Feat of Clay: American wins gold medal in decathlon

8/22/2008 - Olympic Sports

BEIJING -- Bryan Clay won the decathlon at the Beijing Games, the first American man to win the 10-discipline event -- and earn the title "World's Greatest Athlete" -- at the Olympics since 1996.

The 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2005 world champion, Clay finished with 8,791 points, including 522 in the 1,500 meters late Friday. Dan O'Brien was the last U.S. athlete to win the Olympic decathlon, at Atlanta in 1996.

"I just want the Wheaties box," Clay said, joking with reporters. "Put me on the Wheaties box."

Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus took silver at 8,551, and Leonel Suarez of Cuba was third in 8,527.

Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, the reigning world and Olympic champion, finished sixth.

Sebrle, who has been fighting leg injuries this season, fell to the track after the 1,500, the final event. But when he got up, he went to Clay and raised Clay's hand, as if declaring a boxing champion.

Clay led the competition wire to wire, finishing first or second in five of the 10 events and placing third in two more.

Clay led by 88 points after the first five events on Thursday: the 100 meters, 400 meters, long jump, high jump and shot put.

He extended his lead on Friday, finishing second in the 110-meter hurdles for 984 points, added 950 points by winning the discus, and tacked on another 910 points in the pole vault.

Clay had all but secured a victory entering the 1,500 meters -- and it was a good thing, too, because he finished last in his heat in 5:06.59.

"He jokes that the other nine events are about accumulating points so he doesn't have to run it fast," said Mike Barnett, one of Clay's coaches. "He absolutely hates it."

Clay, the son of a Japanese-American mother and an African-American father, lives in California now but is from Honolulu. He competed at Azusa Pacific in Southern California, considered one of the top NAIA track programs.

He now joins the pantheon of Americans who have been crowned the "World's Greatest Athlete" -- Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bruce Jenner and O'Brien.

"We still go back into the books and look at all the things they accomplished," Clay said. "Now we've got the title of 'World's Greatest Athlete' back on U.S. soil. I know that means something to all the guys that went before us.

"I was exhausted. I had nothing in my legs. … My main concern was finishing the race and getting it all done, and being at the top of the podium."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.