Eaton went on to score his first Olympic gold medal in the decathlon at the London 2012 Olympic Games exactly 100 years after Jim Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma, won the gold medal in the first Olympic Games decathlon in Stockholm. Eaton was the youngest member of the U.S. decathlon team at age 24 when he topped the podium.
Growing up in an athletic family (his grandfather played football for Michigan State University), Eaton showed talent in football, basketball, soccer and wrestling. He even picked up a black belt in martial arts. He transitioned to track and field in high school and won the state high school championship for the 400 meters during his final year. Still, few colleges recruited him for the sport. Eaton’s coach, Tate Metcalf, suggested he consider universities with strong programs in the decathlon, an event Eaton hadn’t heard of at the time but proved to be right up his alley. Eaton chose the University of Oregon.
At the University of Oregon, Eaton honed his skills in the decathlon and became the first male athlete to win three consecutive titles in the decathlon at the NCAA National Championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He also won the heptathlon at the NCAA National Championships in 2009 and 2010. He met Brianne Theisen during his freshman year at the university when the track and field team hosted high school seniors visiting the campus (he told his alumni association that their first 15-minute chat was the “coolest conversation I’d ever had with a girl”). The couple fell in love at the 2007 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships in Brazil, where Theisen won the gold medal for Canada. She joined Eaton at the University of Oregon soon after.
In 2010, Eaton was named Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year and Indoor Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and received the prestigious Bowerman Award, given annually to the best male and female U.S. collegiate track and field athletes. In 2011, Eaton won the silver medal in the decathlon at the 2011 World Championships and broke his own world record in the heptathlon at the 2012 World Indoor Championships before he went on to break the world record in the decathlon at the London 2012 Olympic Trials. A year after that historic day, Eaton and Theisen were married.
Visa is proud to welcome both Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton to Team Visa, a group of world-class Olympic and Paralympic Games athletes who embody Visa’s values of acceptance, partnership and innovation. Through the Team Visa program, Visa has supported more than 1,000 Olympic and Paralympic Games hopefuls by providing them with financial and marketing support in the run up to and during the Olympic Games. While Eaton said he would be satisfied to win another gold medal in Rio, the idea of watching his wife take home an Olympic gold medal, her first, is just as enticing. “Oh man,” he said. “That feeling would be indescribable.”
Theresa Gonzalez is a senior writer for Visa and the author of two Chronicle Books titles. She lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @theresagonzalez.
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