Clay, Bryan Ezra

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Bryan Ezra Clay


Olympic Decathlete

Despite being rather on the small side to be the so-called best athlete in the world, at 5 feet 11 inches and 185 pounds decathlete Bryan Ezra Clay has held the Olympic silver medal (2004), the world championship decathlon title (2005), and the American decathlon title (2004, 2005). Clay first began to stand out as an athlete in high school, where dominated Hawaii's track and field events until his graduation in 1998. He moved on to a career at Azusa Pacific University, in Los Angeles, California, breaking Clay, Bryan Ezra, photograph. AP Images. school records in individual track and field events before moving on to the decathlon. Almost unknown nationally before the U.S. Olympic trials in July 2004, he beat world champion and American number one Tom Pappas to take a place in the Olympics. In winning his silver medal in Athens, Greece, the following month he set the fourth-highest score in Olympic history and the sixth-highest of all time. His Olympic silver medal made Texas-born Clay the first ever Hawaiian to win an Olympic track medal and the first athlete from Hawaii to make the Olympic track team since steeplechaser Henry Marsh in 1988.

Bryan Ezra Clay was born in Austin, Texas, on January 3, 1980, to a Japanese-American mother and an African-American father. From the age of five, Clay was raised in Hawaii, where he attended the James B. Castle High School (Kaneohe, Hawaii). There he excelled as a runner, breaking state records and joking with his classmates that he was going to the Olympics. In 1998, the year he graduated from high school, Clay competed in a local event in which elite athletes challenged local hopefuls in a "Celebrity 100-yard Dash." He placed fifth, with two nationally ranked athletes and a local adult sprinter behind him. The same year he set state records in the 100 meters, 110 meter hurdles, 200 meters, and long jump. Clay attended Azusa Pacific University on an athletics scholarship. Azusa Pacific is a small Christian college where he majored in social work. Azusa Pacific was also attended by Dave Johnson, the 1992 Olympic decathlon bronze medalist. Clay graduated in 2003 and married Sarah Smith in 2004; their son, Jacob Ezra, was born on July 1, 2005.

Olympic success never comes easily, but Clay's journey to Athens was harder than most. Though a talented high school athlete he had to contend with dirt tracks, poor facilities, and a lack of funding throughout his formative years. Clay's high school coach, Martin Hee, struggled to keep the track from turning to mud and bought equipment with his own money. Funding for track and field lagged well behind football in Hawaii so that on the island of Oahu, where Clay grew up, only two of the twenty-two public schools had rubberized tracks at the time of the Athens games. After moving to California, Clay enjoyed better facilities, so much so that he continued to train at Azusa Pacific after his graduation in 2003.

In addition to years training on outdated facilities, Clay had to contend with balancing the need to train with the need to earn money. In the early part of his career finding time to train was always difficult. But when it became clear that he could make a career of track and field athletics, his then fiancée Sarah Smith agreed to support Clay as he trained for the Olympics in Athens. The couple lived on her income from teaching kindergarten. Clay was also helped by the sponsorship of a small group of Hawaiian businessmen.

Clay was first given the idea of competing in the decathlon by high school coach Hee, but was further inspired by Chris Huffins, Olympic decathlon bronze medalist in 2000, whom he met at a track clinic in Hawaii. It was Huffins who introduced him to his college coach Kevin Reid. At college Clay excelled at long jump and was twice the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) long jump champion. But it was during his time at Azusa Pacific that Clay began to focus on the decathlon, which includes the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1,500 meters and is scored by allocating points to each athlete in each discipline. Coached by Reid in 2000, Clay was the NAIA decathlon champion and in 2002—a year before graduation—he came in second at the United States championship competition. In all Clay won 23 NAIA All-America awards. At the Olympic trials in 2003 he went up against Tom Pappas, then world champion, who was favored to take the gold medal in Athens the following year. Clay's performance at the trials was outstanding: he set a personal best of 8,660 points to knock Pappas into second place. In individual events he set personal records in shot put, discus, pole vault and javelin.

In Athens in summer 2004 Clay was still relatively unknown. His small stature meant that Pappas, a tall, powerful athlete, remained the American favorite. In the event, Pappas was forced to retire when he injured his foot in the pole vault on the second day. But Clay's performance was probably enough to have beaten him anyway. Coming in second to Czech athlete Roman Sebrle, whose gold medal score of 8,893 was the highest in Olympic history, Clay scored a total of 8,820 points, a personal best, the fourth-highest score ever in an Olympic games, and the sixth-highest of all time; he was also just 71 points away from Dan O'Brien's American record. After Athens, Clay became a celebrity in his home state. On August 25, 2004, the Honolulu Advertiser declared in a headline: "It's Clay Day!" But Clay, a committed Christian, believed his faith helped him to stay focused on his sport. He told the BPSports Web site: "I'm not out there for the money or the fame or the glory," Clay said. "I'm out there to do God's will and allow Him to work through me."

Clay built on his success in Athens, improving his performance in the build-up to the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005. Arriving as one of the favorites Clay's main competitor was reigning Olympic champion Sebrle. He managed to put in one of his best ever decathlon performances, setting personal bests in the shot put and the 400 meters. His throw of 72 meters in the javelin was not only a personal best, but a World Championships record for a decathlon javelin throw. Despite a poor performance in the 1500 meters in terrible weather conditions, Clay finally took the gold over Sebrle with 8,732 points and a margin of 211 points, one of the largest winning margins of all time.

At a Glance …

Born Bryan Ezra Clay on January 3, 1980, in Austin, Texas; married Sarah Smith, 2004; children: Jacob Ezra. Education: Azusa Pacific University, Los Angeles, CA, BA, social work, 2003. Religion: Christian.

Career: NAIA decathlon champion (7,373 pits), 2000; NAIA long jump champion, 2001, 2002; NAIA pentathlon champion, 2002; USA decathlon championship runner-up (8,482 pits), 2002; World Indoor heptathlon silver medalist (6,365 pits), 2004; USA Outdoor decathlon champion, 2004, 2005; Olympic decathlon silver medalist (8,820 pits), 2004; World Outdoor decathlon champion (8,723 pits), 2005.

Awards: World Indoor heptathlon silver medal, 2004; Olympic decathlon silver medal (Athens, 2004);World Championship decathlon gold medal (Helsinki, 2005).

Clay's strongest events are the 100 meters, long jump, the 110 meter hurdles and the discus. He has also competed in pentathlons and heptathlons; he was the NAIA pentathlon champion in 2002 and the World Indoor heptathlon silver medalist in 2004. As world decathlon number one, and arguably the world's finest athlete, in 2006 Clay's next target is the Olympic Games in 2008, where he has the chance to add to his outstanding tally of track and field successes.



Honolulu Advertiser (Hawaii), May 13, 2003; August 25, 2004.

Honolulu Star Bulletin (Hawaii), July 18, 2004; August 25, 2004.

USA Today, July 17, 2004.

Washington Post, August 23, 2004: p. D13.


Bryan Clay, (March 14, 2006).

"Bryan Clay," USA Track and Field, (March 14, 2006).

"Bryan Clay: World's Greatest Athlete?" Hawaii High School Athletic (March 14, 2006).

"Clay Reigns Supreme in Decathlon," BBC Sport, (March 14, 2006).

"Decathlete Bryan Clay Counts on Prayer Support," BPSports, (March 14, 2006).

"What People Are Saying About Bryan Clay," Hawaii High School Athletic Association, (March 14, 2006).