By ELLIOTT DENMAN
SACRAMENTO - Is Trey Hardee destined to be the greatest American decathlete never to win an
Olympic gold medal?
Is he bound to join such notables as Tom Pappas, Dave Johnson, Chris Huffins, Russ Hodge, Bob Coffman, Steve Fritz, Ricky Barker, Fred Dixon, John Sayre, Tim Bright - and more - on the list of those who had the potential to win it all at the Games - but for an array of reasons, some of their own making, some not, never quite did?
Call it a very/very strong possibility.
Good as he is and good as he looked leading the way in the USA Outdoor Championships State University's Hornet Stadium - the bottom line of decathlon life these days is that Hardee may never/ever catch up to and outscore good friend and countryman Ashton Eaton.and at Sacramento
Then again, don't ever say those things within earshot of this 30-year-old two-time world champion by way of Alabama (Vestavia Hills High School); Mississippi (a two-year stay at Mississippi State U.) and Texas (where he's a 2007 U. of T. alum.) He'd be tempted to turn his pet javelin into a weapon of convenience.
The whole track and field world may have already conceded the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic gold to Eaton (who netted the world-record score of 9,039 points winning the 2012 Olympic Trials en route to the London Olympic gold and added the 2013 World Championships gold by registering 8,809 in Moscow), and who continues going from strength to strength at age 25.
Five years his elder, Hardee, though, who took his Worlds crowns at Berlin in 2009 and Daegu in 2011, isn't listening.
He's certainly not making concession speeches.
As far as he's concerned - and knowing the vicissitudes of big-time deca-competition, including
Injuries, bad breaks and tough luck of all descriptions - he and good buddy Eaton are still neck and neck
In the race for Beijing and Rio gold.
Many may scoff at that notion but his runaway triumph in the USA Nationals at Hornet Stadium
surely bolstered his side of the debate.
In order, he reeled off performances of 10.39 for the 100, 23-8 ¼ in the long jump, 50-5 ½ in the shot put, 6-8 ¾ in the high jump, 48.02 in the 400, 13.69 in the 110 high hurdles, 166-2 in the discus, 16-4 ¾ in the pole vault, 186-8 in the javelin and 4:43.63 in the 1,500-meter run to total 8,599 points, best score in the world this year.
And just who was the 2014 world leader before that? Well, Trey Hardee, actually, with his 8,518 score at Gotzis, Austria four weeks ago.
With Oregonian Eaton on sabbatical from deca-competition this year to have fun playing at the 400-meter hurdles, and no further major global competitions on the 2014 calendar, the path is obviously clear for Hardee to regain the world leadership he held in 2009 and 2011.
But with the World Outdoor Championships in Beijing heading the 2015 calendar, Hardee knows that retaining the world leadership and holding off Eaton will be no easy task.
The 8,599 may have been a world leader and within striking distance of his best-ever score of 8,790 in 2009 but Hardee still knew it left plenty of room for improvement.
Most importantly, he's totally rehabbed from the Achilles tendon and hamstring injuries that forced him out of the 2013 Worlds in Moscow, a year after he'd placed second to Eaton at London.
He broke down his Hornet Stadium performance this way:
"The 100, that was the best I've run in a little while, wind or otherwise.
"The long jump, though, I missed it entirely, probably lost 150 points right there.
"I came back with some power in the shot put.
"But the high jump, that was lights out right there. I was in a rhythm. It was just the second meet ever for me jumping with my new approach, my short approach. It gave me the opportunity to be more athletic. That was my mindset, and I had my mark and I had the bar.
"The quarter, I went out a little too hard and at the end I was paying for it.
"But I still closed strong and walked away from the track and not really thinking I had done anything.night (with 4,441 points in the bank)
"Second day, the hurdles was great, but I probably did a little too much warming up.
"The discus, man, the one long throw I had was a goof, a mess-up, but it was still a long throw.
I know a 55-plus (meter) world (decathlon) record is there. I know that, because I've already been over 55 a few times in practice.
"So I had some good momentum moving over to the pole vault. The wind made it a little iffy. I never could find my find my rhythm. I wound clearing just the one bar.
"Then the jav, I've changed a few things around this season. I'm learning a lot of new things.
It's funny, I can throw really far from a short approach but not from a long one. But that's just now. I know that will change.
"The 1500, I went out about six seconds too slow for the first 800, but I felt really, really strong
pushing the last 300. With 100 to go, it was like, I've done it, it's over, I can relax."
His biggest 2014 goal: "to reassert myself" (on the global charts.)
"Add up my PB's (personal bests) and I'm at 9200 points, maybe 9,300.
"Hands down, we (Eaton and Hardee) are the two best decathletes in the world.
"We think we've got the formula, we know where we want to be and when we should be there.
"I'm a championship competitor, I perform really well at the big meets.
"An now I've got the national title under my belt, I'm the 201 national champion.
"That means a lot."
So this message to Eaton: "Bring it on."
But the reply the world's track experts send him: "Eaton is still the king, he's secure on the
throne, and there's no abdication on his agenda."