Arguably the world’s greatest athlete at this moment, Clay scored a personal-record (PR) 8,832 points to win the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. It’s his second straight Olympic Trials title and the third U.S. championship of his stellar career.
Clay won 4 of the 10 events – 100 meters, high jump, discus and javelin – and though he did not PR in any of them, he was consistently strong across the board, so much so that he broke the previous Olympic Trials record of 8,726 set by Dan O’Brien in 1996 (the year that O’Brien won Olympic gold). In addition, Clay’s score was the best by an American in 16 years and the best in the world in 4 years.
“I made a decision with myself to come out today and make it happen,” said Clay following Monday night’s second day of competition. “Despite any winds or problems, I decided on times I was going to make.”
Clay endured a sub-par first day of the decathlon on Sunday, despite holding a 22-point lead over the competition after 5 events. After opening with a decathlon personal-best of 10.39 in the 100 meters, Clay misfired in the long jump with a leap of 24’ 3”, some 2 feet off of what he routinely jumps. In the fourth event, Clay’s Olympic dreams nearly went up in flames after missing his first 2 attempts in the high jump at a very modest mark of 6’ 2¾”. With the pressure of his future and dreams hanging in the balance, he cleared his third and final attempt and then went on to win the high jump with a fine leap of 6’ 9¾”.
“I started out in the high jump almost as bad as I did in the long jump and shot,” said Clay, “but we pulled it together. We went home. My coaches and I had dinner. We chatted about what happened and realized we had a bad day and we are still not that far off.”
Clay came out on fire Monday morning, scoring over 1,930 points in the first 2 events, the 110-meter high hurdles (13.75) and the discus (173’ 0”), putting a 200-point margin between himself and the nearest competitor.
He followed with strong performances in the pole vault (16’ 4¾”) and the javelin (231’ 5”), and though the goal of the American record moved just of his reach, Clay had all but secured an Olympic berth and a Trials championship heading into the 1500-meters. And even there in the 1500, an event that has been Clay’s albatross his entire decathlon career, he still shined with a 4:50.97, one of his finest times in several years.
“I’m happy with my training,” said Clay, who was an NAIA-record 23-time All-American during his 4-year (1999-2002) career at Azusa Pacific. “I’m happy with my mindset and I want to bring that to Beijing. I just have to get after it every event, stay focused and do my job. It’s about getting the events to line up and staying consistent.”
In world history only 4 other decathletes – Roman Sebrle (Czech Republic), Tomas Dvorak (Czech Republic), O’Brien (USA) and Daley Thompson (Great Britain) – have scored more points in a decathlon than Clay’s 8,832 points. Clay was just 59 points shy of O’Brien’s American record of 8,891 and 94 points away from Sebrle’s world standard of 9.026.
“There is no doubt in my mind that I am ready (to) break the American record and world record,” Clay told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just a matter of time at this point. I have to put all 10 events together.”
Clay’s score is likely to stand as the best heading into the Olympic Games, making him the favorite for the gold medal. Of the ten former Azusa Pacific athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, 4 have garnered medals but no Cougar has ever captured gold. The decathlon is scheduled for Aug. 21 and 22 in Beijing.