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USATF Track & Field Hall of Fame Q&A: Bryan Clay


In advance of National Track & Field Hall of Fame induction ceremony on November 2 in New York City, USATF interviewed Class of 2017 inductees on their athletic careers and legacies.


Today's feature: Bryan Clay


Modern Athlete Inductee Bryan Clay (Kaneohe, Hawaii) ranks as one of the most successful athletes, and certainly the best track and field athlete, ever to come out of the state of Hawaii. His first taste of Olympic success came in 2004, when he won the silver medal in Athens, and he upgraded to gold in '08 in Beijing – earning the recognized title of World’s Greatest Athlete. In between those Olympic medals, Clay took the top spot at the 2005 IAAF World Championships. Twice a World Indoor champion in the heptathlon, in 2008 and 2010, he claimed silver in 2004 & 2006. Clay is currently an entrepreneur, corporate consultant and motivational speaker. His Bryan Clay Foundation provides academic and athletic opportunities to underprivileged children.


How did you get started in track and field, and when did you first realize your potential?

I got started when I was in sixth grade. I was such a bad kid and I got in a lot of trouble. After being involved with counseling, my mom said I had to get involved in sports. She said I could either swim or do track and field. The joke I always use was, I didn’t want to wear Speedos, so I chose track.


What made you such a great fit for the decathlon?

I think I just was always super-competitive and never liked to lose. I was also a very good visual learner. I was that kid who could watch somebody do something and then I could do it. If I wanted to be the best at it, I would try and master it. It’s not just about having skill or being athletic in the decathlon. You have to be able to see things and mimic the movements for all those events.


When did you start doing the decathlon?

I was on club teams in the summers and would sprint and jump and have fun. I just did a little bit of everything. When I got into high school I would do six events, which was the most allowed in Hawaii. I would do six on Wednesday nights for prelims, then six on Friday nights for finals. I would sprint, hurdle, jump, run the 4x400. That was my start. I was able to do all those events and then when I got to college, I started doing the actual decathlon.


What influence did Chris Huffins have on you?

He was the only professional track and field athlete I knew who took the time to do more than just say hi. Chris came out to a camp I was at and I kept doing different events that he would point me to. We were hanging out after all that and Chris said he was about to throw shot put and asked me if I wanted to throw with him. We had a little competition, and he said he would spot me four meters. He showed me how to throw and I ended up throwing just over 12m that day with the high school shot, and he was just over 16m with the college shot, so I beat him. From then on, up all the way through college, every year he and I had a throws competition.


Chris was a big part of me finding the decathlon, and he helped me find my collegiate coach at Azusa Pacific. I wish more professional athletes would take the time to do that for younger athletes.


One example was my shoes. I didn’t have a lot as a kid. It was hard, and one time after camp I was heading home and Chris said he would take me home, He drove me home, and after pulling into our driveway, he looked at my shoes and asked if those were my track shoes. He said they wouldn’t do, so he untied his shoes and gave them to me. They were Mizunos, and had his name printed on them. I remember it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. He had a pair of shoes that had his name on them, and he thought I was good enough for him to give them to me. When I signed my first contract with Nike, I asked what I had to do to get my name on my shoes. More than ten years later it happened after I won my gold medal.


What motivated you as an athlete and what advice would you have for the next generation?

As an athlete, you spend so much time thinking about winning, but not enough time thinking about what happens when you don’t win. You need to know who you are and have a firm foundation in what you believe, your priorities and values, and then go out and give everything you have to train and achieve your goals without compromising those values, beliefs or morals. Prove to people you don’t have to sell your soul to have success in our sport. You can do it the right way. You can do it without sacrificing your marriage, or your family, or your faith. I promise at the end of the day, whether you come home with a gold medal or not, you’ll be happier that you didn’t compromise. I have seen too many people achieve great things and then at the end of their career they are alone and miserable.


What were some of the highs and lows of your career?

One of the major lows was going for my third Olympics in 2012 and not making it. Also, going to an NAIA school and not really getting any recognition in college. That also drove me to be my best.


Winning my silver medal at Athens and then going to Beijing after that with a full stadium, just the spectacle they were able to put on, I think I was a part of two of the greatest spectacles ever in the Olympics.


The highs are really around the relationships and the feelings you have in the middle of it. I miss being in the mix of things. When you get to walk out onto the floor of the stadium, with all eyes on you, I miss that.


It’s a dog eat dog world out there. A lot of people come around you when you’re on top. When you’re at the end of your career, you realize there’s not a lot of honor out there. You learn what your real value is. I wanted to believe that all my hard work for a particular brand would create some loyalty, but I found out that’s not how it works. That was a low for me.


But for every bad relationship, there was usually a good one that developed.


What have you done since retiring?

I have two companies and do consulting with businesses about using brand ambassadors. I do a lot of motivational speaking. I also try to be the best husband I can be and the best father I can be to my kids.


I started the Bryan Clay Foundation after the 2004 Games, and it was an avenue for me to just give back. We don’t have a huge budget or staff because I don’t have the funds for that. We do as much as we can and we give away as much of the proceeds as we can. We try to advocate for active healthy lifestyles in our neighborhoods.


Being a dad is the most important job for any man on Earth. There is nothing more important. It is a priority of mine to be a good dad. I have made decisions in my life that maybe others wouldn’t have made, but I always put my family first. It made things hard and more expensive, but those were sacrifices I was willing to make. It has become a foundational piece to who I am and all my decisions. I love being a dad. Kids have a funny way of keeping you humble.

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