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Clay wins silver
ATHENS, Greece -- Hawaii's Bryan Clay, the little guy among the giants of the decathlon, chased Roman Sebrle to the finish in one of the most powerful American performances in the event's history.
Sebrle, the world record holder from the Czech Republic, won the gold medal Tuesday with 8,893 points -- an Olympic record and the second-highest total of his magnificent career.
The 24-year-old Clay, a Castle High School graduate who upset reigning world champion Tom Pappas in the U.S. trials, was second with 8,820 points, the third-highest ever by a U.S. decathlete. Only Dan O'Brien had better scores among Americans.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Clay said. "But I'm pumped."
"I think people kind of take me for granted," he said. "They don't really take me seriously sometimes, whether that's my personality or my size or whatever. Hopefully now they'll know I'm for real."
Clay, who competed for and still trains at tiny Azusa Pacific University in southern California, stands just 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 174 pounds. Still, he threw the javelin a personal-best 228 feet, 8 inches, then finished with a 4 minute, 41.65 second 1,500 meters -- closely following Sebrle all the way around the track four times.
"I was just focusing on the corner of Roman's shoulder," Clay said, "just trying not to let that get away from me."
Clay, who finished the exhausting 10-event competition with personal bests in the javelin and 1,500 meters, was just 71 points off O'Brien's American record. Dmitriy Karpov of Kazakhstan, the leader through eight events, was the bronze medalist with 8,725, an Asian record.
"We are friends," Sebrle said of decathletes, "and I think we are a special kind of athlete."
Pappas withdrew from the competition with a foot injury after seven events on Tuesday. He left the stadium without talking to reporters.
"I have no doubt that if he had not gotten hurt, we would have been carrying that flag together," Clay said, "and on the podium together -- I don't know in what order."
In reality, though, Pappas was in fifth place and virtually out of medal contention when he strained his left foot on his first pole vault attempt. But Clay, who has a history of injuries, seemed stronger as the night wore on.
Clay, whose mother is Japanese-American and father is black, moved to Hawaii at age 5 and considers it his home state. He said wanted to celebrate with a Hawaiian flag along with the American, but decided it wouldn't be appropriate.
"All I can say is I remember sitting down watching people like Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson and Chris Huffins and all those guys put up those huge scores at the Olympic Games and get to run around with the flag," Clay said. "I'd get goose bumps just sitting there watching them. I still look up to those guys. Now that I know that I just surpassed most of them, I don't know what to tell you. It's just an unbelievable feeling."
Sebrle, 29, won the silver medal four years ago in Sydney.
"I was four years younger, and I thought only about a medal, not a gold medal," he said. "Here, I competed better. I wanted just the gold."
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