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Chaney channels Thorpe to grab first in decathlon

By Jonathan Myers     4/16/09 7:00pm

After legendary American athlete Jim Thorpe won the decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, in Stockholm, Sweden, King Gustav V told Thorpe, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." While King Gustav V is no longer with us, the fans of Owls' track and field could echo him by giving freshman Clayton Chaney the title of "Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational's Greatest Athlete," as he set a personal best of 6,539 points in winning the decathlon last weekend at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational in Los Angeles, Calif. In addition to Chaney's performance, Rice collected strong performances in the steeplechase, 1500-meter run, triple jump, shot put and discus throw.

The decathlon is customarily split into two days, with five events on each day, with each event having benchmark levels that are used to assign points. Chaney took to dominating the competition early on, taking first place in the 100-meter dash and the long jump, second in the shot put and 400-meter run and third place in the high jump. At the end of the first day of competition, Chaney enjoyed a 235-point advantage over his closest competitor, Kyle Schauble of Washington State University, putting him in position to break the 7,000-point mark.

The second day of events began well for Chaney, who downed the competition in the 110-meter hurdles, winning by nearly four tenths of a second on his way to adding 852 points to his score. By then, his lead had ballooned to 280 points, and with only four events left, Schauble needed to outscore Chaney by 70 points in each event to take the win. Chaney collected a solid third-place finish in the discus throw, padding his sizeable lead by five more points.

However, Schauble had posted a score of 6,785 points in 2008, so while Chaney appeared to have a safe lead, it was only a matter of time before Schauble threatened to make a comeback. That time arrived at the next event, the pole vault.

Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) admitted that the pole vault was among Chaney's weakest events.

"He's got a couple small things to figure out about the pole vault and shot put," Warren said. "Once he figures them out he could get his score up really quickly."

Schauble took a sizeable chunk out of Chaney's lead, scoring 645 points compared to Chaney's 509, dwindling Chaney's lead to 149 points with two events to go. But Chaney rebounded from the defeat to capture third place in the javelin throw. Schauble took second place in the event, but only outscored Chaney by 17 points, leaving an ample 132- point margin for him to overcome in the final event, the 1500-meter run.

While Chaney does not have the lanky build of a distance runner like the 6'5" Schauble, his time of 4:59 in the event was enough to hold off Schauble, who ran the event in 4:46, in the overall standings.

When the dust cleared, Chaney emerged victorious by a 52-point margin, a far cry from his nearly 300-point lead but still good enough for a personal best.

Warren commented on Chaney's progress throughout the season thus far, and the events he needs to improve in.

"Some events he's got down very well, but the shot put and pole vault are two areas where I think he could make improvements between now and the conference meet," Warren said.

While Chaney was putting the finishing touches on his first-place finish, sophomore Clay Baker was adding to the overall point total for Rice. Going up against the best discus throwers the University of California- Los Angeles had to offer, Baker did not shy away from the challenge, taking fourth place with a throw of 50.74 meters, only 0.15 meters away from his personal best.

Baker wasn't finished at Drake Stadium. After the discus throw, he turned his attention to the shot put, once again facing only the best competition, as he was competing in the invitation-only division. Baker shone yet again, placing seventh with a throw of 15.59 meters, only one meter away from his personal best.

Chaney and Baker are not the only Owls excelling in their respective events. Rice has several viable contenders looking to qualify for the NCAA Regional Championships at the end of May, including Chaney, Baker, sophomore Will Meyers, sophomore Ugo Nduaguba, junior Phillip Adam and junior pole vaulter Jason Colwick, who recently had the second-highest leap in the world in 2009. But for now, the team will focus on the upcoming Texas Invitational this Saturday in Austin, as well as the J. Fred Duckett Twilight meet held on April 29 at the Rice Track Stadium.

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