Ashton Eaton (United States, Men’s Decathlon, Gold Medal) and Brianne Theisen-Eaton (Canada, Women’s Heptathlon, Bronze Medal)
Q: Ashton, Visa posted outtakes from the Carpool commercial shoot in which you would give yourself guff and egg yourself on by saying, “Come on Eaton!” You were criticizing yourself but you also had this incredible sunniness about it. Is that your self-talk when you’re competing?
Eaton: I would say there’s some of that going on. When it comes down to moments like that, you do have things in your mind where it’s like, ‘Jeez I might not make it,’ so you try to shut it out with something a little bit louder. Just saying to yourself, “Come on, you can do it”—I remember saying to myself during the pole vault [when I missed two tries in the opening height] and in the long jump. I said to myself, “this is the Olympic Games, figure it out.” You try to make it positive because negative things creep in and affect your performance.
Q: Brianne, what is your self-talk like when you’re going through all of your events?
Theisen-Eaton: When I perform the best, I don’t have any self-talk really. Things are kind of like…quiet. But it’s the same when things are going badly; thoughts creep in and you’re trying to drown them out.
Eaton: I would say it’s different for a race versus a field event. During the race there’s no time for talking. You don’t say anything to yourself—you get in the blocks and you go. But when you’re doing something like the high jump and you miss a bar, that’s when I start saying “okay, do this that and the other thing.”
Q: Brianne, I read an interview in which you were talking about constantly being referred to as Ashton’s wife. What do you think female athletes can do to shift the conversation to themselves as athletes?
Theisen-Eaton: When I was competing in London, I got referred to as the fiancé of Ashton, which I was frustrated about. But when I look back, I think they were doing that because I wasn’t on anyone’s radar for winning a medal and maybe they were just trying to help people understand who I was. As in these Olympic Games when a commentator referred to a female athlete as the wife of a professional football player, the [headline] should never be that, but somewhere in the article it could be mentioned so that it grabs more readers and she gets more attention and people can begin to understand who she is. But I’ve had a ton of articles written about “Ashton Eaton and wife.” It’s frustrating for sure. For the first time I was not referred to as Ashton’s wife in this Olympic Game. They never mention you [turning to Ashton] as the husband of me. I don’t know how to fix it; that’s a hard question.
Eaton: The answer would be the key to everything, like women in politics, women in the workplace, because it’s across the whole spectrum.
Theisen-Eaton: It would be interesting to see. Like, if you just wrote their name, would it be read as much? I have no idea.
Eaton: It starts as soon as a kid is born, you get the pink and then you get the blue, right? You get the dolls and you get the trucks. There’s already a differentiation there. I tell you, people should read up on that ancient Spartan culture. At the time, as far as I know, they were the only culture in which men and women were educated and treated equally. When they were seven they all received the same education and everybody shaved their heads, so there was no differentiation. The men and the women both fought and did the same physical training because that was a big part of their culture, and the only reason the women stayed back while the men fought is that they had the kids. But because they stayed back, they also had to protect the city. So they wanted them to have the same training.