We approached Harry Marra – 2012 coach of the year - for an interview with Decathlon 2000. A very kind person was willing to talk with us in the cold and rainy stadium of decathlon-town Götzis. We heard anecdotes and funny stories from a super-coach with years of experience. This Friday he will be watching his apprentice at the US Trials!
So before 2006 Ashton never heard of decathlon?
That’s right. Make’s us think of Robert Mathias in 1948, when they asked him if he wanted to participate in the decathlon. “Yes” he said “let’s have a look what to do and go for it” and he won the Olympics!
Strange to ask maybe but what is a decathlete?
Harry hesitates for a moment … That’s a good one. A decathlete is a complete person, a very good athlete, great in all skills, a well-rounded personality. It’s someone who knows how to deal with variables. No decathlon is predictable, no decathlon is like you want it. Ashton is really a great athlete, because he’s able to deal with those difficulties.
Where you surprised about the way he started his decathlon last year with a jump of 8.23?
No, really I knew he was capable of a good jump. I was pleased especially because he started with it – it was he’s first jump, really exiting – hearing he’s take-off was like a bomb. Maybe he’s 8.16 at his world record indoor was even more impressive . But when he needs more he’s very focused, like at the Olympics, he could be satisfied with he’s first jumps but he continued till 8.03. There was no intend to break the world record but to make the Olympic deal – to win. Ashton is able to adapt to a very specific training. We said let’s do what you did in practice and so it turned out at the Olympics and he won the gold medal. The attitude was first to win. Ashton is driven to be as good as he can be. He’s very competitive. At the world record we were not even busy with the intermediate marks. Only after he jumped 5.30 in the pole vault it was very clear to us we had to check the points after eight events. Ashton asked “are we going for the American record” I said no Ash we go for the world record. We looked for what was needed and I hoped for a good javelin throw. But Ashton had to throw in the second heat and you know, all the time they kept the spears in the rain and the grips where soaked with water from the rain. I know it’s a detail but when you’re javelin is wet like that it weighs more and it’s easily possible to throw one or two meters less. I asked for dry spears but it was not allowed.
I read that you decided at the very last minute to withhold Ashton to go this year to Götzis?
Yes, because of the pain he felt in a tendon behind he’s knee. You know in America you can’t afford to take the risk of an injury just before the trials. It happened like this . It was about two a clock at night and I woke up. It’s one of those things you know subconsciously. I knew Ashton had to stay home. I started immediately to write down the reasons why he couldn’t go to Götzis. Early in the morning I went to Ashton to tell him the news. Ashton was cooking for breakfast. At first he was very disappointed of course but I gave him the reasons and after an our he called me that he understood the decision. I know it’s disappointing for the fans but we promise we do all we can to come next year to this beautiful place.
Ashton Eaton/ Harry Marra is a success formula! How old are you Harry and till when will you continue?
I’m sixty-five and I will be sixty-six in august and I won’t do it forever! For the next world championships the organizers planned the heptathlon right after the decathlon. (He joke’s) I probably will have to take a few pills for my heart because I’m coaching Brianne too. (At world championships athletes and coaches don’t really have a long night to sleep.) I hope to continue till Rio.
And you are married?
Yes I’m married to a decathlon widow for 45 years. My wife’s name is Madeline (greetings Madeline). She saw so many training sessions that she can train athletes herself. When I’m staying to long at home I ask myself how my athletes are doing and I think I’m working on her nerves, then it is possible that she makes a phone call asking if there’s no need of me training someone.
Have the two of you thought of specializing?
Yes, maybe next year, it’s too early to make plans, but we think about the heptathlon in Polen, and specializing in 100, 110, Pole vault and Long jump. You know what he really loves? That’s the 200 meters! He’s time 20.76 is the best for a 8000 athlete in the world.
Have other people influenced him positively?
His mother did a phenomenal job. The university of Oregon also did very good work. They prepared him well. He wasn’t really in aw entering a stadium with 80.000 people in London for example, because he was used to a multitude of 8000 at athletic games in Oregon.
Brianne is a very independent woman, a very good athlete. Both are driven, to be as good as can be in every event. You never get a very big smile after a pb, they rather think “I can do better”.
And you two have to spend very much time together!
A funny thing comes to my mind. Where he gets it from I don’t know but you have no idea how observant he is. One day I arrive at the stadium, he comes to me. “Coach you have new socks on” he said. (laugh) Can you imagine?
You tell us something about his training in the weightlifting room?
I think the most important thing is not if Ashton is bench pressing a 110 or a 120 kg (what he can do), but to adapt specific training relative to the athletes. Ashton is very explosive like other athletes at the time, say Bruce Jenner or Bill Toomey. I think that the weight training is mainly helping you to prevent injuries, making muscles and tendons strong for several events.
After school …
… When Ashton graduated from college he was eager to perform at his best, go to Europe – come on coach we can earn some money – etc. I said no! No, first loos some steam, eat a hamburger get a milkshake, do what young people do .. and then the serious approach started. He got 5 or 7 pounds lighter and we went to Daegu.
I read from spectators, Ashton threw more than once close to 50 meters in the discus in training?
Ashton threw many times 50 meters. I think the discus is the key event for Ashton. For many athletes the turning point is the hurdles or the pole vault but in case of Ashton I really believe it’s the discus. We train this event in the beginning of the week with fresh legs.
It was a disappointment at first to many European fans that he didn’t came to Götzis but meanwhile I think they understood the reason, and like to see him perform at a high level at the trials and world championships!
This was precautionary. The trials are coming and regardless who you are, only number 1, 2 and 3 are going to the championships and that’s it. I remember in 1997 in Götzis when I was training Brian Brophy. He was really doing good in the pole vault and jumped 4.80. But he felt something in the upper part of his leg. I said don’t jump higher, it’s a good jump (Brophy’s pb was 4.95). Continue you’re decathlon, throw a good javelin and run you’re 1.5 K and you’ll have a good decathlon. He insisted to try 4.90. He tried and he blew the whole thing. The rest of the year he had to revalidate, the whole year was gone and he could only start again the next year.
In Europe we do not really understand that system, my guess is that most people here hate that arrangement of the trials. We all remember what happened to Dan O’Brien in 1992. Warming up he jumped 4.90 in the pole vault. Everyone saw what he was capable of!
Yeah, and then he had to wait more than an hour and it was more than a 100 degrees (+ 37°C) and then didn’t make the team because he couldn’t get over his opening height and without a doubt the best decathlete in the world couldn’t go to the Olympics! I can only say that I made a proposal to the governing body. Let athletes show their fitness. Decathletes can do a pole vault or a few other events and then you put the best on the team. Things like what happened to Dan O’Brien are not possible then. But the governing body doesn’t want to hear it.
How come that DOB never got the world record?
His problem was the scoring book, he didn’t cared enough about the points. When Ashton did his first heptathlon world record (6499 in 2010), at the end of the first day Obie made a phone call. He said “Harry I saw Ashton performing very well, is my world record in jeopardy?” I said Obie (Dan O’Brien) we love you but, we would rather love, to see you being the number two.
I read Ashton said in an interview he would eventually go to the 2020 Olympics doing the pole vault! Was that a joke?
Are you serious?
In training I saw him practically jumping over 5.50! And his running up wasn’t even a long one, the bar was lying 5.30 high and the difference he jumped was about 20 cm!
Tell us once more about the shot put. Is it true that you changed the Shot technic after a kind of a frustration throw against a wall?
It’s true, I watched him and said holy crab Ash do that again! In fact the shuffle is excellent for a young decathlete. What is Ashton’s take off foot? It’s the left one (see LJ and HJ). In Ashton’s case the advantage is (in the shot) that he starts with good pressure on the left foot. We don’t know what changes we will introduce in the future – if we will ever do the spin or the glide later. The good thing to do is to take your time to progress – so to avoid big injuries. He took his time for example for the javelin and progressed in technic (some blow up their arm to early) and look he did 66 meters this year!
Other things have changed this year?
I’m very pleased with the training. He changed steps from 9 lefts to 10 lefts in the long jump, so that there is much more power in his take off.
Is he changing the popularity of the sport?
In the last two years he and Trey Hardee influenced it, that’s certain. But the problem in the States is that they always comment like “it was a good score but” – and then they start comparing with Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and other greats from the past as if they are the only decathletes worth to mention. And then the article continues with “this sportswoman and that sportsman has been tested positive.”
You trained many decathletes.
Chris Vlamynck for Decathlon 2000