Despite Thursday morning heavy rains that could have neutralized his distinct speed advantage, Clay opened the competition with a 10.44 in the 100 meters to beat the entire 40-athlete field. Then in a drizzle, he followed with a season-best leap of 25’ 6¼” (7.78m) in the long jump to widen the gap over his nearest competitors.
Seemingly on a roll, Clay continued his acceleration from the field with a lifetime best effort in the shot put, launching the 16-pound ball 53’ 4½” (16.27m) on his third and final attempt to give him an additional 868 points and a 3-event tally of 2,862 points, 145 points ahead of his nearest competitor.
“The shot was a big surprise for us,” said Azusa Pacific men’s track & field Coach Kevin Reid, who also serves as Clay’s coach. “His practices in the shot have not been going well all season, and even leading up to today they haven’t been good.”
After a scheduled 4-hour delay in which he returned to his hotel room, Clay came back to the Bird’s Nest to finish off the first day with average performances in the high jump and 400 meters, allowing other decathletes to reel in Clay. He cleared 6’ 6¼” (1.99m) in the high jump (4 inches off his personal record) and ran a 48.92 in the 400 (more than a second off his PR).
The rain was heavy at times during the high jump, but it cleared out for the 400.
“I don’t know if it was the lay-off or not, but Bryan came out a little soft or flat in the last 2 events,” said Reid from the Bird’s Nest. “His legs felt good, but his rhythm was off in the high jump, and he may have gone out a little too hard early in the 400.”
Nonetheless, Clay is 45 points ahead his personal-best pace that he set at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June when he finished with 8,832 points, the second-best score in U.S. history.
“Overall I would probably give Bryan’s first-day performance a ‘B’ or ‘A-minus’”, said Reid. “He is in a good position, and by all rights he should lead from start to finish. The gold medal is in his hand, and they are going to have to wrestle it from him.”
Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus is currently second, 88 points behind Clay with 4,433. Trey Hardee of the United States is third with 4,428. World record holder and reigning Olympic champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic is currently fifth with 4,312 points.
The second day of competition continues tonight at 6 p.m. (PDT) with the 110-meter hurdles, a Clay strength, followed by the discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500-meters.
“Krauchanka is going to push Bryan all the way,” added Reid, “but typically Bryan is stronger than him in the hurdles, discus and javelin. I don’t know if Roman has it within him to come back from 200 points down to Bryan, but he is good and experienced, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back in the mix late in the competition.”
The heavy rains did not stop nor delay the competition in the decathlon. Clay is used to competing in inclement weather. He won the 2005 world championship under rainy conditions in Helsinki, Finland. However, the weather in Beijing is expected to improve for the second day of competition which, along with the cooler temperatures and clear air, should enhance Clay’s chances of big scores, particularly in the 110-meter high hurdles.
“When Bryan was about to run his 100 today, I thought it was 9:30 p.m., not a.m.,” Reid said of stormy weather. “I’ve never seen clouds so dark or rain fall so hard, but Bryan acted like the veteran he is and had fun with it and seemed to relax the others guys as well.”
Click here for complete first-day results of the Olympic decathlon.