Ashton Eaton clears a hurdle on his way to winning the 110-meter hurdles in the decathlon competition at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in Eugene on Friday. - AP

Eaton prevails in decathlon

EUGENE — After Olympic champion Bryan Clay dropped out of the decathlon, young upstart Ashton Eaton easily claimed the title in the U.S. championships.

The victory gives Eaton a trip to the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, this August. He'll be accompanied on the U.S. team by Trey Hardee, who essentially had a bye at nationals as the reigning world champion.

Eaton finished with 8,729 points after running the 1,500 meters, the final event of the decathlon, in 4 minutes, 24.10 seconds.

Eaton's score was the fifth best ever for a U.S. decathlete. It is the best mark in the world since 2009.

Joining Eaton and Hardee on the U.S. team will be 30-year-old Ryan Harlan, who finished with 8,011 points for the "B" standard needed for a spot. Normally, the top three finishers in each event at nationals earn a place on the team.

Clay can still petition to be on the team, meaning hopes for an American sweep of the podium in Daegu aren't completely dashed. Jake Arnold, who won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007, pulled out of nationals Thursday but can also petition.

Clay, the first American to win Olympic gold since Dan O'Brien in 1996, sprained his calf during the 110-meter hurdles on Friday. He had came into the second day of the decathlon trailing Eaton by more than 400 points.

After Clay dropped out, he hung around to watch Eaton compete.

"The other athletes in the decathlon just told me after the hurdles that they've all been there. It's one of those things and I will just move on to what's next," Clay said. "It's important to keep perspective, it's not the end of my career."

Eaton, a former Oregon standout who is at home at Hayward Field, is a three-time NCAA champion in the decathlon and the world indoor record holder in the heptathlon.

"I didn't expect a score that high," he said. "Actually, none of my marks were that high. It was just consistency."

Eaton is a relative newcomer to the multi-events. His high school coach in Bend contacted Oregon's coaches to tout Eaton's potential.

He said he was nervous in 2008 when he did not earn a spot on the team that was sent to Beijing — although he finished fifth at Olympic trials.

Earlier this year, Eaton broke his own world indoor heptathlon record with a win in Estonia.

Hardee, to maintain his spot on the U.S. team, had to participate in a couple of events. He took part in the pole vault and the hurdles

"It's like college again, just a tune-up meet," Hardee said.

Hardee holds the world-best mark in the decathlon this season after scoring 8,689 points in Austria last month. At the world championships in Berlin two years ago, Hadree scored a personal best 8,7790 points.

Harlan, the 2004 NCAA champion, pushed hard in the 1,500 meters to get the time he needed to qualify. At the finish he collapsed to the track.

"All the guys knew what I needed and they were helping me along," he said.

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