I love the decathlon. Those who pay attention to this Popcorn Stand know I’ve written about my belief Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete of all-time. But I also still believe the greatest athlete in the world is the Olympic decathlon winner.
I had the privilege of covering the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track Trials at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. I was there to cover Bryan Clay, who was coached by 1983 Carson High graduate Kevin Reid.
It’s five events a day — about a couple hours apart — over two days. Ten events in 20 hours in two days. There’s no room for error. Win nine events and not score in one, you go home empty — no gold medal, no medal at all.
Clay almost found that out at the Olympic Trials. He missed on his first two attempts at the opening height in the high jump as I looked on in horror. A bewildered Clay sought advice from Reid, made the height on his third and final attempt, went onto win the trials and then the Olympic gold.
I also watched as Clay broke one of the most obscure and oldest records. He broke the Hayward Field record for longest discus throw in the decathlon set by Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson in 1960.
When Johnson attended Kingsburg High School in Central California, my father competed against him while he attended Lindsay High. Small world.
It’s sad the decathlon hardly registers a blip on the radar screen any more. It may be hard for Millennials to believe but Bruce Jenner — before he was Caitlyn, before he was a buffoon on the Kardashians — was the world’s most respected man after winning Olympic gold in the decathlon in 1976. I’m going to play amateur psychologist — when you go from being the world’s most respected man to being the buffoon on the Kardashians — well, let’s just say that’s a mighty big fall.
It’s sad Clay’s gold medal winning performance barely merited five minutes of coverage from NBC. My guess Ashton Eaton defending his gold in the decathlon Thursday merited a mere few minutes of coverage as well.
— Charles Whisnand
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