Hawaii glowing over Clay's Olympic gold
|||Clay has sights set on 2012|
|Photo gallery: Olympic medal ceremony|
|Photo gallery: Bryan Clay wins Gold|
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
KANE'OHE — The Junior ROTC cadets at Bryan Clay's alma mater changed the marquee at Castle High School yesterday after his Olympic triumph in the decathlon gave him the unofficial title of "World's Greatest Athlete."
"Congrats To Bryan Clay For Winning Gold," the marquee proclaimed.
Clay, a 1998 Castle graduate, became the first Hawai'i Olympian to win individual gold since Ford Konno in swimming in 1952. He was the first American to win the Olympic decathlon in 12 years.
Most of his immediate family and coaches are with him in Beijing, but there were many relatives, friends and strangers in the Islands also cheering his success.
"Shoots, even if I didn't know him, I'd be proud," said Clay's second cousin, Brien Ing, who teaches computer technology at Damien Memorial School. "He's a public school guy from Hawai'i who won the gold medal. Of course we're all super excited."
A silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, this time Clay led throughout the two-day, 10-event competition. He won the first two events, and maintained that lead while battling rain, fatigue and sleep deprivation to easily beat silver medalist Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus.
In Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, Clay was cheered by a throng of supporters, many of whom waved American flags every time he stepped onto the track, ran down a runway or moved into a throwing ring.
"I probably have the biggest posse in the track and field world," Clay said just past midnight in Beijing. "Let's see, my mom and dad were here, my wife, my father-in-law, my uncle, my aunt, two cousins, my grandparents and, oh yes, numerous people from Hawai'i, and all my coaches. Did I leave anybody out? If I did I'm sorry, but there were so many here for me and it's tough to get them all."
Clay — 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds — is the father of two and the son of a Japanese-American mother, who lives in Hawai'i, and a black father.
He joins an elite group of Americans — Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner and Dan O'Brien — who have won the Olympic decathlon since World War II.
"This is an absolutely amazing time," said Clay, who lives in California. "It's something I've been working hard for, for the last eight years."
Jenner and others got to decorate Wheaties boxes after their Olympic golds.
"I'd love for that to happen to me, too," Clay said. "But who knows?"
INSPIRATION FOR KIDS
Clay's total of 8,791 points fell short of the Olympic record of 8,893 points that many expected him to beat. But that hardly dampened the celebration in Hawai'i.
Folks at Straub Clinic & Hospital worked yesterday to update their TV ads featuring Clay and bought ads in this morning's newspaper to congratulate him.
Claire Tong, spokeswoman for Hawaii Pacific Health, which operates Straub, Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children and Kapi'olani Medical Center at Pali Momi, put up posters and banners of Clay racing over hurdles in the system's clinics, hospitals and cafeterias.
"Congratulations Bryan — World's Best Athlete," the posters read. "When it Really Mattered, I Chose Straub."
Clay had his shoulder treated by Straub's bone and joint center and commercials credit the treatment for continuing his Olympic career.
"We want to do a lot more with Bryan in the future," Tong said.
On Oct. 19, Clay is scheduled to appear at the Bishop Museum's Kids' Fest on behalf of the Straub Foundation.
The American Lung Association of Hawai'i yesterday also joined in congratulating Clay, who has asthma.
"What an inspiration he is for every child in Hawai'i who struggles daily with asthma," said Jean Evans, the organization's executive director.
Hawai'i has 30,000 children under age 18 who suffer from asthma — the second highest per capita rate in the country, Evans said.
"Every one of them can look up to Bryan Clay for inspiration on how to successfully manage their condition," Evans said. "It's such a common problem here. But they, too, can go on to great things."
FOLLOWING HIS PATH
At Castle High, members of the cross country and track and field teams enjoyed Clay's success but were processing two different messages.
Assistant coach Nelson Chee urged the runners to find their own way. "We want them to set their own goals," he said, "and reach their own dreams."
But head coach Martin Hee, who is with Clay in Beijing, left a message that the students should use Clay as inspiration.
Hee "tells us that we're following his footsteps on the same track and we run the same (cross country) routes as Bryan," said Dylan Lee, a 16-year-old junior. "He's got a gold medal and he's from our school. So anything's possible."
"Same facilities, same advantages he had," added Eric Pak, also a 16-year-old junior. "We can move up to the Olympics, too, if we train hard."Elliott Denman in Beijing contributed to this report.
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.