"I wasn't aware that there were different emotions; I was only aware of anger,” the 32-year-old track star says. "The only things I saw on TV or modeled in my house were anger and abuse.”

Clay grew up primarily in Hawaii in a tight - knit family. But his parents’ divorce when Clay was ۱۰ launched him onto a decade - long path of violence.

“When I got sad or disappointed, it turned into anger. I never knew how to be happy, ” he explains. “When I got angry, it turned into rage. I would just explode. ”

Those explosions morphed into cutting, suicide - themed writing, and constant fights and suspensions at school. A counselor suggested sports as a way out.

Clay was given a choice: swimming or track and field. Those were the only sports without physical contact with others. Because he disdained Speedos, Clay picked track.

Or, as he would write years later in his book Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, A Praying Mother, And The Unlikely Path To Olympic Gold(Thomas Nelson), track picked him.

“For me, track was all positive, ” he writes. “When I ran, my head was clear. It gave me space to think through things in my life. ” So he kept running, and running well.

His sophomore summer, the ۵’۱۰”, ۱۷۵ - pound Clay met Chris Huffins, an Olympic bronze medalist decathlete. Huffins encouraged him to try events like pole vault, hurdles, and shot put for fun. Since there is no high school decathlon, Clay stuck to his running events.

As Clay’s wins piled up, college coaches took notice. Yet his negative behaviour hadn’t disappeared; he experimented with graffiti, drinking, and smoking weed. At Huffins’ and his mother’s urging, Clay attended Azusa Pacific University(APU), a small Christian college with a stellar track and field reputation.

Clay could finally devote himself to the decathlon, a ۱۰ - event bonanza consisting of the ۱۰۰ - metre dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, ۴۰۰ metres, ۱۱۰ - metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and ۱,۵۰۰ metres. The partying, however, continued.

“For the first two years at APU, I lived up to my commitment to party, run track, and party some more, ” he writes. “If I was going to a Christian school, I was going to do it my way. ”

A fellow athlete gave him a different perspective.

Sarah Smith was a javelin thrower and committed Christian. As they dated, Clay witnessed the peace a relationship with Jesus Christ brings and wanted to marry her. But he also wanted to live life on his terms, showing up to Monday’s practice hung over from the weekend.

Sarah ended their relationship, telling Clay, “We’ll never get back together until you become the man of God I know you want to be and I know He wants you to be. ” That statement drove him to re - evaluate his lifestyle. Clay grew up attending church, but something never clicked.

Now, as Clay fervently searched the Bible for answers, found a mentor, and joined a discipleship group, he knew what was missing. In a middle - of - the - night desperation prayer session, Clay gave up running his own life. “Lord, I don’t have anybody else, ” he prayed. “I’ll take a chance on my faith, and it will just be me and You. ”

Clay’s behaviour drastically changed. His athletic focus increased, garnering wins and top - three finishes at the NAIA decathlon championships and USA Championships. Despite his small size(the average decathlete is over six feet tall and ۲۰۰ pounds), Clay’s scores skyrocketed as he honed his techniques.

In ۲۰۰۴, he married Sarah and won the first of his three titles at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship(others in ۲۰۰۵ and ۲۰۰۸) as well as the silver medal at the Athens Olympics. He also won the ۲۰۰۵ World Outdoor, ۲۰۰۸ World Indoor, and ۲۰۰۸ U. S. Olympic Trials titles.

Then, as billions watched, Clay won the ۲۰۰۸ Olympic decathlon gold medal by ۲۴۰ points – the largest margin since ۱۹۷۲. He was officially “The World’s Greatest Athlete. ” Today, Clay lives in Glendora, Calif., where he still trains at APU. He and Sarah have one son(Jacob, age ۷) and two daughters(Katherine, ۵, and Elizabeth, ۲).

And as the ۲۰۱۲ London Olympics approach, Clay wants to do something no other decathlete has done: win a third medal. Does that pressure overwhelm Clay? Hardly.

“I’ve already done more than ۹۰ percent of decathletes in Olympic history. So when you’ve got that perspective, it changes everything, ” he says. “I expect myself to do well. But is this going to define me? No.[Not medaling] isn’t going to take away what I’ve already accomplished.

Those accomplishments occur off the track, too. In ۲۰۰۵, he started the Bryan Clay Foundation to provide physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual support to kids through sports. He hopes to point those “with no vision, no hope” toward a God who can give both.

“From the very beginning, Christ used track and field to teach me about Him and lessons like character, sacrifice, love, integrity, and commitment, ” Clay says. “People ask me, ‘How did you do all this? ’ Just look at the faithfulness God has shown in my life. That’s how.

"I think that's what my faith and the Olympics are all about - going and being the best you can be. I think God honours that.”