By Stephen Mazzone
Photos by Victah Sailor, Photorun.net
He walked into Olympic Stadium in Athens in 2004, and came home with a silver medal.
Four years later in Beijing, he turned that silver into gold.
When it comes to performing at his best on track and field’s grandest of stages, Bryan Clay has had no problem getting motivated.
The roar of the crowd and the elite athletes staring in his direction instantly transform the world’s top decathlete into that competitive mode. His drive to succeed becomes unmatched.
But there’s another thing that revs up Clay’s motor when he prepares for the two grueling days and 10 events of the decathlon, and it has little to do with what transpires on the track after he laces up his Nike’s.
“A big part of my motivation is the goals I have off the track as well,” he said. “It doesn’t just start with the gold medals.”
For the 30-year-old decathlete, those goals are accomplished through his Bryan Clay Foundation, an organization he created back in 2005 that supports fitness and education for underprivileged youths, providing various programs and fundraisers.
“It’s just a great thing that I am able to do,” he said. “I also understand that the better I do in track and field, it just kind of helps me more with what I can do with the foundation.”
Since first making his mark in the decathlon more than a decade ago when he claimed titles at the 1999 U.S. Junior and Pan American Junior championships, Clay has been the perfect role-model for his foundation. He has won his share of national and international competitions, highlighted by his gold-medal performance at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing where he accumulated 8,791 points, a convincing 240 points more than silver-medalist Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus.
His resume also includes his silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, a gold medal at the 2005 IAAF World Outdoor Championships as well as medals (two gold, two silver) in the last four IAAF World Indoor Heptathlon Championships with his most recent coming this past March when he defended his gold in Doha, Qatar.
While the motivating factors have come easy for Clay, the former standout athlete from Azusa Pacific (California) University has often paid the price for his success with a handful of injuries. He missed the entire 2009 season with a sore hamstring suffered not too long after winning in Beijing.
“I think what happens with our event is we are constantly flirting with over-training and not training enough,” Clay said. “I can usually get myself to do workouts with high intensity. I always say one of the greatest gifts can be one of the things that can destroy you.”
“A lot of times I might step over the line,” he added. “It’s a fine line. It’s always a learning experience figuring out if your body can do this and can do that. The decathlon, it’s hard. There’s a lot of training. It gets difficult. You are putting your body through so much. It’s difficult to stay healthy.”
Clay moved from Austin, Texas to Hawaii when he was five years old, and now resides in California. He estimates he trains at least six to seven hours a day. Along with his wife Sarah Smith, he has three young children – son Jacob and two daughters Kate and Ellie. When Clay’s out perfecting his craft, it’s not uncommon to see part of his clan hanging around the long jump pits or running alongside him while he’s sweating it out.
“For me, the balance comes easy,” he said. “I’m a home body. I want to be around my family most of the time. A lot of times I include my family in my day-to-day rituals. My family will come out and spend a day at the track. I try to include them as much as possible.”
In one comment written on his twitter account last month, Clay posted: “Working out at the track with my son Jacob again. He does warm ups with me. So much fun watching him want to be like Daddy!”
Of the 10 events, Clay excels in the discus where he holds a world decathlon best of 55.87 meters (183.301 feet). He’s also virtually unbeatable in the 100 and owns a personal-best clocking of 10.36 seconds.
“In the 100, I think I’ve lost one race,” he said. “But on any given day, I can get beat.”
The least favorite event for Clay is perhaps ranked right at the top for most of his peers, the 1,500 meters – the final event of the two days.
“It’s just not a fun event. I would say every athlete would say that. It’s a tough event for me who is more speed experienced,” said Clay, who has a PB of 21.34 for the 200 and 47.78 for the 400. “It’s a difficult event and it’s the last event. It’s a hard event to get your mind up for.”
With 2009 a washout in terms of competing, Clay is hoping for a strong 2010 season. He began it on a positive note with his gold medal at the World Indoor Heptathlon Championships, the first man to defend his crown in the history of the event. Clay won with a total of 6,204 points, a mere 20 points ahead of fellow U.S. teammate Trey Hardee.
“It’s always nice to come up with a win,” he said. “I was a little rusty, but I was proud of myself. I competed well even though it didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to. All around, there were a lot of events that I made some mistakes; you kind of roll with the punches.”
Clay, who won the decathlon in Austria May 29th and 30th with 8483 points (LINK: http://www.meeting-goetzis.at/), believes that a third Olympic medal is in his future. He also feels there’s a chance for a 1-2-3 American sweep in 2012 with the possibility of having Hardee and University of Oregon senior Ashton Easton on the team in London. Easton recently broke former Olympic gold decathlon champion Dan O’Brien’s 17-year-old heptathlon world record with 6,499 points at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
The last time an American team swept the medal stand was in 1952 when Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell and Floyd Simmons took the top three spots in Helsinki.
“I am not going to say for sure we are going to get that but we are poised to put a pretty good team out there,” he said. “We could take a team that could really make a statement for the U.S.”