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Olympic decathlete Bryan Clay counts on faithful supporters

ATHENS (BP)–Although the decathlon isn’t a team event, Bryan Clay knows he won’t be alone in Athens when competition in the event opens Aug. 23.

“I’ve never felt like I was alone when I’m out there competing,” Clay said. “A lot of people get all this pressure built on them and they get so stressed out because they feel like it’s all on their shoulders. I’ve never felt like that. I’ve always been able to give that to God and allow Him to carry that burden for me.”

One of the main reasons Clay feels such company as he’s competing is because of the prayer support he’s getting from family and friends. He values that kind of support for how instrumental it is to his success as both an athlete and a Christian.

“I’ve got people all over the country praying for me, and I really believe there’s power to prayer,” said Clay, who finished first in the U.S. Olympic trials in the decathlon. “Just the fact that people are praying for me makes me feel more confident.”

Clay’s prayer network includes people in his home state of Hawaii, as well as in Florida, Arizona, Washington, Ohio and even Japan. He thinks he will have as much –- if not more -– prayer backing than any other athlete in the Olympics.

Some of his prayer partners will wake up at all hours of the night to pray for Clay as he’s competing in each of the 10 events in the decathlon. Others will rise early in the morning and pray for Clay while he’s still sleeping and before he wakes up to begin his day.

But people won’t just be praying for Clay’s success in competition. They’ll also pray that Clay will have the strength to avoid the many temptations he knows he’ll face in Athens.

“I’ve heard that at the Olympic Games one of the biggest problems is the spread of [sexually-transmitted diseases] amongst the athletes,” Clay said. “Things can just get really crazy. It’s hard to set yourself aside from that. You find yourself sitting in a hotel room by yourself. It’s kind of lonely.”

That’s why Clay keeps his coaches and his support staff so close to him during competitions –- for accountability purposes. While other athletes may be out reveling in the pleasures of the Athens nightlife, Clay chooses instead to go out to dinner or catch a movie with his coaches.

“They’re people that I share common ground with,” he said.

Convictions like those began to solidify in Clay’s life in college at Azusa Pacific University. Influenced by a Christian mother and stepfather while growing up in Hawaii, Clay made a profession of faith at a young age and was baptized.

He became more involved with church activities during junior high and high school but admits now that he didn’t have “a true understanding of the level of commitment I was being called to make.”

That changed when Clay entered Azusa Pacific. He became acquainted with people who took a personal interest in him and challenged him to live a godly life.

“As a teenager, you kind of tend to rebel against people who are related to you and who are trying to tell you what’s right,” Clay said. “Because I was in college, there were people I was spending more time with who I saw a consistent example from.”

Clay acknowledges that he struggled with this new level of commitment.

“It was hard for me at first,” he said. “I didn’t understand what it meant to say that you loved God and how to express that. It took me a long time to get to that point.”

But as Clay began growing as a Christian, and as he began enjoying success as an athlete, he became more comfortable in living and expressing his faith.

That’s exactly what he hopes to do in Athens.

“I’m not out there for the money or the fame or the glory,” Clay said. “I’m out there to do God’s will and allow Him to work through me.”

Of course, Clay would be happy if God’s will includes a gold medal, and he thinks he has a good chance to achieve that. To do so will require Clay to perform like he did in his first-place finish at the U.S. Olympic trials.

It will also require Clay to stay emotionally detached.

“I’ve tried to disconnect my emotions from this track meet,” he said. “If I allow myself to get emotional, I’ll lose focus on why I’m there and what my purpose is for being there.”

Regardless of the outcome, Clay said he takes comfort in the prayers of his friends, and he’s at peace about the competition.

“I can guarantee that I’m going to do the best that I can,” he said. “Wherever that has me end up, that’s where I end up.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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