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
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
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."