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Bolt Wins 8th Gold Medal; Eaton Repeats As Olympic Decathlon Winner

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Olympic news, New Zealand won a hard-earned gold medal in sailing yesterday. But what most people are talking about this morning is how two of the greatest athletes in track and field history have cemented their legacies. It was a memorable night at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, a little weird too, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The weirdness came early in the evening, when the stadium announcer told people they were about to see a race not listed on the original schedule.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Next up, track. This is a special 4x100-meter relay race. The only team running will be Team USA.

GOLDMAN: That's right, Team USA against nobody, except the clock. Earlier in the day, the women's 4x100-meter relay team was disqualified for dropping the baton during a heat. They protested, claiming team member Allyson Felix was bumped. The protest was upheld. Two other teams were disqualified, and the U.S. was given a do-over to try to make it to the final.

(SOUNDBITE OF STARTER PISTOL FIRING)

GOLDMAN: The U.S. would have to beat 42.70 seconds, which was the time posted by China, the last team to qualify for the finals.

41.76, they made it, 41.76. USA bumps China out of the finals. China is not going to be happy about that...

That time was faster than any team from the earlier heats. English Gardner ran the third leg of the re-run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ENGLISH GARDNER: Honestly, I feel like it was just, like, a glorified practice. We just had fun out there.

GOLDMAN: The rest of the night packed more drama. Although, come to think of it, is there ever real drama when Usain Bolt and Ashton Eaton are competing? If you listen to fellow competitors, yeah, there is. American LaShawn Merritt lined up against Jamaica's Bolt in the 200 meters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASHAWN MERRITT: Yes, there's a chance that - I mean, anything's possible.

GOLDMAN: Damian Warner of Canada fought against Eaton over two days and 10 events in the decathlon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAMIAN WARNER: I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm delusional, but for some reason in my mind, going into the next decathlon I feel like I could beat him.

GOLDMAN: Notice he said the next decathlon, because of course, Eaton won this one for the U.S. Warner finished third. Eaton's second straight Olympic title makes him only the third man to win two. As dominant as he is, and he's won every major decathlon and heptathlon he's competed in the last five years, Eaton had a small lead going into the last event, the 1,500-meter run. Eaton had to run a certain time to maintain his points lead and win the gold. Would he do it? Let's put it this way. Don't let Ashton Eaton fool you with that easy smile and friendly personality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASHTON EATON: I was willing to run myself into the hospital if I had to (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Usain Bolt laughs too, a lot. It's why the fan-favorite world's fastest man is considered the salvation of track and field. He laughs. He mugs for the camera. He does that pose. And like Eaton, he destroys, like he did last night in the 200, easily vanquishing everyone in the field, including LaShawn "Anything's Possible" Merritt. That makes Bolt the only sprinter in history to win three straight Olympic 200-meter titles, three straight Olympic 100-meter titles, and if Jamaica wins tonight, three straight relay titles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

USAIN BOLT: There's nothing else I can do, really. I mean, I've proven to the world that I'm the greatest. And this is what I came here for, and that's what I'm doing. So after this, this is why I said this is my last Olympics because I can't prove anything else.

GOLDMAN: When you add up all his Olympic finals, including those in Rio, we will have watched Bolt for roughly 40 seconds every four years. Seems like we could find those thrills elsewhere once he's gone, until you consider they are the greatest 40 seconds we will ever see, not even arguably. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.