EUGENE, Oregon -- Countries around the world are holding Olympic team trials this month to select the athletes who will wear the national colors at the 2012 Summer Games in London. In Jamaica, Friday night, the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, attempts to qualify for his second Olympics. In the USA this week, one of the biggest stars of the Beijing Games, swimmer Michael Phelps, is competing against a host of rising challengers. In Canada and the U.S., Olympic trials for track and field are also underway. That qualifying action could determine whether the London Games feature a love story.
By tradition, the Olympic decathlon champion assumes the title of the "world's greatest athlete." Those are big shoes to fill. But this month, a 24-year-old from the U.S. state of Oregon installed himself as the gold medal favorite.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials coincidentally took place on Ashton Eaton's home field in Eugene, Oregon. The fans were behind him from the beginning of the 10-event competition. Eaton started off strong by setting new decathlon records for the 100 meter dash and long jump.
Then the decathlon moved into more difficult events, the shot put and high jump. The first day finished with the 400-meter sprint. Day two started with the high hurdles.
And then in quick succession: discus and pole vault, where Eaton set a new personal best. He stopped to consult his coach before the final events, the javelin throw and the 1,500-meter race.
"I look at him and I go, 'Alright, what do I have to throw and what do I have to run to get the American record?' He stopped and looked at me, 'No, Ashton, the world record.' At that moment I saw his belief in me and I was like, 'Let's go do it then,'" Eaton said.
And he did. Ashton Eaton set a new world record in the decathlon as he qualified for Team USA.
But Eaton is not the only one in his household with Olympic dreams. This week, his fiancée, Brianne Theisen, attempts to qualify for the Summer Games in the heptathlon, a seven-event endurance fest. Theisen was a three-time collegiate heptathlon champion at the University of Oregon, which is where the couple met.
However, there's a twist. Theisen won't compete for an Olympic slot on her home field in Eugene. She's in Calgary for the Canadian Olympic Trials. That’s because Theisen grew up on the plains of Saskatchewan and retains Canadian citizenship. She figures Canadian fans won't hold it against her if they see her cheering in London for her American fiancée.
"A lot of them also went to NCAA schools and have friends in the U.S. So I think, you know, they understand," Theisen said.
Ashton Eaton doesn't foresee any problems with divided loyalties in the relationship either.
"Yeah, she's Canadian and yeah, I'm going to be for the U.S. team. But if everything goes well and she has the opportunity to hold up the Canadian flag, I'm going to be freaking out. The whole experience is cool. It has nothing to do with countries; it's just an event," Eaton added.
Eaton and Theisen say if there's a neutral zone in the athlete's village in London, they'll find it.
Finding time for a proper wedding is also a challenge, but not of quite Olympic proportions. They've put off getting married until July of 2013.