Facing a stacked field that included two-time World Champion Trey Hardee and local favorite Ashton Eaton, Bryan Clay’s quest to repeat as Olympic decathlon champion wasn’t going to be easy — but it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
Clay posted good scores on Friday, placing second in the shot put and 100 meters. He finished the first half of the competition in third place with 4,252 points. He was in strong position considering he previously owned a world record in the decathlon discus, one of two throwing events to start competition on Saturday.
From the start, however, it was clear Clay’s day wasn’t going according to plan in any way, shape or form. It also quickly became clear he wasn’t going to lie down — even if he needed a little encouragement from his coaches.
“I didn’t want to finish,” Clay said. “My coaches made me, and I had to for my family. As much as I didn’t want to, there was no other option. I want to be the best role model, and the worst thing you can do as a role model is quit.”
A false start in the 110-meter hurdles turned out to be just the beginning of his troubles. When the race finally began, he tripped on the final two hurdles and limped across the finish line. He was initially disqualified for touching a hurdle before having his time reinstated. Either way, the race all but ended his Olympic dream with four events still left on the docket.
He took the field for the discus to supportive applause from the knowledgeable crowd at Hayward Field but sent his first attempt into the cage. He got another attempt at his first-round throw after officials determined there were issues with the cage, but he still didn’t manage a scoring throw on either of his first two attempts.
On his third attempt, he was finally able to get a disc into the sector, but what looked like the best throw of the day was negated due to a foot fault. That error gave Clay zero points for the event, rendering the eventual reversal of his DQ in the 110-meter hurdles irrelevant.
Clay continued to compete in the pole vault, passing on early height attempts before then easily soaring over the bar at 4.80 meters to keep pace with the leader. He was unable to clear the bar at 4.90, but his mark of 4.80 meters was good enough for seventh place and earned him 849 points. Regardless, Clay remained in last place among those still competing, due to his non-score in the discus.
After a significant rain delay, he put on a clinic in the javelin, throwing over 60 meters on each of his three attempts to place second in the event with a mark of 66.80.
At the end, he labored to make it through the final event of the decathlon, the 1500 meters. He finished nearly a minute behind Eaton and the rest of the leaders but ahead of fellow competitors Jake Arnold and Ryan Harlan.
During the decathletes’ victory lap, Clay was given a warm ovation from the fans at Hayward Field. He finished twelfth with 7,092 points despite failing to score in the discus and recording a last-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles.He still managed to place ahead of four athletes who scored in all 10 events. Though Clay will be 36 years old for the next Olympic Trials, he says his career isn’t done yet.
“I don’t think I’ll hang it up,” he said. “There is always another team to be made.”