles, throw the discus, pole vault, throw a javelin and run the torturous 1500 meters. This last event is sort of an oddball one for decathletes, who possess and develop skills more suited for speed and strength related events.

I think I’m more fatigued just rattling off those events than actually partaking in them. I had enough trouble mastering one event in my hammer throwing days in college. The sport of Weightlifting seems to sort of mirror multi-event competitions, in that both require tremendous mental and physical endurance necessary to succeed, but it doesn’t compare to the diversity in a decathlon. (And I thought completing 6 lifts in a meet was not unlike a decathlon, boy was I wrong.)

As evidenced by this photo taken at the 2013 IAAF Track & Field World Championships in Moscow, the best decathletes in the world are showing signs of exhaustion, falling to the track after crossing the line in final event, the 1500 meters. Keep in mind, these guys have trained for this two day physical fest for years. (Notice Eaton is still smiling and standing – I suppose being crowned World Champion gave him a slight jolt of adrenaline.)

I’d be willing to bet the world’s greatest athlete is also the world’s fittest human. (Not the other way around though.) It’d be quite a matchup to see how Rich Froning, three time winner of the CrossFit Games would fare in a decathlon with Ashton Eaton. Or to see how Annie Thorsdottir would fare in a heptathlon against 2012 Olympic Champion Jessica Ennis.

Both Froning and Thorsdottir are tremendous athletes in their own right, but I find it hard to believe either one would be able to top Eaton and Ennis. Having said that, I think both CrossFit Champions would still do relatively well if they had the chance to become multi-event athletes.

How do you think the world’s best CrossFitters would fare against the world’s best Multi-event athletes?

More importantly, Eaton’s meteoric rise in the decathlon is equally attributed to his mental outlook and approach toward competition. Ironically, Eaton doesn’t put an estimate on what he’s capable of running, jumping or throwing and instead let’s the process of preparation take care of the eventual outcome.

Eaton states unequivocally, “I don’t set goals. Competing with a number in your head can be limiting, and I don’t know what my capabilities are yet. If I reach a goal, I’ll feel happy without knowing how much more I might have been able to accomplish. One of my really good coaches used to say, ‘Don’t run for the time, just compete and the times will come.”

As much as we outline goals and set expectations, there comes in a point where there’s not much else we can do prior to a competition. At this point the toughest part is accepting the work put in and trusting the process which will determine the outcome. I’ll admit, that’s not easy to do. Athletes and coaches have a general idea of what is well within their reach, but no one really knows if their goals will actually be met. At what point do we trust what we have done and let the rest take care of itself?

As the world’s greatest athlete, who do you compete against? Eaton says his biggest competitor is himself. In an event where you can stack yourself against the field of other athletes, the clock, the bar or the tape measure, the only person guaranteed to show up at every opportunity is you. The only person you can look to better is yourself.

Competition can be stressful but if we learn to perceive its value in a constructive way we can grow athletically, professionally and personally. By constantly competing, we gain confidence, composure and develop character. In other words, learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stepping up to the competition platform can be a bitter pill to swallow, but I know it is necessary if I want to attain a certain level of success. How do you make yourself better? Do you try to do the things you fear most?

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