Coming within inches of your greatest dream only to see it slip away can lead someone to dark and lonely places. Fortunately Trey Hardee, a decathlete and Texas alumnus, took his crushing fourth-place finish in the decathlon during the 2008 Olympics as a source of inspiration for the future.
Born in 1984 in Birmingham, Ala., Hardee has been no stranger to fighting through adversity. In 2002 he enrolled at Mississippi State on a pole vault scholarship. It was there that coaches noticed Hardee’s 6-foot-5 frame, strength and speed — attributes needed to be a decathlete. In 2004 Mississippi State dropped its indoor track team, shaking Hardee’s career and forcing him to transfer.
“There was a whole tornado of reasons why I ended up in Austin,” Hardee said Wednesday at Mike A. Myers Stadium. “I was really happy at Mississippi State. I loved it there. [I] had a lot of friends there, loved my coaches. One of my coaches decided to leave, and there was a little uncertainty about what would happen. And then they dropped the men’s indoor program, so there were just a lot of things that led to me wanting to take a look elsewhere to see what else was out there. I took one trip to Texas, and that was all it took.”
Hardee began his career at Texas in barn-burning fashion. In 2005 he finished third in the decathlon at the NCAA Championships, but 2006 brought more hardships for Hardee.
“I was really upset in 2006 when I didn’t win the national championship for Texas. That was a big one,” Hardee said. “That was well within my control, but I didn’t have experience on how to handle it. That one still stands out in my mind.”
Even through the disappointment of 2006, Hardee went on to qualify for the U.S. men’s national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After staying in contention for a medal through nearly the entire competition, it was his “no-height” score in the pole vault — the event Hardee was originally awarded a scholarship for — that cost him a medal and landed him in fourth place before he dropped out.
“Beijing was tough,” Hardee said. “It sucked and it was a personal setback, but I was really blessed to have the coaches that I have and the teammates that I have. It was tough, but I grew from it.”
The season after the Beijing debacle, Hardee went on to win his first world title and would later be awarded the Jim Thorpe All-Around Award by the United States Sports Academy. Hardee continued to have success until he tried his luck at the London Olympics this past summer.
“In London I was kind of playing with house money,” Hardee said. “I was worried about the Tommy John surgery I’d had the September before, and I was just trying to be as positive as I could. Just making the team and being able to be there considering the circumstances in my elbow was the goal for the year. We felt like if we made it we could go to London and maybe have a chance.”
Hardee proved to have more than just a chance in London, winning the silver medal behind fellow American Ashton Eaton, who took the gold. Hardee finally won the elusive Olympic medal he was so close to capturing in Beijing.
“I was shocked, honored and blessed,” Hardee said. “I really don’t think I’ve processed it yet.”
Printed on November 16, 2012 as: Olympic decathlete inspires with story