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Wildcat decathletes dash against world-class competition

Emerson Keenan

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John Brunk, Theodore Elsenbaumer and J Patrick Smith compete alongside Olympic medalist Ashton Eaton. Photo courtesy of Kevin Brunk.


It’s not every day that an opportunity to compete against the Michael Jordan of your sport arises. For three Chico State decathletes, the chance arose for a few heats at the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational decathlon in Santa Barbara.

Senior decathletes J Patrick Smith, Theodore Elsenbaumer and John Brunk had the rare opportunity to compete with Ashton Eaton, an Olympic decathlete gold medalist, earlier this month.

“It’s a little different than football, soccer or basketball,” said Oliver Hanf, former decathlete and head men’s track and field coach. “You don’t just play horse with Michael Jordan, but in a way that’s basically what they were doing.”

Although all three had already qualified for nationals, there was still pressure to perform well and “keep up with the big dogs,” Smith said.

“When we found out on the car ride down that we were going to be seeded in the same heat as Ashton Eaton in the 100-meter, we flipped out,” Elsenbaumer said.

The decathletes participated in the 400- and 100-meter sprints with Eaton. The event was also host to many world-class athletes, including the French national team, Canadian decathlete Damian Warner and Jesse Williams, the current world champion high jumper.

“It’s incredible how human these guys are,” Smith said. “You spend so much time putting them on this pedestal because, for example, Eaton is significantly better than anyone has ever seen, so it’s really just hard to explain.”

Eaton holds the all-time record score of 9,039 in the decathlon, an individual event that involves the 110-meter hurdles, 100- and 400-meter sprints, 1500-meter run, shot put, discus, javelin, pole vault, long jump and high jump.

Smith shares similar accomplishments with Eaton, being the two-time NCAA decathlon champion and defending NCAA Division II field athlete of the year.

“The most exciting thing about that meet was getting to show how Chico operates at a track meet,” Elsenbaumer said. “Before the 400, we all did a, ‘1, 2, 3 Chico!’ and Ashton turns around and says, ‘Thats what it’s all about!’ and gives me a fist bump and gives John a hug and then says, ‘Let’s get this!'”

Smith, a Santa Barbara native, said his mother arranged a gathering of friends to cheer him on in the competition.

“One thing that the whole meet got was our Chico energy, as it was really alive and a lot of people responded well to it,” Brunk said.

Compared to Division I, Division II has more obstacles for track and field athletes to conquer.

“Here at Chico, we are a D2 school; not a lot of funding, you know, hard-nosed, blood, sweat and tears on the track,” Brunk said. “There is not a lot of stuff that we get. The guys out there had new shoes, new everything, so it was cool to see what the next level is for us as decathletes.”

Chance Keenan can be reached at [email protected] or @chancelikelance on Twitter.

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Wildcat decathletes dash against world-class competition