LONDON - At the end, Ashton Eaton leaned forward, hands on his knees, out of breath. He looked like the world's most exhausted athlete, not its best.
Eaton claimed the gold medal in the decathlon Thursday. He fell short of the world record he set in June and short of the Olympic record, too. Still, at 24, years earlier than expected, the American staked his claim as the greatest all-around athlete in sports.
"This is super hard to grasp," Eaton said. "For me, I want 10 perfect events."
Eaton's winning score, 8,869 points, was the eighth-highest in Olympic history. After the 1,500 meters, the final event, Eaton draped the American flag around his back and took a lap around the stadium.
Even Usain Bolt, the star of the night with his victory in the 200 meters, was impressed. "I'm a great athlete, but to do 10 events, especially the 1,500 -- I've got to give it to him," Bolt said.
Eaton already had an impressive rsum before the Games, winning three NCAA titles, setting a world record and breaking the 9,000-point barrier. But he lacked a significant international title. Until Thursday.
Teammate Trey Hardee finished second, and it marked the first time the U.S. won two decathlon medals in the same Olympics since 1956.
On a day when they competed in Bolt's shadow, Americans added to their track-and-field medal haul, as Christian Taylor and Will Claye went 1-2 in the triple jump. Taylor, who holds the world title, overtook his teammate on his fourth jump to win by 19 centimeters.
With three days to go, the team's total is 24, one more than the U.S. earned in Beijing.
David Rudisha of Kenya eclipsed Bolt by setting a world record on the London Olympic track. Rudisha won the men's 800 meters in 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, one-tenth of a second lower than his 2010 mark. "It's something special to break the world record at the Olympics," the 23-year-old said.
For American sprinter Manteo Mitchell, the glory was just in finishing his portion of the 4x400-meter relay preliminaries.
With half a lap to go as the leadoff runner, Mitchell felt a pop in his left leg and knew it wasn't good. "It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half," he said.
Instead of stopping, he finished the lap in 46.1 seconds and limped to the side to watch the Americans qualify easily for the final.
A few hours later, doctors confirmed he had run the last 200 meters with a broken left fibula. The bone is expected to heal in four to six weeks.
"I heard it and I felt it," Mitchell said. "But I figured it's what almost any person would've done in that situation."
He credited something more than simple adrenaline for pushing him the rest of the way. "Faith, focus, finish. Faith, focus, finish. That's the only thing I could say to myself," he said.
In the previous 4x400-meter relay heat, Oscar Pistorius was bouncing on his carbon-fiber blades in the sun at the start-finish line, waiting for his turn to compete. But the handoff never came.
The South African team's second runner collided with a Kenyan rival on the final turn and tumbled to the track. But the team was reinstated and advanced to Friday's final on appeal about an hour after the race, when the officials ruled the Kenyan had obstructed his South African rival. Pistorius, the first amputee to compete on a Summer Games track, will get to run a final race.
Pistorius' countrywoman, Caster Semenya, won her 800-meter semifinal in 1:57.67 to move one step closer to an Olympic medal three years after being forced to undergo gender tests. "I'm very happy to get through to the finals," she said. "It was very hard, but I tried my best. I just have to go to my bed."
Former Gopher Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic successfully defended her javelin title. The 31-year-old Spotakova, who competed for Minnesota in the 2002 season and who holds the world record, secured the gold medal on her fourth throw. Her mark of 69.55 meters beat out the competition by more than 4 meters.
And Jeneba Tarmoh, the woman who gave up her spot to Allyson Felix in the 100 meters after a dead heat for third place at the U.S. trials, ran the second leg on the American team in the 4x100 relay qualifying. Tarmoh, Tianna Madison, Bianca Knight and Lauryn Williams were tops in 41.64 seconds, just missing an Olympic record.