Sunday, July 18, 2004

Clay upsets Pappas to win trials decathlon

By Bob Baum
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Move over Tom Pappas. The United States has another medal contender in the decathlon.

Bryan Clay had three personal bests Saturday to upset the reigning world champion Pappas at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

Clay, 24, with decathlon bests in the discus (170 feet, 11 inches), pole vault (16-83/4) and javelin (224-3), compiled 8,660 points - 178 more than his previous top score.

Pappas was second with 8,517 to earn a berth in Athens, but he was 267 points off his best, set at last year's U.S. championships.

"I would have liked to have won, sure," Pappas said. "But I think after a couple of days settle in, I'll be happy that I made the team. I'm disappointed in my score, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

Clay, lured to the event as a teenager by 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Chris Huffins, draped himself in a Hawaiian flag to celebrate his triumph in his first decathlon of the season. His score was third-best in the world this year behind Roman Sebrle's 8,842 and Pappas' 8,732 in Goetzis, Austria, on May 30.

Only an exhaustingly slow 5 minutes, 6.18 seconds in the heat of Sacramento - where the high hit 93 degrees - kept Clay from an even more impressive score.

"I think I'm going to give Tom and Roman a run for their money," he said. "By no means is it going to be a walk in the park for any of us, and I think Roman knows that, too."

Although he had not competed in a decathlon, Clay had set personal bests seven times in individual events this year. He also had a strong second place finish to Pappas in the heptathlon at the world indoors. The two compiled the two best scores in the event in U.S. history.

Pappas wasn't surprised by Clay's score.

"Last year at the world championships he hurt his hamstring, and he was ready there to put up a big score," Pappas said. "This whole year he's been setting personal bests in a lot of events. It was just a matter of putting it together."

Pappas and Clay could hardly be more different. Pappas looks like some Greek statue, 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds. Clay stands an unimposing 5-11 and weighs 174 pounds. Pappas is reserved, Clay is outgoing.

"I grew up in Hawaii. I'm half-Japanese, half-African American," Clay said. "My dad lives in Florida, my mom lives in Hawaii. I went to Azusa Pacific - a small Christian school - so my faith and my walk with God is very important to me. I just try to keep my priorities in check, and when I've got that stuff in check, the athletic stuff just comes around. So that's kind of me in a nutshell."

Not that Pappas doesn't have a sense of humor.

Someone asked if they could compare themselves to the "Dan and Dave" pairing of Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson in the 1996 games.

"Well, we both made the team," Pappas deadpanned, a reference to O'Brien's no-height in the pole vault at the trials that kept him out of the Atlanta Olympics.

Paul Terek edged Phil McMullen by 27 points - 8,312-to-8,285 - for third place and the final Olympic decathlon berth. McMullen also was fourth at the trials in 2000.

Pappas said he was confident he could work out the mistakes before Athens.

"I think it will be fairly easy," he said. "To iron out some of the technical stuff is really not that big of a deal. I would be concerned if my fitness wasn't where I wanted it to be. That would be hard for me in a short amount of time."

For toughness, no one could match Ryan Harlan of Rice University, who spent two nights in the hospital with a staph infection in his right leg, possibly caused by an insect bite. The NCAA champion checked out of the hospital at 11:45 a.m. Friday, went to the track and spent the next two days doing the decathlon.

"Somebody said 'What do you do when you check out of the hospital?'" Harlan said. "I went and did decathlon."

Harlan finished 14th out of the 19 who completed the 10 events.

McMullen was the saddest of competitors. Tears welled up in his eyes as the 29-year-old talked about the near-miss, and his second fourth-place finish in two Olympic trials.

"My goal and No. 1 focus was to make the team," he said. "I didn't do that. I fell short. But if you turn around and look at all the lessons you learned along the way, and apply it in your life going forward, maybe your time wasn't wasted."

LOCALS: Goshen graduate Andrew Giesler finished seventh in the decathlon. Only the top three finishers make the team.

University of Cincinnati senior David Payne advanced to the semifinals of the 110-meter hurdles, placing seventh Saturday in preliminaries in 13.63 seconds. The semifinals are at 6 p.m. today, followed by the finals at 8:13 p.m.

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