Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bryan Clay won’t defend his title in London after he stumbled in the 110-meter hurdles at the US track trials Saturday.
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Clay was initially disqualified after missing the final hurdle. While his points for the event were reinstated under appeal, he struggled later in the discus and finished out of the running for a spot on the Olympic team.
Ashton Eaton set a world record in the event with 9,039 points. Trey Hardee finished second with 8,383 points, earning a spot on the Olympic team
Clay was the gold medalist in the Beijing Games, becoming the first American to win the event since Dan O’Brien in 1996.
”There was a lot of hope and expectation there,” Clay said. ”To see it all go out the window is pretty disappointing.”
USA Track and Field rules allow only the top three finishers in each event on the Olympic team, assuming they have the Olympic ”A” standard of 8,200 points. They make no exceptions for an athlete such as Clay, who has Olympic gold and was considered a strong medal contender, but does not have the standard this year.
Because no other US decathlete meets the criteria, the United States will leave one spot empty and may be giving away a chance at one of the 30 medals the USATF has set as its goal in London.
”Ultimately, what we come back to is that the fairest way to select the team is to have the athletes select themselves,” USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer said. ”U.S. talent is so deep in most events that for someone to pick even one spot on the team would be unfair to most athletes.”
Clay was initially disqualified for two actions — he knocked over a hurdle with his hand and did not attempt the final hurdle. His coach appealed, and the first DQ was rescinded but the second one was not. Then that decision was also appealed.
Clay continued with the remaining events while the appeals were considered. But he was hurt when he fouled all three of his discus throws, leading to zero points in the event and taking him out of the running.
Clay concluded Saturday in 12th place with 7,092 points.
”I knew it was important to finish. I needed to finish,” Clay said. ”I didn’t want to finish, but between my wife and my kids and everybody, I had to finish.”
Clay’s stumble dashed hopes of a rare US sweep in the Olympics. Up-and-comer Eaton and reigning world champion Hardee, along with Clay, were considered the early favorites going into the London Games.
The outcome Saturday was reminiscent of 1992, when O’Brien and Dave Johnson were expected to battle in Barcelona — a competition fueled by a Reebok advertising campaign. But O’Brien did not make the Olympic team after failing to clear a single height in the pole vault at the trials in New Orleans.
”Would I like to be going to the Games? Yeah, I’d love to be named to the team. But the rules are the rules and everybody has to abide by them,” Clay said. ”You look at what happened to Dan or myself and wonder if it should be changed. But what can you do? That’s why we send such an amazing team to the games every year. We have some of the toughest circumstances to compete under. They really put you through fire to get the right people on the team.”
”I feel for Bryan. You put that much time, work and effort into a season for it not to materialize the way you want to. Bryan’s a champion, you expect that to be positive results,” O’Brien said.
The last sweep in the decathlon by Americans occurred in 1952, when Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell, and Floyd Simmons went 1-2-3 in Helsinki.
Four years ago at Hayward Field, Clay set a trials record with 8,832 points, before going on to win the gold medal in Beijing.