Max Vollmer was a young teenager when Ashton Eaton set the world record in the decathlon for the first time in 2012.
Watching from his home in Germany, the 14-year-old aspiring athlete drew inspiration from Eaton’s 9,039-point performance during the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field.
“At this point I didn’t know what I was going to focus on, if I was going to be a runner, a jumper or a thrower, and I saw him in the decathlon and I was like this guy is doing all the events,” Vollmer said. “It was just so impressive. I saw myself doing that.”
Seven years later, Vollmer will get his first chance to do something Eaton did three times while wearing an Oregon uniform — win a Pac-12 Multi-Events Championship title in the decathlon.
The 21-year-old Duck freshman will be the favorite when the two-day meet begins Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.
After setting his personal-record with a 7,840-point outing at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, Calif., two weeks ago, Vollmer moved into fifth place in the NCAA season rankings and seventh-place all-time at Oregon, while also securing a spot in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June.
His odds of winning the Ducks’ 16th Pac-12 title in the decathlon increased when — much to Vollmer’s disappointment — top-ranked USC freshman Ayden Owens (season-best 8,130) and defending conference champion Harrison Williams (8,112) of Stanford, didn’t enter the meet.
“That is obviously not good news because I wanted to compete against them,” Vollmer said. “In the decathlon I believe you want somebody who is pushing you. … I guess I’m going to push myself against my personal best.”
The 11-man decathlon field this weekend includes only one other competitor with a season-best over 7,000 points in California freshman Hakim McMorris (7,159). The Ducks have also entered Dalen Hargett, a redshirt junior from Newport who spent his first two seasons at Montana State. His PR is 6,583.
Representing the Ducks in the heptathlon will be Keira McCarrell, a sophomore from Salem who came away with 5,336 points in her first collegiate heptathlon two weeks ago. She is ranked fifth in the Pac-12 and 24th nationally. The conference leader is Washington’s Hannah Rusnak at 5,642.
Oregon will also have a group of runners at the Payton Jordan Invitational on Thursday night in Stanford, Calif., including defending NCAA champion Jessica Hull in her first 1,500-meter race of the season, Susan Ejore in the 800 and Carmela Cardama Baez in the 5,000. Men’s races will include Cooper Teare, James West, Charlie Hunter and Reed Brown in various 1,500 heats.
But come Saturday, the attention will turn to Tucson where the Ducks will looking for the their first points of the Pac-12 championship meet, which resumes at Roy P. Drachman Stadium on May 11-12.
“He’s got a great mindset and a great heart,” Oregon multi-events coach Seth Henson said. “He will be willing to, when the time is right and he’s got to run a time, I believe that within reason he’s going to be able to go push himself to the limit and run that time.”
Vollmer’s path to Oregon was unconventional and his arrival was preceded by a three-year stint training with the German national team in Ulm, Germany, beginning in 2014 when he was 16.
In 2017 he finished fifth at the European Athletics U20 Championships with a then PR of 7,713, which earned him a congratulatory text from Henson.
By then Vollmer had already been thinking about trying to compete collegiately in the U.S. Oregon, thanks to his admiration of Eaton, was always at the top of his list.
“But I didn’t expect myself to go here because it’s high end so you need to be really good and I didn’t see myself as being so good,” Vollmer said. “When I finished fifth at the European championships and finally achieved a score good enough for Oregon, I was pretty hyped and when coach texted me I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’”
In his collegiate decathlon debut at the Bryan Clay Invitational, Vollmer set PRs in five events — the 110 hurdles (14.98 seconds), discus (127 feet, 8 inches), pole vault (16-0 3/4), javelin (192-1) and 1,500 (4:35.31).
“It was a great improvement for him and about what we thought he would score going into the meet based off the training,” Henson said. “We do feel like there’s room for him to improve, not only at the Pac-12s but at the NCAA championships.”
On Vollmer’s official visit to Oregon in the fall of 2017, he got to meet his hero when he ran into Eaton during a tour of Hayward Field.
“It was breathtaking,” Vollmer said. “I told him I am following in your footsteps and trying to keep the Oregon history alive in the decathlon. It was pretty cool actually.”
On his Instagram account, Vollmer posted a picture of him and Eaton meeting that day. To see it, however, you’ll have to scroll through more than 50 pictures of Vollmer participating in his side gig as a professional model.
At 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, Vollmer has parlayed his physical attributes into a semi-lucrative career in front of the camera, though it’s one that he has put on hold for the time being.
“I’m not able to do jobs right now because I’m so busy with track and field and with my school,” he said. “I can’t just fly to Los Angeles or Miami for a photo shoot. It’s just not possible. I’m focusing on my athletic development. Track and field is first because it’s what I enjoy most.”
Then this next month should be a thrill for the freshman, as he attempts to navigate his first round of championship meets for the Ducks.
“Right now I’d say my shape is way better than it was two weeks ago,” Vollmer said. “It’s one more step to nationals and I’m going to take it and try to push myself to new limits.”