When the decathletes line up at the start of the of the 100m next Thursday for the 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, defending world champion Trey Hardee will not be among them. The 27-year-old Birmingham, Ala., native will cheer on Nike teammates Bryan Clay and Ashton Eaton from the sidelines as they chase after a U.S. title and a ticket to August’s World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
But Hardee is not out of the picture; his spot on Team USA is already secure. Hardee’s victory in Berlin two years ago gives him an automatic bye into this year’s World Championships. The only thing he must do to claim this spot is enter and start one event at the USA Outdoors. For Hardee though, not doing the decathlon will be a new experience.
“I‘ve never been to USA Outdoors without doing the decathlon before,” Hardee said. “I’m going to see all the decathletes out there doing their thing and getting to hang out with one another and compete, and I’m probably going to miss it a little bit.”
For now, Hardee plans to enter the open long jump and hurdle events. And although Hardee may miss some aspects of the grueling two-day, 10-event decathlon, there are definite advantages to the bye.
“A decathlon kind of takes a lot out of you,” Hardee said. “Instead of pretty much setting myself back in training, we’re going to use the competition as training and get to compete against some of the best long jumpers in the world and the best hurdlers in the world.”
Since Hardee has already qualified, the U.S. has the opportunity to send four decathletes, instead of the usual three, to Daegu. With a deep decathlon field at next week’s championship, competition should be fierce for the top three places.
“Usually it kind of happens in waves, but I think right now we have a tsunami of talent in America,” Hardee said.
But Hardee is excited at the prospect of sending an extra decathlete to the world championships.
“The more the merrier,” Hardee said. “The more people we have over there, the more support we all have, the more encouragement we’re going to receive from one another.”
“I think that’s another interesting part of [the decathlon] where you don’t see that a lot with sprinters, and you don’t really see it a lot in distance running. But with us, I don’t think I’ve ever been at a meet where I was competing against Bryan and I didn’t hear him encourage me before a jump or a throw, and the same goes for Ashton. “
The camaraderie among decathletes is just one of many things Hardee loves about the event. As for negatives, he couldn’t name one.
“I don’t really know if there is a bad part about it,” Hardee said. “I’ve been doing this for eight years now, and I think if you’d asked me in the first couple of years, I would have said the training is the hardest part of the doing the decathlon. Then the years after, it probably would have been, ‘Man, the 1,500m just stinks.’ But now I’m at the point where it’s just, this is what I do for a living. I’d probably be looking for another job if there was something I didn’t like.”
After not competing in a decathlon last outdoor season, Hardee is recharged and ready to defend his title as world champion.
“I’ve been healthy all year and been able to train, so I haven’t lost any ground,” Hardee said. “I think if things keep going the way they are, I anticipate having a couple of [individual event] PR’s and hopefully having a personal record [in the decathlon] and staying on top of the podium.”