Bryan Clay won the men's heptathlon during the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain in March.
Bryan Clay breathes Olympic air
Decathlete prepares to hurdle pollution and his asthma
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Bryan Clay is one of the world's greatest athletes. He captured the silver medal in the decathlon at the 2004 Olympics, and is a strong contender for the gold in China in August.
The Castle High School graduate is also an asthma sufferer. But in a recent phone interview during a break in training in California, Clay said he is not worried about the rampant air pollution in Beijing. He said the decathlon is an endurance test full of obstacles for all competitors, and the potential of an asthma episode does not put him at an unfair advantage.
Before he thinks too much about China, though, Clay must first qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. The trials are in track and field mecca Eugene, Ore., at the end of June.
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Bryan Clay says "everyone's in the same situation" in the decathlon.
While that is definitely true in 10 different ways, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, who graduated from Castle High School, could face a distinct disadvantage at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Asthma and air pollution do not make a good combination, and smog dominates the sky over China's capital and second-largest city.
"It flares up once in a while," Clay said of his asthma. "I keep an inhaler on me. The U.S. team doctors have inhalers and are aware of it."
But Clay considers the asthma a "condition," not an unfair disadvantage that his competitors do not have to deal with. To him it is just another challenge among the many in the greatest test of an athlete's versatility.
"Because of my fitness level, it's controllable. The fitter you are, the less you have problems with asthma. You get born with and have to figure out how to manage it," Clay said. "I know the conditions might be a little different in China, and I've been asked about it a bunch. But there's really not much you can do about it. People say the weather and air quality might not be conducive to good marks. But when you're in the Olympics, you're not looking for best marks; you're looking to win.
"I do the decathlon, so I'm used to dealing with all kinds of conditions. Where I train (in Southern California) is not the best air quality in the world. I have to deal with smog that sits right in the valley. On a bad day I can't see the hills that are just a mile away. So I'm not overly concerned with it."
Clay said dealing with the environment makes the decathlon interesting. He won the 2005 World Outdoor championship in conditions described as "atrocious" in Helsinki, Finland.
"It was so windy the rain was blowing sideways," Clay said. "If it were always the same, it would be boring after a while. The decathlon is to find out who's tough and who's not. I know everyone's gonna flip out when conditions are bad, and I feel like it gives me an advantage because I feel like I'm mentally tougher out there."
Clay overcame the after-effects of flu to win the World Indoor title in the heptathlon in Valencia, Spain, last month. That victory, coupled with his 2004 achievement in Athens, Greece, makes Clay a favorite to qualify for the U.S. team at the Olympic Track and Field trials in Eugene, Ore., June 29 and 30.
"It will come down to making the least amount of mistakes, and staying healthy is a huge part of it," Clay said of the trials as well as the Games. "There's great competition everywhere. Anybody out there can do well. You study for the test, and then the test takes care of itself."
Clay said he does not plan on much more competition before the trials. He said he and his wife, Sarah, and son, Jacob, might come to Hawaii for an appearance, perhaps on the way to China, but "I still have to make the team."
The Olympic decathlon is scheduled for Aug. 21 and 22.
See Clay's Web site at bryanclay.com for more information.