Clay receives award, focuses on ’12 Olympics

By Elliott Denman / Special to the Star-Advertiser

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 04, 2011

ST. LOUIS, Mo. » Now, Bryan Clay knows, it’s time to get back to business, the business of preparing for his third Olympic Games.

The Castle High School and Azusa Pacific (California) College graduate has spent much of the past half-year serving the charities — his Bryan Clay Foundation, and other community causes — that are so near and dear to him.

It’s his charity work that clinched his recognition as Visa Humanitarian of the Year on Saturday at the Jesse Owens Awards Banquet, the annual meeting of USA Track and Field.

The meeting’s four-day run concludes today, and Clay returns to his California training base with the applause of a Hyatt Regency banquet hall audience still resonating in his ears.

He flies away knowing he’s on the brink of achieving something no other Olympian has ever done — winning three medals in the decathlon (following his gold in 2008 at Beijing and his silver at Athens in 2004).

The charity work will be put on hold.

“One hundred percent of my time now is dedicated to training, and it’s been going phenomenally,” said Clay, who has battled injuries over the past year. “My coaches have asked, ‘What’s going on?’ And I’ve said, ‘What do you mean? They’ve told me I’m looking like a different person out on the track, everything’s going so well. We’ve started early and we’re way ahead of pace.

“Now, we just want to maintain that pace to the Olympic Trials (set for Eugene, Ore., in late June) and all the way to the Games (in London in late July).

“I’m 100 percent healthy and more motivated than I’ve been in several years.

Clay hopes to compete in a low-key heptathlon event sometime this winter, and then jet off to Istanbul, Turkey, for defense of his IAAF world indoor championship in the seven-eventer in March.

Outdoors, as the plan currently stands, he’d compete only in selected events at designated meets and in no full decathlons before the Olympic Trials.

“I just want to be able to go all-out in the Trials. If I’m fully healthy, I know I can be better than ever.”

Track and field, though, will always be just part of his essence.

“I’ve always been taught that there’s a lot more to life than winning and sports,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot, and I’ve been surrounded by people who’ve helped me get where I am today. So that gives me a responsibility to turn around and do the same thing for others.

“Another side of me has always been passionate about working with kids, and helping them realize their full potential.

“I’ve always said there are four pillars to your life. There’s the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental side of things. They need to be balanced to be truly successful in life. We teach all these things to the kids.”

On hand for announcing duties at the USATF annual meeting was Dan O’Brien, and the American record-holder and 1996 Olympic decathlon champion offered his own analysis of the 2012 decathlon outlook.

“Bryan’s chances of winning a medal are good, but I think he’d have to do something extraordinary to win a gold medal,” said O’Brien. “I certainly hope he grinds it out and gets a medal. It would be a tremendous achievement. He’d be a page in Olympic history. Forever. And nobody would be happier than all the people who’ve been behind his great career all these years.”