Top Jobs: Olympic champion Eaton forges new career with Intel

08 Jul 2020

Two-time Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton is now focusing on a new career at Worldwide Olympic Partner Intel, working on technology that analyses athletic performance.

It would be easy to describe Ashton Eaton as a high achiever. The American decathlete retired from competition in 2017 with two Olympic titles, two world titles, three world indoor titles and the two best decathlon scores in history to his name. In the early stages of his career, he also found the time to earn a degree in psychology from the University of Oregon.

But even with such an impressive résumé, Eaton was still faced with a dilemma when he stepped off the carousel of professional athletics after more than eight years of competing on the international stage: what to do in this new stage of his life?

“The amount of thought and planning I put into the next phase was not a lot while I was an athlete, but it wasn't zero; I would say it was about 10 or 20 per cent of my time,” he explains. “It really started in 2014, when I took a year off and didn’t do the decathlon. I just started reading a bunch of books. It was at that point that I was exploring what else there is besides sport and what else I might be interested in. And then after the Olympic Games Rio 2016, I spent probably 100 per cent of my time thinking about it. I actually spent about a year exploring, where I cold called or cold emailed, or just tried to network and reach out to different companies and individuals who I thought were doing interesting things that I could learn about.”

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A chance encounter during an Olympic Day appearance at Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California, then led to an invitation to join the company’s Olympic Technology Group, which is focused on creating technologies that help advance the understanding and performance of sport.

“I guess this isn't the typical path for an athlete who's retiring,” admits Eaton. “For me, I've always been interested in the power of science and technology, and I think I approached my training and my performance in that way. I had the chance to work with other partners and companies as an athlete and realised that my performances wouldn't be what they were without the things that they developed, whether it was shoes or clothing, or even the pole vault pole that I used. I really understood that those things help advance not only sport, but other aspects of our life on this planet in general. So, I always wanted to get into that, and when this opportunity opened up to work with Intel, especially in a domain that I know, it was a no-brainer.”

While Eaton’s elite sporting career enables him to bring a wealth of relevant experience and knowledge to Intel’s Olympic Technology Group, he believes that athletes can offer companies in any industry a unique and valuable set of attributes.

“As an athlete, those attributes – discipline, determination, attention to detail – are just by-products of trying to accomplish your goal, so you actually don't think they're traits and skills that are useful,” he explains. “But those things are what employers are looking for. For any boss or manager, they’re just really good skills.”

Thanks to their close relationship with the Olympic Movement, the Worldwide Olympic Partners have a greater understanding of the qualities that athletes can bring to the workplace, with Eaton among a host of Olympians who have found opportunities for jobs or internships through the TOP Partners once their sporting careers have ended.

“I think companies like Intel and other Olympic sponsors are great places for athletes to start with networking and thinking about things outside sport,” he says. “After being an athlete and now working at Intel, there are a lot of shared values as far as outcomes, goals, performance, fearlessness [and] working together [are concerned]. I mean, it's a really global company. So these things are really enhancing the Olympic Games and the Olympic spirit.”

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Those shared values have now seen Intel extend its support for athletes to a new initiative, delivered in partnership with the IOC, which will provide well-being, career mentoring, and learning and development services to more than 50,000 athletes around the world. 

Athletes will be able to enjoy access to health and well-being tools such as Headspace and EXOS, learning and development services from LinkedIn Learning and Intel Learning, and mentoring and networking services, scholarships, and athlete recruitment opportunities from Intel.

For Eaton, this support not only demonstrates Intel’s commitment to athletes and the Olympic Movement, but also provides athletes with invaluable services that can help them navigate their own career transitions.

“From an athlete perspective, it's incredibly awesome to see a company like Intel work with the IOC to offer support to athletes. If I were an athlete now, I think I'd be all over this. I know I would be,” he says. “There are various programmes for athlete support both during and post-sport to help with that career transition, and I think all of that is extremely valuable and a great place for athletes to start.”

Eaton himself is a great example of how athletes can successfully transition from the sporting arena to the workplace, and while the high achiever admits that he sometimes misses chasing medals on the track and in the field, he now has even loftier goals.

“I enjoy this side of things just because I know my body can't do what it used to do. As I got older, that was just one of the main reasons I retired. But also because I felt like I wanted to contribute to not only sport, but society in other ways,” he explains. “I am interested in human potential. I think fundamentally that's what sport celebrates; every time athletes get on the track, they show us what the human form can do, which I think is really inspiring. So I'm interested [in] trying to create things that help facilitate that. I think we really progress as a society and as individuals when we're able to learn more and we're able to give ourselves enhanced capabilities. So my goals are to, in some way, shape or form, contribute to that.”

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IOC and Intel join forces to provide support services to athletes globally

On 30 June, the IOC hosted an exclusive webinar with Ashton Eaton and Rick Echevarria, Intel’s Vice President and General Manager of their Olympic Programme. Ashton and Rick discussed why athletes have the skills to become big in business, and also announced a new programme designed to support athletes to extend life-coaching, mentoring, and learning and development services to athletes through the athlete365 community.

This new initiative is a direct outcome of Intel’s and the IOC’s commitment to support Olympians and Olympic hopefuls who are working to manage the impact of COVID-19. Athlete benefits will include access to tools that will help assuage the challenges created by the worldwide pandemic.

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