Coach sitting on top of world
Cohoes' Harry Marra guides pupil Ashton Eaton to decathlon record
By Mark Singelais
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Ashton Eaton hugs his coach Harry Marra (R) after breaking the world record in the men's decathlon after competing in the 1500 meter run portion during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ashton Eaton; Harry Marra
When Ashton Eaton broke the world record in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, he looked around for his personal coach, Harry Marra of Cohoes.
Eaton, 24, and Marra, 64, found one another among the throng at the University of Oregon's storied Hayward Field. They put their hands on each other's shoulders and touched heads.
"You're the world's greatest athlete," Marra told his pupil.
Marra hopes that superlative holds true on Aug. 8 and 9, when Eaton competes in his first Summer Games in London. He's attempting to become the 12th American to win Olympic gold in the decathlon, joining a distinguished list that includes Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson and Bruce Jenner.
He'd also be the first athlete Marra, a CBA graduate, has coached to Olympic gold in a 51-year career in track and field.
"I'd take a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction, and really, that's why I do it," Marra said. "You don't do it for the money. I'm not a big ego guy. ... If you get accolades from it, it's great. But I don't really care. It's the personal thing."
Marra said he's optimistic about Eaton prevailing in England because he owns the world mark with 9,039 points, while the top Europeans are scoring around 8,500.
"If Ashton goes in healthy, his chances, I like them," he said. "They're very, very good."
Marra began working with Eaton in November 2009, when Marra was hired to be an assistant coach at the University of Oregon. Eaton was a senior at the time.
Eaton was a "diamond in the rough," according to Marra, someone without extensive decathlon experience who was willing to learn.
When Eaton graduated, Marra left the university to become his coach with the Oregon Track Club Elite, also based in the city of Eugene, known as "Track Town USA."
"He's a tremendous student," Marra said. "If you get good teaching with extremely high-level talent, you can have good success."
Although Eaton had been training well leading into the U.S. trials, the conditions weren't conducive to a world record because of a steady rain over the two days.
"The weather was the worst I've ever seen," Marra said. "If somebody said, 'We're going for a world record,' you'd look at them cross-eyed and say, 'There's no way.'"
Even after it was over, Marra wasn't ebullient because he believes Eaton is capable of even better in London. While very strong in the running and jumping events, Eaton has room for improvement in the shot put, discus and javelin.
Eaton has reached heights that Marra didn't during his own track career, which began as a youth in Cohoes, using an Army tent pole to vault over a clothesline in his backyard.
Although Marra became a champion decathlete, he missed reaching the Olympic trials prior to the Summer Games in Munich in 1972.
"There was no way in heck," Marra said. "I was a good athlete, but I wasn't at that level."
Marra decided to go into coaching and has been to four Olympic Games. He led the U.S. decathlon program when Dan O'Brien captured gold in Atlanta in 1996, though Marra wasn't O'Brien's personal coach.
Marra sees similarities between Eaton and O'Brien with their fierce competitiveness and athletic ability.
Marra said he'll impart his own Olympic experience to Eaton to prepare him for the high pressure of the Games.
They're leaving on Thursday for a month of training in Germany before moving on to London.
"This is really kind of exciting," Marra said. "For an old guy to whack it one more time, it'll be kind of fun."