Daegu, KoreaDefending a World championship title is a formidable task at the best of times. There’s the inordinate amount of pressure heaped upon the champion to withstand. And, if you are the reigning World Decathlon champion that pressure is multiplied ten times to avoid mistakes.
Trey Hardee was understandably relieved when he finished the 1500m to score 8602 points for his second consecutive World Championship gold medal.
“I didn’t really feel pressure because I was ready to go,” the 27-year-old insists. “I was in really good shape and I thought my fitness level going in would put more pressure on other people trying to have their best meet to beat me. I enjoy the role of defending the title rather than trying to win it and take it away from somebody.”
In the absence of Olympic champion Bryan Clay the battle in Daegu’s beautiful stadium was mostly with US teammate Ashton Eaton, the NCAA champion, who upset Hardee at the national championships in June. Indeed, the pair exchanged the lead several times in Korea producing an epic and highly entertaining struggle.
With his mother, father and step-father looking on from the grandstand Hardee never gave up even as Eaton performed admirably.
“I was hoping to take the lead after the hurdles,” Hardee revealed, “but I rolled my ankle right before and was really very confused. After my first discus throw I was like ‘I have the lead; let’s keep it and keep padding the lead’.”
“You have to be happy with the win no matter how it happens. This was a little bit different than in Berlin. In Berlin it just happened. I was on a roll and things came easy. Today and yesterday were a little bit fuzzy. There were a few more bad events than there were good.”
Physically his body was pushed to the limit and he sucked back several bottles of water as he made his way to the obligatory doping control room, the press conference and to meet family and friends. On his final throw in the ninth event, the javelin, he appeared to overextend his elbow and flinched in pain. Fortunately he had only the 1500m to tackle. The US medical team bandaged the ill joint and he made it around the track.
Hardee’s coach, Mario Setagna, points out that there is less time to warm-up during championship decathlons.
“It’s hard in the major championships because they only give them two warm-up throws,” he explains. “So you get two throws then it’s ‘o.k. let’s start.’ He knew he could come away with a PB. So he was definitely going to hit it as hard as he could. It was a blessing in disguise that it happened when it did - on the last throw in the javelin.”
Setagna has worked with the athlete in Austin ever since he transferred from Mississippi State University, a necessary move since the school terminated its indoor track and field program in 2004. He has watched his charge develop into a highly disciplined machine.
“He’s very meticulous about everything,” says the coach. “I mean, everything has to be in order. He’s the kind of person, from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed, he knows when he’s going to eat, when he going to train when he is going to nap, and it’s good because not all the athletes I work with are like that. The past few years he has elevated himself to a higher level.”
Throughout high school and his two years at Mississippi State Hardee was a promising pole vaulter. And, as he stands 6’5” tall he had also played basketball in high school. But when the coaching staff suggested he consider the multi events he was all ears.
Like any full time professional athlete training and travel eat up a lot of the typical day. But he values any spare time that he finds.
“I live in Austin, Texas it’s an awesome, awesome fun city. There’s a lot of live music. There’s a lot of stuff to do outdoors. I will go on the lake and go standup paddle boarding. Or, I hang out with my girlfriend or take naps. It’s a leisurely lifestyle.”
Once, when he found some free time while staying in Olso he hired a hot air balloon and pilot to take him around the surrounding country videotaping the view for his website.
Hardee admits to falling in the shadows of Bryan Clay, the reigning Olympic champion, who seemed to always have the answer to whatever challenge Hardee posed. According to Paul Doyle, who represents Clay, Hardee and Eaton, when Hardee discovered an injury would prevent Clay from competing in the Berlin World championships he thought for the first time that, maybe, he could win the gold. This is something the athlete acknowledges.
“Berlin kind of opened the door,” he says, “That’s where I said ‘you know, I can score pretty high.’ I had a few bad events and it kept me under 8600. After Berlin it kind of blew that door open and now here I am with two world titles.”
He also has something Clay doesn’t – back-to-back championships. And, when he won in Berlin he produced a performance of 8790 just one point less than Clay’s Olympic mark. Self esteem soared from that point forward.
Sunday’s victory earned Hardee a $60,000 prize money for which he has no immediate plans other than take it to the bank while he discusses opportunities with his ‘financial adviser’ The money, he declares, is secondary to achieving the magic title defense.
Paul Gains for the IAAF