Decathlon develops into a barn burner |

Decathlon develops into a barn burner

Dave Price

SACRAMENTO – Tom Pappas came in as a clear-cut favorite in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Pappas may be the defending world champion and regarded as a potential gold medal winner at the Olympics in Athens next month, but he’s getting a serious run for his money at the Trials from young challenger Bryan Clay.

Only three points separate the two after the opening day of competition in the 10-event decathlon on Friday, with Pappas leading Clay by a 4,474-4,471 margin in competition that concludes with five more events today at Sacramento State University’s Hornet Stadium.

“I didn’t execute the way I’m capable of,” Pappas said. “I know there is a lot more there.

“Now, it’s all about making the team. I kind of know what he (Clay) is capable of. The better the competition, the better the scores. I had a feeling that Bryan and I would be close after the first day, so it should be interesting.”

The two took turns with the lead throughout the day. Clay moved out front from the start when he ran 10.48 seconds in the 100 meters and extended that lead with a 24-11 effort in the long jump.

“My 100 wasn’t very good, and during the race, I dinged my left hamstring,” Clay said. “I almost didn’t long jump, but I got treatment and, after that, I was about 85 percent. That’s the way things go. That’s the breaks.”

Pappas gained ground in the shot put with a throw of 52-1 that was tops in the field, and then he took an eight-point lead over Clay with a 6-9 1/2 clearance in the high jump. For Pappas, the high jump mark was well off his best of 7-3.

“My high jump was very disappointing,” he said. “Other than that, I’m pleased.”

Even at “85 percent,” Clay still managed to run 47.90 (Pappas ran 48.01) to close the scoring to three points.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Pappas is the defending Olympic Trials champion and scored a career-best 8,784 points to win at the USA nationals last year at Stanford and upset world record holder Roman Sebrle to win gold at the World Championships in Paris. Clay gave Sebrle a serious challenge in the seven-event heptathlon at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest earlier this year.

Ryan Olkowski stands third overall after Friday’s competition with 4,321 points and Stephen Moore fourth with 4,271.