Molding Clay into Gold
By Jesse Merrick | Communication Studies major
APU alumnus Bryan Clay heads to London this summer with one goal: to become the first decathlete in Olympic history to medal three times.
The 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500 meters. These may sound like the events of an entire track meet for some but not for the world’s greatest athlete. These factors encompass the lineup for a single track and field event, the Decathlon.
No decathlete in Olympic history has medaled three times in the grueling two-day event. At this year’s Olympic games in London, he has the opportunity to cement his name in Olympic lore by taking home another medal.
“It would be a huge honor for me because I grew up watching the people before me try to do it,” said Bryan Clay, Azusa Pacific University alumnus. “Some of the greats have tried and haven’t been able to so for me, if I could do it, that would be huge.”
At 32 years old, reigning decathlon champion Bryan Clay, currently has two medals to his name. In 2004 he took home the silver medal in the Athens Olympic games. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Clay won the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” by placing first in the decathlon.
Clay had his eyes on Olympic gold at a very young age.
“That was back when I was eight years old,” said Clay. “That’s when the dream started for me.”
Long before his Olympic dreams became a reality, Clay’s journey started in the Aloha State. After growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, he graduated high school in 1998 and made his way across the Pacific Ocean to Azusa Pacific University.
“I think APU was a big part in helping me learn good values and morals and integrity,” said Clay. “I think that is ultimately what has allowed me to be a better athlete. Strengthening my faith and learning more about who I am and how I tick.”
An illustrious track and field career at APU paved the way for Clay to run, jump and throw his way to eventually make his childhood dream a reality.
Following his leap onto the Olympic scene at the Athens games in 2004, Clay founded an organization a year later. The Bryan Clay Foundation seeks to encourage youth to be movers and shakers in their community. The foundation helps them realize and maximize the power their gifts and talents can have when they reach their true potential.
“The better I do in track, the bigger that platform is for me to go out and do things with my foundation,” Clay said.
Clay’s platform skyrocketed after winning the gold medal in his second Olympic appearance at the 2008 Beijing summer games. He spoke at the 2008 Republican National convention and was even the featured champion on a special edition Wheaties cereal box.
“It was just hectic; it was absolute chaos,” said Clay. “I was traveling all over the country and all over the world doing all kinds of different things.”
He made his way back to Azusa Pacific University where he now trains with former University of Arizona decathlete Jake Arnold, APU alumnus hurdler Dominique DeGrammont, and an Olympic heptathlon hopeful, APU alumna Tiffeny Parker.
While training in Azusa, Clay combats the constant push and pull in every direction from many areas in his life due to his athletic success. On any given day, Clay balances training, sponsors, requests for speaking, appearances, his foundation, and his family. Clay is married and has three kids.
“There’s constantly always someone pulling somewhere,” said Clay. “But like I was saying, I think APU gave me a good foundation to build my career on. I think part of that good foundation is hard earned. I do everything I can to keep my priorities in the right order that they’re in and that’s God first, family second, and track and everything else comes third.”
His training partners also recognize his commitment.
“It’s all about the dedication that you have,” said Tiffeny Parker, APU alumna and heptathlete. “I mean there’s so many other factors like outside life. He deals with family, all the sponsors, [and] all of the interviews he has to do. Every time he comes to the track it just doesn’t really matter. What happens on the track at the moment is where he’s at.”
Most of the time, the track is where he can be found. Clay trains at APU six days a week. He lifts weights at the gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spends the rest of the week on the track.
“It’s really cool honestly, just to see his work ethic,” said Parker. “He’s the world’s best athlete for a reason.”
APU welcomes their Olympic star alum back every year. This is not only because of the immense amount of work he does helping the track and field team, but also because he keeps the university moving. According to APU Athletic Director Gary Pine, Clay helps draw many athletes to the university that might not have heard of the school otherwise.
“Having an athlete like Bryan attached to APU really opens a lot of doors for us,” Pine said.
While some Olympic athletes might stray away from a smaller campus like APU for a larger venue with more advanced facilities, Clay always finds his way back to Azusa.
“Azusa is my home,” said Clay. “It’s where my coaches are. It’s where everything else I do is at so I’m definitely still going to be training there.”
With the Olympic trials coming around the corner in June, Clay realizes the importance of defending his title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.”
“If I don’t get it done then I don’t have that title anymore,” said Clay. “So I have to try and do the best that I can and make sure that I stay on it and stay at the top.”
Clay hopes to do just that this summer on Jul. 27 when the 2012 Olympics games come to a start in London.
MORE APU OLYMPIANS
Although Bryan Clay may be the most decorated Olympian to graduate from APU, he isn’t the only former Cougar to represent the school in the games. Here’s a look at 10 other APU alumni who have participated in the Olympics:
[Name, Country, Event(s), Olympic Year]
Medal Innocent Egbunike, Nigeria, 400m, 4x400m, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, Bronze
Mike Barnett, USA, javelin, 1992
Dave Johnson, USA, decathlon, 1988, 1992, Bronze
Kriss Akabusi, Great Britain, 400 hurdles, 1992, Silver
Ben Koech, Kenya, long jump, 1992
Fatimat Yusuf, Nigeria, 400m, 4x400m, 1996, Silver
Davidson Ezinwa, Nigera, 100m, 4x100m, 1988, 1992, 1996, Silver
Osmond Ezinwa, Nigeria, 4x100m, 1992, 1996, Silver
Ade Olukoju, Nigeria, shot put, 1988, 1996
Stephanie McCann, Canada, pole vault, 2004
Data courtesy of APU’s Athletics department