AZUSA, Calif. – In Azusa Pacific University’s storied track & field history there have been world champions, Olympians, and unprecedented collegiate national championships. There have been medalists, both silver and bronze honorees. But there’s never been an Olympic champion, a gold medalist.
Cougar alum Bryan Clay met all expectations to win the gold medal in track & field’s decathlon during Friday’s competition of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Clay fashioned an outstanding second-day effort to finish with 8,791 points and claim the title of not only the “world’s greatest athlete” but more importantly “Olympic Champion.”
"I can't tell you how happy I am to have worked for something for so long and finaly accomplish it and have my dreams come true," said Clay.
Clay never trailed and led wire-to-wire throughout the 10-event competition, taking the early lead by winning Thursday’s opening event the100-meters (10.44) and then expanding his cushion with strong performances in the long jump (25’ 6¼”), shot put (53’ 4½”), 110-meter high hurdles (13.93) and discus throw (175’ 5”), all of which allowed him to post a pedestrian-like 5:06.59 in the 1500 meters, the tenth and final event.
“The Olympics are about winning, not necessarily big scores and records,” said Azusa Pacific men's track & field coach Kevin Reid, who also serves as Clay’s lead coach. “We talked about the world and American records a little bit, but really it was about winning the gold medal. He can go for records in other meets.”
For all intents and purposes, Clay, who finished among the top 3 in 7 of the 10 events and won 3 of them (100m, long jump, discus), secured the gold medal when he launched the discus 176’ 5” (53.79m) during Friday’s second-day competition. Not only was it the best throw among the decathletes but it was Clay’s best toss since he set the decathlon discus world record at 183’ 3” at the 2005 U.S. Championships in Carson, Calif.
“Bryan is so confident in that event,” said Reid. “His practices of late have been okay but not great, and then in his 2 warm-up throws went foul, one left and one right. But he believes in himself so much in this one event, and on his first official throw he lets one loose down the middle of the field that went 53 meters.”
At that point, Clay, who was operating on just 4 hours sleep from the night before, pushed his lead to 283 points over then second-place Oleksiy Kasyanov of the Ukraine, and he seemed invincible. All that was left to guarantee the gold was solid and safe performances. Yet, the competitive instincts in Clay would not allow him to play it safe. Instead he continued to attack the field, matching his season best in the pole vault at 16’ 4¾” (5.00m) and then posting a season-best in the javelin at 232’ 10” (70.97m).
“We (the Clay coaching staff) were expecting to give up 2, maybe 3, bars in the pole vault,” Reid added, “but to walk away dead even with Krauchanka, who is a good vaulter, was huge.”
Clay used just 2 of his allotted 3 throws in the javelin (sore elbow) and still widened his gap over Krauchanka to a whopping 479 points heading into the 1500.
“It was a consistent, dominating performance,” said Reid, who joined fellow Cougar coach Mike Barnett to storm stadium security and run onto the field to hug Clay following the 1500.
Gold in Beijing has been the goal for Clay since he emerged on the world scene as a 23-year old back in 2003. And the progression was on pace until an injury-plagued 2007 campaign allowed doubts to creep in as to whether or not Clay would even make it to Beijing.
“It’s unbelievable to think that within a year Bryan went from limping out of the world championship meet to winning the Olympic gold medal with a point A to point Z effort,” said Reid.
During his 4-year collegiate career (1999-2002) at Azusa Pacific, Clay captured an NAIA-record 23 All-America honors and led the Cougars to a sweep of the 2002 NAIA indoor and outdoor track & field team titles. Within 2 years of concluding his college competition, Clay was an Olympic silver medalist, finishing second at the 2004 Athens Games with a then-personal-best score of 8,820 points (the second best score in U.S. history). The following year he was crowned world champion, winning the decathlon at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Now at the age of 28, he won his third U.S. championship by taking the Olympic Trials with another personal-best tally of 8,832.
"I'm hoping to continue to do this through 2012," Clay added. "I don't know if anybody's got 3 medals at the Olympic Games. That's maybe another goal."
Click here to view the final results of the 2008 Olympic decathlon.