For world champ Bryan Clay, love of sport trumps money
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Given the choice, the reigning champ in the world's toughest sport says he'll pick love over money every time. Still, Hawai'i decathlete Bryan Clay really wouldn't object to having both.
Clay, who lives in Glendora, Calif., is home in Honolulu for a few weeks with his wife, Sarah, and their 4-month-old son, Jacob. This morning, he's hosting a low-cost clinic for teenagers in conjunction with the Bone and Joint Clinic at Straub, Hawai'i Teen Sports and the University of Hawai'i track and field program.
"If I wanted to make money, I chose the wrong sport," Clay said. "But I chose decathlon because I love it. I continue to do it because it's fun and it's what I love."
Decathlon — a 10-event track-and-field sport comprising long-, middle-, and sprint-distance races, long jump, shot put, high jump, hurdles, discus, pole vault, and javelin — requires both a wide range of skills and extraordinary physical conditioning simply to compete.
Clay, a graduate of Castle High School and Azusa Pacific College, overcame a thigh injury to earn a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Two months ago, he dominated gold medalist Roman Sebrle to win the World Championships of Track and Field in Helsinki, Finland.
Yet, for Clay, 25, all this success hasn't translated into the sort of financial windfall that awaits top athletes in other sports.
"There are some sponsorships, and I'm grateful for them, but it's not like Michelle Wie," Clay said, chuckling. "Nobody is lining up to sign me for $10 million — or $1 million."
And even if they're in different tax brackets now, Clay said, he has nothing but good wishes for Wie, his fellow Hawai'i athlete. He just hopes she's ready for the pressure of professional competition.
"She'll have a lot of expectations put on her now, especially when a company like Nike puts up that kind of money," he said. "With every blessing comes expectation, and the pressure can be hard to deal with."
Clay said he understands Wie's decision to turn professional at 16.
"It's hard to turn down that kind of money," he said. "Know that you can set up yourself, your family, your children for life — that's what everybody wants. I think she has a great support system, and I'm sure she sat down with her parents and discussed every aspect of that decision."
As for his sport, decathletes are regarded as peripheral athletes, Clay said, in part because of the big money associated with the major sports.
"The view of what success is in the States is based on how much money you make," Clay said. "People aren't as concerned with how you make it — whether you do it clean or dirty. What matters is that you have the big house and the fast car.
"In Europe and Asia, there is more appreciation for the sport. There is more emphasis on how hard the event is. They call us the best athletes in the world because they appreciate what goes into it."
Clay made international headlines last year when he denounced Victor Conte, founder of the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, who said that performance-enhancing drugs are so widely used that "the Olympic Games are a fraud."
"I had just come off my silver medal at the Olympics, something I had worked my butt off for every day for hours and hours, and he was saying that everybody in sports cheats," Clay said. "I wouldn't have said anything if they were talking about specific individuals, but they were saying 'everyone.' They were saying, in effect, that I had cheated, and that's not true."
Professional athletes who say that they have to use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs just to level the playing field are "just making excuses to justify cheating," Clay said.
"There are athletes that don't cheat," he said. "There are people who do things clean and are not only in it for the money."
And it's the money, Clay said, that gets in the way of a solution.
"I don't think the sports will battle it because there's too much money in it," he said. "If performances drop off because players stop using the drugs, people won't want to watch. There are some sports that have taken it to such a level that performances might drop if testing were enforced.
"The only way this will change is if people celebrate the ones who do it right rather than the ones who just make the most money."
Clay says his window for competing at the highest level is about four more years, and he's anxious to make the most of it. He trains six hours every morning before heading to his alma mater, where he works as a track and field coach.
And while the arrival of his son has him yearning to spend more time at home, Clay says he and his wife are committed to achieving his athletic goals.
"Sarah is very supportive, and she's made my dream her dream," he said. "Jacob is a blast. He gives me one more reason to compete and be out there. He's just a good kid, and I'm blessed to have him."
And with that blessing comes one expectation that Clay is happy to embrace.
Last year, Clay and his wife established the Bryan Clay Foundation as a way to use Clay's stature to help the next generation of Hawai'i athletes.
The foundation is raising money to provide scholarships to student athletes in Hawai'i, improve athletic facilities at local schools, and offer free or low-cost sports clinics for Hawai'i youths.
"There are so many potential athletes here who get lost in everyday life or are overlooked by Division I programs," Clay said. "I think Hawai'i can be a breeding ground for athletes. I'd like for schools around the country to recognize what we have here and provide the opportunities that we need."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.