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Clay conquers rocky road to world gold in Spain

11 March 2008

Bryan Clay (Image of Sport) Bryan Clay (Image of Sport)
By Dave Ungrady

At the 2007 outdoor world championships in Osaka Japan last summer, defending decathlon champion Bryan Clay dropped out of the competition on the first day with an injury during the high jump. The next day, after Clay's buddy and Olympic champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic won the event, Clay interviewed Sebrle for WCSN.com's video coverage of the meet.

Clay asked Sebrle how his absence affected the champion's performance. "It was a little motivation for me," he said. "After the shot put I thought you will win for sure and (the rest of us) will fight for the silver and bronze medal." He then apologized to Clay for his lack of immediate sympathy for his friend's plight.

At the 2008 world indoor championships that concluded Sunday in Spain, Clay completed the event and won the competition while Sebrle dropped out with a hamstring injury in the 60-meter hurdles, the first event of the second day. Clay was in the lead over the second-place Sebrle by 174 points.

Clay, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, saw no advantage with Sebrle out of the heptathlon. "An advantage? No, I don't think so," he said by phone from Monday from Spain. "We're good friends. I turned to Donovan (Kilmartin, the other U.S. athlete in the decathlon), and said it was kind of weird not having him out of there. I'm so used to him being there, strategizing with him."

With Sebrle out, Clay opened up a 300-point lead after the hurdles but struggled in the pole vault and the 1,000 meters. The reality of missed training set in Sunday. "I knew missing a month of practice would affect my recovery," he said. "The second day I woke up and felt sore, a lot more sore than I expected to be. It was very, very, very difficult day for me. My legs were absolutely trashed. I had no pop. I don't know how I got over the bar in the vault."

Clay finished last in the 1,000 meters in 2:55.64, ten seconds slower than times he posted in practice. He won by only 137 points over Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus and registered a personal record with his winning score of 6371.

Clay, who dropped out of the 2007 U.S. outdoor championships due to injury, felt fortunate to compete in the meet. In February, a battle with the flu and a slightly injured hamstring forced him to practice sparingly and lost 12 pounds. He was forced to cancel his original flight from Los Angeles to Spain because of problems with his vaulting poles, delaying his trip by a day.

"Anything that could have happened to try and distract me from the meet happened," he said. "I tried to do well the first day and have fun. I was thankful that I was able to come out here and have an opportunity."

Clay competed in every heptathlon event sporadically in three indoor meets this year prior to the world championships. He recorded a personal best in the pole vault at a meet in Ames, Iowa in mid-February.

He credits an intense training period prior to February for a strong performance in Spain. "I upped the amount of training," he said "My fitness level is higher than it normally is. I was very, very fit and was ready to do amazing things."

Clay has no meets planned yet for the outdoor season. He has scheduled a comfortable recovery period before resume training toward what he hopes will be his first Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games in August.

Sebrle, the defending Olympic champion, will be a friendly contender.

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