EUGENE, Ore. - Meter by meter, Ashton Eaton kept swallowing up real estate on a track that has always felt like home.
Second by second, the clock on that track ticked away - daring him to cross the finish line in a time that would put his name in the record books.
Eaton was every bit as relentless and stubborn as that clock Saturday. He set a personal best in the exhausting 1,500-meter finale and is now the world-record holder in the decathlon - the cream of the crop in the event that determines the world’s best athlete.
Eaton finished with 9,039 points in the US Olympic trials Saturday to beat Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old mark by 13 points.
“It’s like living an entire lifetime in two days,’’ Eaton said. “It doesn’t mean that much to the rest of the world, but to me, it’s my whole world. To do the best that I possibly could in my world makes me pretty happy.’’
Eaton joined the likes of Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien, and Rafer Johnson among the Americans who have held the world record. He did it on the 100th anniversary of the first Olympic decathlon - and many of the American greats who have made history in the event were on hand to watch Eaton do the same.
“I knew this day was coming,’’ O’Brien said. “I really did.’’
The 24-year-old University of Oregon product needed a time of 4 minutes 16.37 seconds in the 1,500 to break the mark at the school’s Hayward Field. He finished in 4:14.48.
When it was over, Eaton bent down and put his hands on his knees, then brought them up to cover his mouth - elated and shocked all at the same time.
What to do for an encore? We’ll see in six weeks in London, where he’ll go in as the favorite, along with the man he beat, defending world champion Trey Hardee, who finished 656 points back.
Chances for an American medal sweep, thought to be a possibility, were vanquished when defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay stumbled in the hurdles. He finished 12th overall and won’t get a chance to defend his title.
Clay was initially disqualified after missing the final hurdle. While his points for the event were reinstated under appeal, he struggled later in the discus and finished out of the running for a spot on the US team.
“There was a lot of hope and expectation there,’’ Clay said. “To see it all go out the window is pretty disappointing.’’
USA Track and Field rules allow only the top three finishers in each event on the Olympic team, assuming they have the Olympic “A’’ standard of 8,200 points. They make no exceptions for an athlete such as Clay, who has Olympic gold and was considered a strong medal contender, but does not have the standard this year.
Eaton opened by setting world-best marks for the decathlon in his first two events, the 100 (10.21 seconds) and long jump (27 feet). He had a mark of 46-7 1/4 in the shot put, cleared 6-8 3/4 in the high jump, and ran the 400 in a driving rainstorm in 46.70 seconds to finish the first day in the mix for the world record.
He returned Saturday to equally dreary weather, but didn’t slip.
The results: 13.70 seconds in the 110 hurdles, 140-5 inches in the discus, and 17-4 1/2 in the pole vault. His javelin throw of 193-1 meant he would need to top his personal best by at least 2.57 seconds in the 1,500. He stayed on pace the entire time and crossed the line with nearly two seconds to spare.
Everything else on this memorable evening in Oregon got second billing - even Lolo Jones’s lean at the finish line to earn the third and final Olympic spot in the 100 hurdles by 0.04 seconds. Dawn Harper won in 12.73.
Allyson Felix won’t be in the 100 in London. She lost third place by less than 0.001 seconds to Jeneba Tarmoh. Carmelita Jeter won in 10.92.
Elsewhere, Tyson Gay made it through his first 100 heat cleanly, while LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, and Sanya Richards-Ross all advanced in the 400.
Nobody, however, covered more ground, or did it better, than Eaton.
“I thought I’d get a good 100, a good long jump and from there, just have a go at it and make the team,’’ Eaton said. “But when you’re in this place, in this atmosphere, this is what happens. I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it.’’