It's Bryan too.

‘It’s not just Tom Pappas any more. It’s Bryan too,’ - Sebrle
Monday 8 March 2004
Budapest, Hungary - Roman Sebrle was in philosophical mood as he stepped off the track in the Budapest Sportarena yesterday (Sunday). “I lost my chance for the world record,” he said after completing the seventh and final discipline in the two-day Heptathlon at the 10th IAAF World Indoor Championships, “but I’m World champion and European record holder and that is satisfying for me.”

To his considerable credit, Sebrle was also more than satisfied that he had also gained another rival over the course of a gripping weekend competition.

Bryan Clay is not a newcomer to the international multi-events arena. He won the Pan American junior Decathlon title five years ago and wore the red, white and blue of the USA at the last two outdoor IAAF World Championships. Having failed to last the Decathlon course in both Edmonton and Paris, though, the 24-year-old elevated himself to a new level - alongside the global elite - with the sustained challenge he mounted here in Budapest to Sebrle, the World Decathlon record holder.

Clay held the lead after four of the seven events, achieved five personal bests (6.65sec in the 60m, 2.08m in the high jump, 7.77sec in the 60m hurdles, 4.90m in the pole vault and 2:49.41 in the 1000m) and improved his highest heptathlon score by 351 points. His final total, 6365 points, raised him to eighth on the world all-time list, four points ahead of Tom Pappas, the American who captured the World Heptahlon and Decathlon crowns last year.

“I think what Bryan has done here will be very good for the Decathlon,” Sebrle said. “He is a good man. He is not so high [Clay is no multi-events giant, at just 1.81m tall], but he is very powerful. I think I must pay attention to him for the Olympics. It’s not just Tom Pappas any more. It’s Bryan too.”

Sebrle confessed he was still worried about Clay when he lined up for the final event, the 1000m, despite the 15-second differential in their personal bests for the event and the slender 32-point lead held by the American. As it transpired, Sebrle finished 9.74 ahead of his new rival, with a winning margin of 73 points and a final score of 6,438 points - in between Dan O’Brien’s eleven-year-old world record (6476) and Tomas Dvorak’s four-year-old European best (6,424). Lev Lobidin Of Russia took the bronze with 6,203.

As for Clay, he was happy with the second-best US tally of all-time. “I can’t be upset,” he said.

"Overall, I did a very good job. It’s only my second Heptathlon ever and I’ve still got a lot of things to improve on. I need to be stronger, for one thing.

“There have been a lot of surprises for me this weekend but I still have a lot to work on. I’m still learning my events. I should have done 8m in the long jump and my shot put wasn’t great. I’m looking forward to putting everything right and I’m looking forward to Athens.”

Clay will be honing his challenge for the Olympic decathlon under the tutelage of Kevin Reid in Azusa, California. The pair were introduced by Chris Huffins, whom Reid guided to fourth place in the 2000 Olympic decathlon. “Chris was the man who got me into decathlon, when he came to Hawaii to do a coaching clinic at my high school,” Clay said. “I owe a lot to him. He still helps me with a lot of things.”

Ironically, Huffins has helped his multi-events discovery achieve something that he never did. On three occasions Huffins held the lead in World Indoor Heptathlon competitions, but he never managed to get on to the medal podium. He faded from first to fourth in the 1000m in Paris in 1997, and he failed to finish both in Maebashi in 1999 and in Lisbon two years later.

“I can only imagine that ‘Huff’ will be excited that I’ve done better than him,” Clay said. “I don’t think he’ll be disappointed. I have to say, though, that Huff never fulfilled his potential in the Heptathlon.”

If Clay manages to fulfil his potential with future gold on the global stage it will be a victory for Honolulu and the burgeoning globalization of track and field, as well as for the USA. “I was born in Austin, Texas,” he said, "but I grew up in Honolulu. I live in California now, but Honolulu will always be my home.

“I’m half black and half Japanese. My mother was born in Japan. But I consider myself to be a Hawaii boy. What I’ve done here will be big news there. You can be sure of that.”

Simon Turnbull for the IAAF