Stage all set for Hardee at worlds after Eaton's retirement
LONDON -- Trey Hardee wants to set the record straight: No, he's not retired. Never has been. The thought really never crossed his mind.
The two-time world champion decathlete understands why everyone may have jumped to that conclusion. He's 33, has been sidelined by an assortment of injuries and did some broadcasting work for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
On top of that, his Wikipedia page actually listed him as retired .
"I still really love what I do," he said.
With world-record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton surprisingly announcing his retirement in January, the stage now belongs to the "other" American who, in virtually any other era, wouldn't have been relegated to such status. Once the top rival of Eaton, Hardee could take his spot atop the medal stand at the world championships in London.
"I consider myself the bread in the Ashton sandwich," Hardee joked about being around before Eaton's arrival and still around now. "When we were (competing), we were always like, `Let's finish 1-2.' Neither of us cared. We were like, `Let's dominate this event and represent the United States, make sure we show what the American decathlon stands for."
For years, it was the Eaton and Hardee Show in a 10-event competition spread over two days. At the 2012 London Games, Eaton took gold while Hardee grabbed silver. That despite Hardee having surgery on his throwing elbow a few months before the Olympics.
Another showdown loomed in Brazil. But Hardee was hobbled heading into the Olympic Trials and withdrew from the competition after aggravating his hamstring.
There went Rio for him as a competitor. Instead, he earned his way as an analyst and had a front-row seat for Eaton's title defense.
"It was a bittersweet moment, watching my countrymen and cheering for them. But really, really in the bottom of your heart, you think, `I should be out there," Hardee recounted. "It was tough. It gave me more resolve to come back this year."
A healthy Hardee turned in quite a performance at the U.S. championships in June, when he won the decathlon with 8,225 points. He held off the next wave of American decathletes eager to take over -- such as 24-year-old Zach Ziemek and Devon Williams. Both will accompany Hardee to London.
"It's a nice time to be a decathlete in the U.S.," Hardee said.
Hardee is part of a distinguished list, joining Eaton (2013, 2015), Dan O'Brien (1991, 1993, 1995), Tom Pappas (2003) and Bryan Clay (2005) as the only Americans to win the world decathlon title. Hardee captured his titles in 2009 and `11.
"Whatever my legacy is, it's not for me to determine," said Hardee, who trains in Austin, Texas. "I was just led down the right path. All I needed to do was put in the work."
His venture into the decathlon was almost by accident. Cut from his high school basketball team, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hardee turned to pole vaulting and went to Mississippi State hoping to become the next Sergei Bubka. But Hardee was introduced to the decathlon and began to flourish. He transferred to Texas, where he became an NCAA champion.
Ever since, he's been chasing that "unicorn," which he calls the mythical perfect score in the competition. His personal-best mark of 8,790 points was set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. In contrast, Eaton has set the world record twice -- 9,039 points at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then 9,045, which he attained at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.
Recently, Hardee added another event to his plate -- the getting-his-daughter-to-laugh competition. He scores big numbers in that area.
"She can smile at you, and turn you into a puddle on the floor," said Hardee, whose wife -- a retired pole vaulter -- gave birth to their daughter, Frankie , on Dec. 5, 2016 . "When she's happy, we're happy. I've never been more heartbroken than when I'm holding her and she's crying."
The family won't be accompanying him to London. This is more of a business trip. He feels confident heading into London, though, even if he's dealing with a nagging foot ailment.
"I'm dangerous, because I still got some pop," Hardee said. "I'm the wild card."
Asked when he might step aside for real, Hardee just laughed.
"If I do retire, it will be a pretty quiet and an uneventful affair," said Hardee, who dabbles in real estate on the side. "They'll be like, `Did Trey retire?'
"But I still go to bed every night thinking about the decathlon and I wake up each morning ready to practice."
Copyright 2017 by The Associated Press
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