Bryan Clay

A rousing launch at the beach: good vibrations


SANTA MONICA, Calif. — They could have held the news conference on Tuesday formally announcing Los Angeles’ entry into the 2024 bid race anywhere. At the LA Memorial Coliseum. At Staples Center. In Hollywood, with the iconic sign as a backdrop, like in so many movies. No.

This event, one of the most intriguing and rousing plays in recent Olympic history, was staged at the beach.

Literally, at the beach.

With twin palms standing tall as frames for the dozens of cameras and television crews. Bicyclists riding by. And, of course, beach volleyball and, beyond, the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean sparkling on a spectacular summer afternoon.

The Olympic movement, the Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee — they all, to be candid, need to be cool again.

At the risk of being obvious, the Southern California beachfront is unequivocally one of the coolest places on Planet Earth.

Before it all got underway, the music that was playing from the speakers: “Good Vibrations,” by the Beach Boys.

For sure.

Take a look at this selection of photos from the event, at which U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun declared, “I want to thank Los Angeles for standing up once again as America’s bid city,” and LA mayor Eric Garcetti — speaking first in English, then in Spanish, then in French — said, “This is a great day for Los Angeles and a great day for the Olympic movement.”

The scene at Santa Monica beach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti at the mike // Getty Images

Red, white and blue behind the speakers // Getty Images

In SoCal, the mayor may have things to say but beach volleyball must carry on // Getty Images

What makes Los Angeles different from Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany, its expected competition in the 2024 campaign?

Which of the five candidates boasts an extraordinary beachfront?

And, along with it, a beach culture known now in far corners of our world, a culture in which surfing and skateboarding — two events that young people, you know, actually really like — feature prominently?

This is why, among other reasons, Los Angeles should have been the USOC’s first choice all along.

But also why that whole months-long adventure elsewhere — someplace in Massachusetts, if memory serves — will quickly become a historical footnote, and no more, as the 2024 campaign develops and hurtles toward the IOC vote in the summer of 2017, in Lima, Peru.

The mayor, who along with the sports executive Casey Wasserman will be the central figures in the LA bid, proved yet again that he is a most compelling public official.

It’s not just that he is a Rhodes Scholar or served as an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. It’s not just that he can speak to others in their language.

It’s what he says.

“Breathe this moment in,” Garcetti told the assembled crowd, which included athletes who had starred at the 1984 Games, such as the diver Greg Louganis and the gymnast Peter Vidmar; 2008 Beijing decathlon winner Bryan Clay; members of the gold-medal winning London 2012 U.S. women's water polo team; and volleyball standouts.

“There are very few moments like this in our lifetime where this place and this space and this time transcend this moment.

“Look at these historic bluffs behind you. In front of you, the endless possibility of the Pacific Ocean. And this moment of the Pacific Rim. And here we are in a city that represents, to all of us, human possibility, ingenuity, creativity and diversity.”

Janet Evans, the gold medal-winning swimmer from the 1988 and 1992 Games, also stole a star turn Tuesday. In 1984, she said, she was 12, breathing in the moments from the seats at the Coliseum. Now, she said, at the outset of this 2024 bid, it must be that this LA effort is not just limited to Southern California. Nor just a bid. More, she said.

“If we are going to win these Games, and I like to win, we need to have every American behind us in this bid,” she said. “So,” turning toward the athletes, assembled on a row of seats nearby, “I am asking my Olympic and Paralympic friends to lead the effort to make the LA24 bid not just an LA bid but a national campaign and a national celebration.”

The Olympics can sometimes get such a bad rap. The two-year bid process can be a slog of numbers, finance, politics. The seven-year build-up to a Games can sometimes seem a protracted exercise in doubt, worry, negativity.

What gets lost, way too often, is the very thing that was showcased Tuesday at the beach: the hope and promise of the Olympics, the possibility of the human experience, the notion that sport has a legitimate role to play in moving the world forward toward a better way.

Earlier Tuesday, the Los Angeles city council voted 15-0 to authorize the mayor to sign an agreement with the USOC over bidding for the Games. In LA, as Garcetti said, “The Olympics is in our DNA.” It is. It’s why eight of 10 people want the Games back in Southern California, according to a recent poll.

Vidmar, who since late 2008 has served as chairman of the U.S. Gymnastics board of directors, explained:

“The fears that many people in Boston had are the same fears that many people had in LA before 1984. Which were: How much is this going to cost us? And what about traffic?

“And we saw in Los Angeles in 1984 that neither of those problems materialized. And I’m very confident that this will happen again the next time the Games come to Los Angeles.”

Garcetti, who keeps a 1984 Olympic torch in his office, never lost faith that it could, should, would be LA: "We do this because we believe since ancient times that human potential is always just in front of us, that the best has never yet been achieved. And that a moment in time, we can taste for a moment,” a reference to the 17 days of a Summer Games, “what it feels like to have a human family come back together.”

He said, noting the 1932 and 1984 Games, that “this is a quest that Los Angeles was made for.”

At the same time, and this must be stressed, while the 2024 bid can link back to a proud history in town, this is a new LA.

Once more: it is.

The city and all of Southern California has become a very different place since long-ago 1984.

In 1984, Eric Garcetti was 13. He came home to LA from sleep-away summer camp to see one of the last days of the Olympic track meet; to see as well the closing ceremony; to see, as he described it Tuesday, “the transformative power of the Games, not just to change my life but to change my city forever.”

He said, “When people said, ‘Oh, you’re from LA,’ after ’84, they knew us. They had already seen our films, our television programs, they had a sense of us. But they got a sense of our soul after 1984.

“Today we are here in a new Los Angeles. This is the face of a new America, a city that reflects the world as it is today and where this country will be tomorrow.”

It is the case, as Wasserman pointed out, that some 85 percent of the venues that would be needed for 2024 are already built or in planning regardless of any Olympic anything.

That said, about 80 percent of the venues that would be needed for 2024? New since 1984.

An $8.5 billion makeover at Los Angeles International Airport? Already underway, Garcetti said.

Some $40 billion in transit improvements, including extensive light-rail capacity throughout Los Angeles County? Voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase via what was called Measure R in 2008, unleashing that $40 billion through 2039.

The one major we’ll-figure-it-out in the bid as it stands now is the projected Olympic Village; if LA wins, the organizing committee would put in $75 million, a developer $925 million. “We have had a lot of interest from the private sector,” the mayor said, understating matters.

The ledger sheet strongly suggests that an LA24 Games would very likely make a lot of money. Even so, city council members were assured that the approval they gave Tuesday is merely the start of discussion and negotiation with Olympic officials; taxpayers are not committed.

"This is the engagement, not the wedding," council president Herb Wesson said.

“We are not changing the face of our city to fit the Olympic Games,” Garcetti said. “Instead, we are adapting an innovative Olympic Games concept to comfortably fit in what the city is doing already.”

As Blackmun said, “When we look at LA and what the mayor and Casey and their team have built, we see a framework for an ideal matchup,” adding a moment later, “We believe in the vision of LA. We believe this city can produce a new kind of Games for a new Olympic era,” one in line with IOC president Thomas Bach’s would-be reform plan, called Agenda 2020.

“We will do this openly. We will do it openly with the press. And we feel strong enough about this bid,” the mayor said, “that there’s nothing we can’t share.”

“Thank you,” Garcetti said at the end of his remarks and a Q&A session, before he, Wasserman, Blackmun and USOC board chairman Larry Probst headed off to Switzerland for meetings at IOC headquarters in Lausanne Wednesday evening and Thursday. The music turned to Randy Newman's "I Love LA."

“Feel free,” the mayor suggested, “to stay at the beach all day.”

Living in the moment: track's It Couple


The world’s greatest athlete is taking his first outdoor runs of the season in the pole vault. His coach, Harry Marra, is here, of course, at the Westmont College track, in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. His wife, Brianne, herself the reigning indoor and outdoor silver medalist in the women’s versions of the all-around event, is here, too, practicing her javelin throws and running some hard sprints.

Ashton Eaton is the 2012 gold medalist at the London Games in the decathlon. At the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier that year, he set the world record in the event. He is the 2013 Moscow decathlon world champion. He is also the 2012 and 2014 gold medalist in the heptathlon, the indoor version of the multi-discipline event. He holds the heptathlon world record, too, and missed setting it again at the 2014 indoor worlds by one second in the 1000 meters.

On this day, a bungee cord takes the place of the bar at 5 meters, or 16 feet, 4 ¾ inches. Eaton takes his practice runs. He doesn’t go one after the other, in sequence. No. He shares pole vault time, and graciously, with a 54-year-old doctor of holistic health, Victor Berezovskiy, and a 77-year-old clinical psychologist, Tom Woodring.

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen Eaton after practice at Westmont College

This scene summarizes perhaps all that is both sweet and unsettling about the state of track and field in our world in 2014.

It’s sweet because the fact that Ashton Eaton would so willingly, humbly take practice runs with these two guys speaks volumes about his character. Obviously, neither is coming anywhere close to 5 meters. It’s no problem. Eaton patiently helps them both with their marks. In turn, they watch his take-off points.

Sweet because Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen Eaton – he’s now 26, she’s 25 – are, by every measure, track and field’s It Couple. They are at the top of their games. Yet here they are, at the track, just like everyone – anyone – else, practicing. And practicing some more. And then some more, still.

Because, obviously, that’s how you get better. How even the best get better.

It’s hard work that gets you to the top and for those who have seen track and field tainted these past 25 or so years by far too many doping-related scandals, here are Ashton and Brianne, examples of the right stuff. Never say never about anyone. But Ashton and Brianne? So wholesome, Harry says, and he has been in the business for, well, a lot of years, and seen it all, and he adds for emphasis that they don’t even take Flintstone vitamins.

Ashton follows his pole-vaulting with a series of 400 hurdle splits, trying to get the timing down – how many steps between each? 13? All the way around? Does he cut the hurdle? Float? What’s right? She does her repeat 150s so hard that, when she’s done, it’s all she can do in the noontime sun to find some shade.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you rise to the top.

And yet – the questions have to be asked:

Is track all the better because it’s a kind of extended family where one of its biggest names can hang on a sunny morning practice with a 54-year-old and a 77-year-old?

Or isn’t that, in its way, kind of ludicrous?

Does LeBron James practice with a 54-year-old doctor of holistic health?

Do Peyton Manning or Tom Brady run 7-on-7 drills with a 77-year-old clinical psychologist at wide receiver?

Tom Woodring, 77, left, and Victor Berezovskiy, 54, right, with Ashton Eaton

It’s not that James, Manning and Brady don’t understand their responsibilities as stars. But this is – practice. This is not a fan meet-and-greet.

What if things were different for track and field? What if the decathlon champ was The Man, the way it was when Bruce Jenner and, before him, the likes of Bill Toomey, Rafer Johnson and others were venerated the way Manning, Brady and James are now?

It’s not just Ashton. Brianne is herself a major, major talent.

Of course, track and field does not hold the same place in the imagination that it once did. Dan O’Brien, the 1996 Olympic decathlon winner, is not The Man the way Jenner was. Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic decathlon winner – not The Man the way Jenner was.

And that’s no knock on either O’Brien or Clay.

Times simply have changed. Jenner won in Montreal in 1976. That is a long time ago.

Yet in Ashton and Brianne, track has a marquee couple.  Here are breakout stars in the making: doping-free, handsome, articulate, passionate about advancing track and field the same way Michael Phelps has always been for swimming. Phelps is on bus stop advertisements in Shanghai. Why aren’t these two, for instance, featured on the bright lights looking out and over Times Square?

For sure that would be better for the sport.

Would it be better for Ashton and Brianne – and Harry?

It’s all very complex.

Right now, track and field is, for all intents and purposes, Usain Bolt.

Isn’t there room for Ashton and Brianne, too?

The scene at Westmont this weekday morning is all the more striking because it comes amid the news Phelps will be racing again. The media attention enveloping Phelps is, predictably, striking.

Yes, Phelps is the best in the world at what he does.

Then again – so are these two.

Yet here are Ashton and Brianne and Harry – and, for that matter, a Canadian delegation that includes Damian Warner, the 2013 world bronze medalist in the decathlon – going about their business at Westmont, along with the others at the host Santa Barbara Track Club, with no interference, no autograph requests, no attention.

Phelps has always sought to live a normal life. But let’s be real: could Phelps walk around Westmont – or, for that matter, any college campus in the United States – with the same quietude?

Coach Harry Marra watches as Brianne Theisen Eaton throws the javelin

After practice, there is a quick session in the Westmont pool. No one swims like Phelps. Then it’s over to the Westmont cafeteria, where lunch is five bucks and the beet salad is, genuinely, awesome.

Brianne says they consistently make a point of reminding themselves that these are the best days of their lives – to live, truly live, in the present and know that they are experiencing special moments.

“To somebody who is in it more for fame or money,” Brianne says, “they would have a lot different outlook on this.”

“The goal is to improve yourself,” Ashton says.

“The goal is excellence,” Harry echoes.

So sweet.


Ashton Eaton: decathlon world record

EUGENE, Ore. -- Bruce Jenner, before he became the guy who hung around with the Kardashians, was once the best athlete in the world. This was 1976. That was a special summer. It was the Bicentennial. Sixteen Tall Ships sailed into New York Harbor. And Bruce Jenner was larger than life. During the Montreal Olympics, Bruce Jenner rocked. He won the gold medal in the decathlon, and ABC's cameras followed his every move. He was the living embodiment of all that was red, white and blue, and he understood then what he understands now. As he said,  "They were looking for stories." America doesn't really know or understand the complexities of the decathlon. Americans just love stories.

Ashton Eaton broke the world record Saturday in the decathlon at Hayward Field. He is 24. He is handsome and well-spoken. He is now heir to the title of best athlete in the world and the London 2012 Olympics beckon, in high-definition glory.

What a story.

"I think the reason the decathlon is so appealing," Eaton said, "when you try it and you do it, is because it's like living an entire lifetime in two days.

"You have the ups, the downs, the good, the bad. The comebacks. It all happens in two days. Everybody loves life. That's why we love the decathlon. It's just like life."

Eaton scored 9,039 points over the two days, breaking the prior record -- set by Czech Roman Seberle at a meet in Gotzis, Austria in 2001 -- by a mere 13 points.

To break it, Eaton had to run the final event here, the 1500, in 4:16.37. His previous best had been 4:18.94. Eaton is an Oregon native and went to college here, at the University of Oregon. The locals were going berserk in the stands. Even so, he was two seconds slow with a lap to go -- but then turned it on to finish in 4:14.48.

Trey Hardee, the 2009 and 2011 decathlon world champion, finished second, with 8,383 points. He is recovering from a surgically repaired right elbow and was, as he candidly acknowledged, cruising through this meet, thrilled to have thrown the javelin without ripping his elbow to bits.

Only he and Eaton qualified for London.

Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic champion, who had a solid first day, had a run-in Saturday with the hurdles. That produced a lengthy appeals process; ultimately, his time and scores were counted. But it left him so unfocused in the next event, the discus, which traditionally had been a strength, that he fouled three straight times.

With no score in the discus, he was essentially out. But he did not quit. He stayed in the event until the end, saying later, "There was a lot of hope and exception there and when you see that go out the window it's pretty disappointing. It was important to finish. I know I needed to finish. I didn't want to finish.

"… Between [my coaches] and my wife and my kids and everybody, I had to finish. The last thing I wanted to do is look back on things and have my kids remember the time I didn't finish the decathlon. As much as I didn't want to, there was really no other option."

He also said, "It was a rough day for me. But it was fun to be part of what Ashton had going on."

Hardee said much the same, adding that when historians assess this record they should take the wicked weather -- the nasty, cold rain that has soaked Hayward over the past two days -- into account.

It should come with bonus "parentheses and asterisks and everything" to denote degree of difficulty, Hardee said.

Eaton won seven of the 10 events on the program. That is genuinely impressive, and all the more so in the football weather that he had to do it in.

The world record is the first set at the U.S. Trials since Michael Johnson's 19.66 in the 200, at Atlanta in 1996, according to USA Track & Field. It also marked the fifth time an American set a decathlon world record at the Trials; Jenner had done it the last time, in 1976.

Making Eaton's accomplishment all the more special is that he did it in front of some of the American legends of the sport.

Here, along with Jenner: Milt Campbell, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist. Rafer Johnson, the 1960 gold medalist. Bill Toomey, the 1968 gold medalist. Dan O'Brien, the 1996 gold medalist.

Of course Eaton also broke the American record -- that was 8,891 points, set by O'Brien, at a meet in France in 1992 -- on Saturday. O'Brien couldn't have been more gracious, saying, "I had the record for 20 years and I'm happy for him."

Trey Hardee may have something to say about what happens in London. But all the signs are that it's Ashton Eaton's time.

And he is, genuinely, a great story. He gets it. And seemingly everyone in the sport is pulling for him.

"I really -- I really, truly love this event," Eaton said, trying to explain what the world record means.

"Not because I love running and jumping and all that stuff. Just because what it means and symbolizes for me -- just what the decathlon community, the track and field world is about. And maybe it's not about that much to the rest of the world but to me it's my whole world. To do the best that I possibly could in my world makes me really happy."

'...Big things' for 2011 U.S. track team

DAEGU, South Korea -- Christian Taylor, 21 years old, won the triple jump Sunday at the 2011 track championships with an audacious leap of 17.96 meters, 58 feet, 11 1/4 inches, the fifth-best in history. He declared afterward, in the tone of a respectful competitor, not a jerk, "I came to win." Will Claye is just 20 years old. Both Claye and Taylor were going to be seniors at the University of Florida until turning pro. What are the odds that these would be the two guys finishing 1-3 at the worlds in the same event? Yet that's what happened, Claye jumping a personal-best 17.5, or 57-5. He said, "We came out here, did our best and ended up doing big things."

The American team did, indeed, do big things.

First and foremost, it topped the medal table, with 25, the second-highest medal total at a worlds for Team USA, one shy of the 26 won by the 1991 and 2007 teams.

But for the thoroughly unexpected, the American team actually could have reached the elusive 30 mark, which would have been sweet validation indeed for Doug Logan, the vanquished former chief executive of USA Track & Field, who had said all along that 30 was eminently do-able -- only to get sent packing before the plans he had put in place to get to 30 could be realized.

The Americans put four men in the final 12 in shot put, an event the U.S. has dominated in recent years. None got a medal. The U.S. has also been strong in the 400-meter men's hurdles; no medals there in Daegu despite two finalists. The Americans took home no medals in pole-vaulting, men's or women's, a traditional strength.

And, once again, in the very last event of the championships, the men's 400 relay, an event won by the Jamaicans -- anchored by Usain Bolt -- in world-record time, 37.04, the American men did not get through without disaster.

The 2008 Olympics, the 2009 world champs and now these 2011 worlds -- all DQs. This one involved a collision on the final exchange involving American Darvis Patton and Britain's Harry Aikines-Aryeetey. Details, even after repeated viewings of the tape, remain sketchy.

"I felt his big knee in my arm," Aikines-Aryeetey said in a television interview.

Under no circumstances would the Americans have beaten the Jamaicans. Even so, Justin Gatlin, who had run the second leg, said, "You can't tell me we weren't going to set an American record."

Stepping back to assess the U.S. team's "big things" over the nine days of the meet:

The 12 medals won by the U.S. women are the most-ever; the 1993 team won 11.

Allyson Felix didn't win individual gold in her 200/400 double. But she did win silver in the 400, bronze in the 200 and gold in both the 400 and 1600 relays. Four is the most medals ever won by a woman at one meet; American Gwen Torrance, Kathrin Krabbe of Germany and Marita Koch of East Germany also won four.

If Felix had been a country, the four medals she won would have tied her for seventh on the 2011 medals chart.

Also: those four medals lift Felix's career world-championships total won to 10. That ties her with Carl Lewis for most medals won by an American.

Jenny Simpson, 25 and still a newlywed (last October), won the first gold for the United States in the women's 1500 since 1983. Then, a couple days later, Matthew Centrowitz, 21, a fifth-year senior at Oregon, won bronze in the 1500.

The U.S. men swept the high jump, long jump and triple jump golds. The U.S. men -- Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton -- went 1-2 in the decathlon. Dwight Phillips' long jump victory was his fourth at the worlds, to go along with his 2004 Olympic gold.

Phillips is 33, turning 34 in October. Bernard Lagat, who took silver Sunday night in the 5000, is 36, turning 37 in December. Lagat is the 2007 5000 and 1500 champ and, as well, the 2009 1500 bronze and 5000 silver medalist; he won silver at the 2004 Games in Athens when he was still running for Kenya.

Lagat, Phillips, Simpson, Centrowitz -- they illustrate the mix of veteran and younger talent that made up this team. That same sort of mix is likely to be on display next year for the United States track team at the Olympics in London.

"If Jenny can do it … if Matt can do it … if Bernard can still do it … I'm proud of my team," Lagat said.

Taylor, asked about the U.S. men sweeping the jumps, said, "It's about time. That's what I would say. Like I said, to have Dwight in the same group and having that family -- you know it's like, I wouldn't say a brother, but he's kind of old, so kind of like a dad! I mean, it's just been a great experience.

"The U.S. definitely represented and showed the world that we are the best team in the world."

So -- what does this performance here in Daegu mean for London?

Maybe a lot and perhaps very little.

LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 400 gold medalist, took silver in the event here and anchored the gold medal-winning 1600 relay. His future remains uncertain pending the outcome of litigation stemming from a 21-month doping-related suspension he has already served.

Tyson Gay, who had been America's best 100 and 200 sprinter, was hurt. Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 400 gold medalist -- hurt. Chris Solinsky, the 10,000-meter American record-holder -- hurt. Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic decathlon champ -- hurt. Standout hurdler Lolo Jones -- hurt. None of them competed here.

Do any or all of them make it to London? No one can predict.

Who knows whether Gay, who has struggled to stay healthy, can get fit?

Beyond which -- the brutal nature of the U.S. Trials, in which you're top-three or you stay home -- allows for no sentiment.

Just ask Phillips. He finished fourth at the Trials in 2008.

Or Simpson. "I mean, all this can do is bolster my confidence," she said.

But now Daegu is over, and London awaits. And she said, "I'm very cognizant of the fact this doesn't mean that I'm any shoo-in for any race following this."