In 2000, 10-year-old Gray Horn and his family loaded a rented RV and made the seven-hour drive from their small hometown of Waynesfield, Ohio, to the USATF Junior Olympic Championships in Buffalo, N.Y.
Horn competed in the bantam boy’s triathlon, which includes the high jump, shot put and 400m, and wanted to win a medal. But when it came time for the awards ceremony, Horn found himself in ninth place, and medals were only given to the top eight.
“I remember looking up at my dad and telling him this would never happen again,” Horn said. “And thankfully it didn’t.”
Horn went on to win 11 medals at USATF Junior Olympic meets in high school and became a five-time SEC champion at the University of Florida.
At 22-years-old, Horn qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2012. With the Trials boasting the reigning Olympic champion Bryan Clay, two-time reigning world champion Trey Hardee and the phenomenal Ashton Eaton, Horn entered the Trials ranked ninth.
“Going into the meet, I knew my chances of making the team,” Horn said. “All I could have expected was a PR (personal best). If a medal came that would be an added bonus.”
Flying out to Eugene, Horn checked his Twitter feed and saw an image of the women’s hammer medals and thought to himself, “I want one of those.”
Days later, Horn put together the best decathlon of his life with personal bests in the pole vault, javelin and 1500m. Horn finished third with a personal best of 7,954 points, but did not hit the 8,200-point mark of the Olympic A standard needed to punch his ticket to London.
“I felt fulfilled by winning a medal, but I can’t tell you that I’m not a little bit disappointed,” Horn said. “Maybe if we had sunshine and 75 degrees I could have scored 8200, but you never know. I’ll just accept that there is a purpose for it and move on to training for [the World Championships in] Moscow 2013.”
For Horn, the Trials not only motivated him for next year, but also gave him the chance to compete alongside his idols.
“It was really special getting to know Bryan Clay,” Horn said. “I’ve had a couple of personal struggles lately, and I read his book right before the trials. Once we finished competing, I walked up to Bryan and let him know that I’ve been a huge fan of his and his book really had an impact on me. He is definitely the one I’ve looked up to growing up.”
Coming from a small farming community of 800 people, Horn’s third place finish was the talk of the town.
“I’ve always gotten a lot of support,” Horn said. “Local businesses hung up signs, there was one on the main street welcoming me home as the bronze medalist for the Olympic Trials.”
Horn is back in Gainesville, Fla., finishing his degree in social sciences and training for 2013.
“I want to make that World Championship team, and I know this is a big year for the U.S. since we’ll be able to take four guys with Trey’s World Championship bye,” Horn said. “My focus is going to be on the throws this year. I feel that once I hit those, I can be competitive at (the World Championships).”
Follow Gray on his journey to Moscow on Twitter @GKHorn