[ 2004 OLYMPICS ]

Castle High alumnus Bryan Clay raised the Hawaiian flag after winning the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif., last month.

Clay hits Olympic
stage early

The 24-year-old Castle graduate's win
at the U.S. Trials put him in the Games
four years earlier than expected

This is the seventh in a series on people with local ties taking part in the Olympic Games in Greece. Tomorrow's story will be on Robyn Ah Mow-Santos.

The future was not meant to come this soon.

According to all the predictions, the timetables, the experts ... the time for Bryan Clay to come into his own would be in 2008, at the Beijing Olympics.

Hawaii Olympians

The Clay File

Sport: Track & Field (Decathlon)

Competition dates: Aug. 23-24

Birthdate: Jan. 3, 1980

Birthplace: Austin, Texas

Residence: Azusa, Calif.

College: Azusa Pacific (2003)

Tie to Hawaii: Castle High graduate (1998) grew up in Kaneohe and Palolo

Fun Fact: His senior year in high school, Clay won four golds and broke three meet records at the state high school track and field championships. He amassed enough points to finish third in the team standings and still holds the state records (wind-aided) in the 100 meters, 110 hurdles and long jump.

Did you know? A record 23-time NAIA All-American, Clay was named outstanding performer at the 2002 NAIA Outdoor Championships after winning the pentathlon and the long jump. He also won national titles in the long jump in 2001 and the decathlon in 2000.

The 24-year-old Clay has just two words to those who doubted he'd be in Athens ... "Fooled ya."

Clay scored a personal best of 8,660 points in winning the decathlon at last month's U.S. Track and Field Championships at Sacramento. He outscored chief rival and defending world champion Tom Pappas (8,517) in the 10-event competition and had a huge lead on Pappas (253 points) going into the final event, the 1,500 meters.

Clay jogged the final two laps of the four-lap race then wrapped himself in the Hawaii state flag before taking the medal stand at Hornet Stadium.

"I wasn't surprised," the 1998 Castle High product said prior to leaving for Athens. "I was happy with my score, but I think I left some points out there.

"I've known I've been ready to do this all year. I was playing with a full deck (no injuries) and that was nice. But I know there's a lot I can improve on."

Much has been written about the life path Clay could have taken. A self-described "angry child," he was constantly getting into trouble following the divorce of his parents and his mom Michele's subsequent marriage to Mike Vandenberg.

Clay eventually turned to sports as an outlet for his anger. Track and field eventually led him to people who would influence the rest of his life.

His Castle High track coach, Martin Hee, had been a decathlete. His Kailua Track Club coach, Duncan Macdonald, had been an Olympian.

At a Maui clinic he met Chris Huffins, a bronze medalist in the decathlon at the 2000 Sydney Games. Huffins introduced Clay to Kevin Reid, the track coach at Azusa Pacific who had coach Dave Johnson to the bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Fate ... serendipity ... luck. It all added up to Clay becoming a 23-time All-American at Azusa Pacific, a small Christian school outside of Los Angeles.

And it had added up to his no longer being an unknown. Clay finished second to defending Olympic gold medalist Roman Sebrle in the heptathlon at this year's World Indoor Championships with 6,365 points, the second-highest all-time total by an American.

"It's not just Tom Pappas anymore," Sebrle said after finishing ahead of Clay. "It's Bryan, too."

Clay's dream of being an Olympian goes back to when he was 8 and watched Carl Lewis running in the 1988 Games.

"I got chicken skin," he said. "Something attracted me even back then. I wanted to be the best at something."

Clay became very good at a lot of things. After competing in up to eight events at high school track meets (100, 200, 110 hurdles, long jump, triple jump, 4x100, 4x400 and high jump), the decathlon was a perfect fit.

The two-day event is comprised of the 100, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 on the first day, and the 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 on the second day.

Clay set three personal records at the Olympic Trials: discus, pole vault and javelin. One of the smallest world-class decathletes -- he's 5-foot-11, 174 pounds -- Clay bettered his top score by 178 points.

"I like sprinting and jumping, and I have to work at the pole vault the most," he said. "The 1,500 hurts the most.

"The decathlon is not the most popular event. It takes a special person. It's not one of those things you can compete in every weekend. I do maybe three a year. To get this far ... it's all about being in the right place at the right time."

Clay's faith and family support has gotten him this far. He counts brother Nick and wife Sarah -- a former Azusa Pacific javelinist -- among his best friends and biggest fans.

The money is tight. Sarah Clay is a kindergarten teacher and the couple survive on love, her salary, a few sponsors and some fund raising by his parents and friends.

"I don't think you'll see another decathlete on a Wheaties box," said Bryan Clay, alluding to the cereal box that featured 1976 Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner. "We're just not marketable. We're not the track and field athletes who will make the money.

"At the Trials, it was cool to shake hands with the other great U.S. decathletes -- Rafer Johnson, Dan O'Brien, Bob Mathias. People knew of these guys. They don't know us."

Clay hopes that will change in a few weeks.

"My expectations are not to win a medal," he said. "It's to have 10 solid events, take each event one at a time. If I can do that, then I will be on top of the podium."

Decathlon Records

World: Roman Sebrle (CZE) 9,026 (2001)

American: Dan O'Brien 8,891 (1992)

Olympic: Daley Thompson (GBR) 8,847 (1984)

Clay: 8,660 (2004 Trials)

As for the future, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is an option, but "I don't know where I'll be in four years," he said. "I don't know where God will take me. I know how injuries can happen. This could all be taken away at any moment."

Clay is grounded and calm as he heads into his first Olympics. While the media has seemingly preordained Pappas as America's best medal hope in the decathlon, Clay knows nothing matters until Aug. 23-24.

"Tom's got Greek ancestors, so there's a story line there (for the national media)," Clay said. "And they're going to ride him. That can get frustrating.

"I just know what I've done and what I'm capable of doing."

According to track insiders, Clay's best performances are ahead of him. Had he not jogged half of the 1,500 at the Trials, he likely would have approached the 8,800-point level, a total that has usually meant an Olympic gold medal.

Clay felt he left 200 points on the track in that event alone. Others speculate he left as many as 200 points in the other events.

His 8,660 was better than that of any American who has not won a world or Olympic title in the history of the sport.

"Everyone thought my time would be in 2008," he said. "Hopefully, I can do it in Athens."

The future is some two weeks away.

Clay fund-raising efforts: Efforts are being made to help fund the Olympic trips for Clay's coaches and trainers. Azusa Pacific will serve as the funding agent, so donations are tax deductible.

Checks should be made out to "Azusa Pacific Summer Olympics Fund." The address is: Azusa Pacific University, 901 East Route 66, Azusa, CA 91702, Attn: Kevin Reid.

T-shirts are also available for sale on Clay's Web site:

Athens 2004 Olympics
Bryan Clay Online



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