June/July 2009 Simply the Best Bryan Clay Nick Dunn
Bryan Clay knows there are skeptics. As the gold medalist in the decathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Clay took over the title of "World's Greatest Athlete." But he realizes a title that bold only invites arguments, particularly in today's debate-driven sports culture.
"What about LeBron James? He could be the best in any number of sports."
"Tiger Woods is the best. He dominates his sport more than any other athlete."
"Soccer players are the most athletic, and Cristiano Ronaldo is the best there is."
And so on.
Weight: 185 lbs.
Born: Jan. 3, 1980
Birthplace: Austin, Texas
• 2008 Olympics — Decathlon Gold Medalist
• 2008 World Indoor Championships — Heptathlon Gold Medalist
• 2006 World Indoor Championships — Heptathlon Silver Medalist
• 2005 World Championships — Decathlon Gold Medalist
• 2004 Olympics — Decathlon Silver Medalist
• 2004 World Indoor Championships — Heptathlon Silver Medalist
But Clay, quite frankly, isn’t too concerned about the notoriety.
"You get these cool titles, which are a lot of fun, don't get me wrong," he said, "but every day I'm out at practice with my coaches, and we'll kind of joke about it. The reality of it is that, when I come home, my kids don't care if I'm the world's greatest athlete. I'm responsible for raising them, and I'm responsible for being a good husband."
Unlike so many professional athletes, Clay is content spending evenings at home with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids: Jacob, 4, and Katherine, 2. And, regardless of the claims about being the world's greatest athlete (he has some pretty convincing supporting evidence), Clay is happy training, competing and winning his own sport — an event that has long been said to be the truest measure of all-around athleticism.
The history of the decathlon, or an all-encompassing athletic competition, dates back to ancient Greece. Even then people were fascinated by the idea of the all-around athlete, and, starting in 708 B.C., a pentathlon was held every four years for 11 centuries. From the mid 1700s, various versions of the competition emerged, including the modern-day decathlon.
After decathlete Jim Thorpe won gold at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, the king of Sweden proclaimed, "You, sir, are the world's greatest athlete." Legendary champions like Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson and Bruce Jenner followed, but it is Thorpe who is given credit for first acquiring the "world's greatest" title.
Now that title belongs to Clay, the son of a Japanese mother and an African-American father. After his parents divorced early in his childhood, Clay was raised primarily by his mom in Honolulu.
Often dealing with issues of anger as a child, Clay would frequently get in fights at school. This continued until he was sent to a counselor, who recommended that Clay get involved in athletics so he could have an outlet. Knowing her son's tendency to get a little too intense around other people, his mother limited his options to swimming or track and field.
"I chose track and field because I didn't want to wear a Speedo," he said, laughing. "That's how it all got started."
In track and field, they say no one chooses to compete in the decathlon. The decathlon chooses you. Suffice it to say, Bryan Clay is a chosen one.
After a successful high school career in a wide range of events, Clay was recruited in the decathlon by Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college outside of Los Angeles and a school that would change Clay's life forever.
As a child, Clay's mother, a Christian, took her son to church every Sunday. It wasn't until college, though, that Clay started to truly understand what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ.
The summer before his junior year, partly as a result of some broken relationships in his life, including one with his soon-to-be wife, Clay did some soul-searching.
Bryan Clay and his wife, Sarah, and their children, Jacob and Katherine
"One night in my dorm room, I really wrestled with God," he said. "I decided that I was going to follow Christ and actually work on the relationship that I wanted to have with Him."
Clay began going to a discipleship group with other men, and, ever since, he's had a new set of priorities: God first, family second, track third. And, although he admits it sounds a bit too much like a fairytale, he considers his recent success on the track the direct result of its lower place on his priority list.
After earning the silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Clay turned in a gold-medal-winning performance at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. Then, in Beijing last year, he won gold by 240 points, the largest margin of victory since 1972.
The success has given Clay a large platform, and he's doing his best to take advantage of it. Since his Olympic victory, he has traveled around the world, speaking to kids about track, life and God's calling on them. In October 2008, just weeks after winning the gold, he went back to Honolulu and spoke at an event hosted by Youth for Christ in conjunction with FCA.
"For being the greatest athlete in the world, you wouldn't know it," said Hawaii FCA's Barrett Awai. "He's very humble. He didn't show up and expect things. He's very unafraid to be a part of the everyday, common-ground stuff."
Added Clay: "I think God wants me to go out, share my story and inspire kids. It's so important, and we lose so many kids at an early age because circumstances tell kids that dreams don't come true. What I want to do is let kids know that there are people who have gone through the same things — divorce, not being the smartest kid in school, not necessarily being the fastest — those types of things. Most athletes you see out there, like me, had to work hard and make a lot of sacrifices and good decisions."
It's those decisions, Clay said, that set people apart. Long ago, his father used to say something that has stuck with him: "In every prison there's somebody who can break a world record." The difference between them and those who have success athletically, he reasoned, was simply a matter of decision-making.
What Is It?
|Ten events in two successive days:|
• 100 Meters
• Long Jump
• Shot Put
• High Jump
• 400 Meters
• 110-Meter Hurdles
• Pole Vault
• 1500 Meters
|The winner is determined by total points awarded by completing estab-lished benchmarks (times/distances) in events, not by their order of finish.|
BRYAN CLAY'S |
100 meters — 10.44 sec.
Long Jump — 7.78m (25.53 ft.)
Shot Put — 16.27m (53.38 ft.)
High Jump — 1.99m (6.53 ft.)
400 meters — 48.92 sec.
110-meter Hurdles — 13.93 sec.
Discus — 53.79m (176.48 ft.)
Pole Vault — 5.00m (16.40 ft.)
Javelin — 70.97m (232.84 ft.)
1500 meters — 5:06.59 min.
Clay takes that message with him and shares it with kids. Every decision, no matter how small, has an impact on their future. In his own life, Clay says that his decisions helped him become a world champion. But the most important of those decisions was the one he made in his dorm room years ago to follow Christ without hesitation.
About that whole "world's greatest athlete" thing. Obviously, it's an argument that will never completely be resolved, but there is a new test designed specifically to measure all-around athleticism. It's called the SPARQ rating, which is an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness. Before winning gold in Beijing, Clay participated in the test, and his performance left onlookers dumbfounded.
In the 30-yard sprint, he ran faster than Boston Red Sox speedster Jacoby Ellsbury. In the no-step vertical jump, his 43.5-inch mark matched the highest ever recorded at the NFL Combine. And Clay's 42.5-inch one-step vertical was higher than any recorded at last year's NBA Combine, which tested 79 of the league's top incoming college players.
In all, his football-specific score was 130.40, which shattered the marks of super-athletic football players like Reggie Bush (93.38) and Tim Tebow (96.92).*
In terms of raw athleticism, Bryan Clay can put together a convincing case for being the world's greatest. Although he never played any of the more "popular" American sports, debaters can argue for hours about how good he'd been if he had.
For right now, though, Clay is the champion of a sport that dates back 26 centuries. He credits his faith for putting his athletic career in perspective, and he's using the platform he has to impact the lives of children across the globe. That's what truly matters.
"God doesn't expect us to be perfect," he said. "He just expects us to give our best, and He'll take care of the rest. I'm able to say, 'OK, I'm going to compete, and, God, I can't do this by myself.' And when He gets me to that point where I want to give up or just throw in the towel, that's when He takes everything and makes it amazing."
Statements like that make it clear. In a world filled with negative social influences, Bryan Clay is proving that there is a different way for athletes to live, whether they are the world's greatest or not.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Doyle Management Group.
You heard from FCA's Barrett Awai in the story on Bryan Clay.
Now learn more about what God is doing in the state of Hawaii.
Flipping through the TV channels late one night in December 2006, FCA's Barrett Awai couldn't help but feel sorry for himself. His current job status was in jeopardy, and he wondered if he might have to file for unemployment. That's when Awai's channel-surfing stopped on an episode of The 700 Club, a show he'd never really watched before.
Barrett and Tara Awai with their four kids and University of Hawaii mascot, Vili the Warrior
FCA President and former NFL coach Les Steckel was on the show talking about his book, One Yard Short: Turning Your Defeats into Victories, and his work with FCA. Awai's mind flashed back to high school, when he and a few friends had started an FCA Huddle. "I wonder what's going on with FCA in Hawaii now," he thought.
Sometimes all God needs is a TV to nudge someone in the right direction.
Now, Awai is preparing to become the area director of FCA in Hawaii. On July 1, Awai and his wife, Tara, will officially join FCA staff after a five-year ministry partnership with Youth for Christ. The agreement between YFC and FCA was established in 2004 when FCA was going through what Awai called a 20-year "dormant" phase in the state.
Youth for Christ, the largest Hawaiian campus ministry, agreed to help FCA get back on its feet. The partnership was a tremendous success, but both sides knew they were working toward a time when FCA would become independent.
That time has come. And Awai has proven to be the right man to lead the transition.
"It's been an awesome five-year partnership," Awai said. "YFC really helped build FCA back up. They've been a huge blessing and have gone above and beyond to support FCA and help it get where it's at today."
Although the formal partnership will cease to exist, Awai said the spiritual bond between FCA and YFC will carry on, and he will continue to look for ways to work together to build the Kingdom.
FCA currently has Huddles in seven high schools in Hawaii — six of them in Honolulu — and is ministering to roughly 300 kids every week. Awai started a coaches' fellowship, in which 15 coaches meet for weekly Bible studies and a yearly kickoff breakfast. Tara initiated a Behind the Bench program for coaches' wives, and most of the women meet once a month to share with one another.
FCA also has been actively involved with the University of Hawaii football team for the last two years. Awai, also a professional musician, helped start a Bible study for the players and leads the team in worship songs during chapel service before every game.
"Hawaii is rocking, man," he said. "There's some great ministry going on here."
Eventually, Awai would love to see an FCA presence in all 32 high schools in and around Honolulu, but he knows that will take some time. Right now, he's pleased with the progress that has already been made.
"Even though FCA has been in Hawaii for years, it's kind of like we're kick-starting it again," he said. "It really is an exciting time."
*Photo courtesy of Barrett Awai.