Pappas, Clay build momentum toward decathlon

Updated: August 18, 2004, 7:03 AM ET
Associated Press

GEORGIOUPOLI, Greece -- Tom Pappas is rebounding from a disappointing U.S. Olympic trials. Bryan Clay wants to build on the momentum of his surprising triumph there.

The two U.S. medal contenders in that most demanding of track and field events, the decathlon, are taking it easy -- more or less -- for a few days in Crete before heading to Athens.

"At the world championships or for another big meet, maybe a night before or two nights before, you have a hard time sleeping," Pappas said."This meet, it seems like, it's already been keeping me up for two weeks now. I have a hard time going to bed."

Pappas is the reigning world champion. He is on the cover of the USA Track & Field media guide, holding the American flag above his broad shoulders after his victory last year in Paris. Clay burst onto the scene by beating Pappas at the U.S. trials, and feels he's barely hinted at his potential.

Pappas left his usual Tennessee training grounds and sought some outside help after his flat performance at the trials, where his score of 8,517 was 267 off his personal best of 8,784 set at the U.S. championships last year. He sought help from Kip Janvrin, a former top decathlete who now is track and field coach at Central Missouri State.

Pappas looked happy and at ease when he arrived at the U.S. pre-Olympic training camp after participating in Friday night's opening ceremony in Athens.

"I know I'm capable of scoring a lot of points," he said. `"The hard part for me in getting over the trials is I felt I was ready for a personal best, and to only score 85 (hundred), it was `What happened? What went wrong?' I know I'm in good shape. I guess every now and then you're going to have an off meet."

Pappas said he's healthy other than a sore right wrist that has bothered him the last couple of months.

"The only time it bothers me is in the shot put," he said Sunday."We actually threw this morning and I threw pretty well. It's probably the best it felt in a long time. Even though it felt pretty good, I'll probably get a cortisone shot in a couple of days."

Pappas already is something of a hero in Greece because of his Greek heritage, even though he had never set foot in the country before last week. He has an endorsement deal with a Greek bank that paid for his family coming to the games.

Pappas figures it's a four-man battle for the gold. At the top of the list is Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, the world record-holder who Pappas dethroned as world champion last year. Sebrle beat Pappas at the annual elite meet in Goetzis, Austria, this year. Pappas said Erki Nool of Estonia, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist, also remains a threat.

Then there's Clay, the 24-year-old upstart from Hawaii whose 8,660 points at the U.S. trials in Sacramento ranks third on the world list this year.

"Everything's feeling really good," Clay said."I feel healthy. I feel better than I did going into the trials."

Clay's biggest concern is avoiding injury. He felt he was ready for a breakthrough at last year's world championships, then dropped out after five events because of a hamstring injury. He tweaked his hamstring again in the 100 meters, the decathlon's first event, at this year's Olympic trials, but managed to make it through the remaining nine events --two of them with personal bests.

"Once I get through the first events, I think it's just going to be money from there," he said.

Clay's confidence is soaring after his victory in Sacramento, especially knowing that there were several events he could have been better in. He knows, too, that he's an unknown to most of those who will tune in to watch next week.

"I think when it comes down to media and stuff like that, yeah, people don't pay me much attention," he said."But if you're talking to people that know the event or follow the event --or even people that know me and have followed my career --I think they'll tell you otherwise.

"They know that this is going to be a big meet for me. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press