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Clay Makes His Effort Stick

An upset winner at the U.S. trials, the Azusa Pacific product erases lingering doubts with a silver in the decathlon.

August 25, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — He was too small. Too frail. Not hardy enough to run a good time in the 1,500.

And certainly not good enough to dream about making an impact in the decathlon.

"People kind of took me for granted," Bryan Clay said. "They didn't take me seriously, whether because of my personality or my size. Hopefully, now they'll know I'm for real."

The silver medal he won Tuesday at the Summer Games should silence any remaining doubts about his ability or the power in his 5-foot-11, 174-pound body.

Clay, who competed for, and still trains at, Azusa Pacific, scored a personal-best 8,820 points, finishing only behind world-record holder Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, who amassed an Olympic-record 8,893 points. Clay was third until he loosed a personal-best javelin throw of 69.71 meters (228 feet 8 inches) in the ninth event and leapfrogged Dmitriy Karpov of Kazakhstan.

His success cements tiny Azusa Pacific's reputation as a decathlon factory. It previously produced 1992 ninth-place finisher Dave Johnson.

"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," said Clay, who upset 2003 world champion Tom Pappas in winning the U.S. Olympic trials last month.

"I'd get goose bumps sitting there watching them. I still look up to those guys. Now that I know that I just surpassed most of them, it's just an unbelievable feeling."

His joy was tempered only by the absence of Pappas, who strained his left foot and pulled out during the pole vault, the eighth event.

Pappas, featured in an Olympic-themed promotional campaign by NBC, was fifth after the first five events and fourth after Tuesday's first event, the 110-meter hurdles. He dropped back to fifth in the discus, then the pain that had begun to bother him earlier in the day became more intense as he went down the runway for his first pole vault attempt.

He ran through it, then pulled off his left shoe and sock to retape the bottom of his foot. After receiving treatment for about an hour, he reluctantly pulled out.

"It didn't bother me in the discus," he said in a statement released by USA Track and Field. "I think just sitting around for maybe an hour after the discus, I thought I might be in trouble. It really started to hurt. It took forever to try to warm it up a little bit. It was one of those things where it wasn't getting any better...."

Said Clay: "Tom's a great guy. There's no doubt in my mind that if Tom hadn't been hurt, he would be standing right here with me."

Clay's journey to the second step of the medal stand wasn't easy. A self-described "angry kid," he acted out his anger over his parents' divorce by getting into minor scrapes.

"Luckily, we got it turned around," he said. "It was a long process, and it's still ongoing now."

Sebrle, second at the 2000 Sydney Games, attributed his success to maturity. Over the 10 events, he ranked first in the shotput and javelin throw and second in the long jump and high jump.

"In Sydney, I was four years younger and I didn't think about the gold medal. I just was thinking about a medal," he said. "Here, I compete much more because I want a gold."

Silver was as good as gold for Clay.

"I've been dreaming about this since I was 8 years old, when I saw Carl Lewis and all those guys at the Olympics in 1988," he said. "It's been tough, but it all paid off."

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