HE is a product of Hawaii's undernourished track and field environment.
Clay has a bright
future in decathlon
But Bryan Clay, 25 pounds stronger than he was a year ago when he set three state prep meet records at Kaiser, is being projected as a future Olympic medal winner in the decathlon.
The flame was ignited last weekend at the NAIA National Indoor Championships in Lincoln, Neb., when Clay -- only a freshman -- captured four All-America distinctions for Azusa Pacific.
He accepted a scholarship to Azusa because he knew the coach there, Kevin Reid, produced 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Dave Johnson, and he wanted some of that.
The fact is, he has already stepped into Johnson's shoes.
Johnson, who teaches at a nearby elementary school, has the same shoe size as Clay, so he has given him a couple of his old pairs.
But Clay has more in common with Johnson than just shoe size.
"I fully expect him to be the youngest decathlete in the trials next year. And he should legitimately challenge the American junior record (7,658 points)."
NOW that's what I call an impressive assessment. You see, Reid is dead serious. He doesn't joke about such things.
Azusa produces Olympians. Nine went to Barcelona.
He calls Clay's potential "limitless" and insists that "he could be on is way to being a world record holder or gold medalist."
Whoa. Slow down.
When was the last time a kid from Hawaii had any reason to believe he could master the decathlon -- the most exacting test of Olympic athleticism -- and take it to the next level?
Who was the last one to think he could throw, sprint, jump, hurdle and vault in the shadows of Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner, and Dan O'Brien.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Clay won't even compete in his first intercollegiate decathlon until March 18-19 at the Point Loma Decathlon/Heptathlon. But he's already been anointed.
At the NAIA Championships, he set a school record in the 55 meters (6.35 seconds), was third in the long jump (23-81/4), fifth in the high hurdles (7.80) and fourth in the pentathlon with 3,817 points.
CLAY even qualified for the USATF national indoor championships with his pentathlon performance.
And he fouled on a 25-foot effort in the long jump.
"That's the kind of performance you would expect from somebody who is going to be a big-timer," said Frank Zarnowski, a Maryland-based economics professor and author of three books on the decathlon. He is considered by many to be the guru of the event. What he anoints usually stays anointed.
"Someone who is going to make national teams and get to the Olympic trials would have to score something like this fairly early. We have to keep an eye on this guy."
There's no telling where Clay's rapidly accelerating momentum is going to take him next.
Last July in Seattle, he missed setting a national record at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics when he was disqualified in the 400 meters.
If he makes it to the trials for Sydney, it will be very hard for Clay to earn a spot on the American team for Sydney. Defending Olympic champion Dan O'Brien, and his 1996 Atlanta teammates, Chris Huffins and Steve Fritz, are expected back.
"It would surprise me for Bryan to make the team next year, but it is definitely not out of his league," said Reid.
It can't be easy for Clay to know that's what's expected of him. But he can handle it.
"I feel that I can do it, but I don't want to say anything yet," he said.
Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.