Trey Hardee competes in the men's decathlon 1,500-meter at the 2017 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Hornet Stadium on June 23, 2017 in Sacramento, Calif.
Fake news infiltrated track and field when a report surfaced that Trey Hardee had retired.
Someone forgot to tell Hardee.
The two-time world champion in the decathlon was appearing on a podcast when the host told him his Wikipedia entry put him out to pasture.
“I’m like, that’s neat. I didn’t know I retired,” Hardee said.
And he made that perfectly clear in Sacramento, California, in June by winning the USATF Outdoor Championships.
Hardee’s national title was his fourth in 12 appearances, paving his return to the IAAF World Championships in August in London. Hardee won worlds in 2009 – where he posted his personal best score of 8,790 points – and defended his title in 2011. On the same London track, Hardee claimed the silver medal at the Olympic Games London 2012.
However, he doesn’t blame people for thinking he hung up his cleats. In Sacramento Hardee finished his first full decathlon since the 2015 nationals. And after all, he is 33 years old – make that 33 ½ in London – which is getting up there in age.
“It is,” Hardee agreed, “but I feel good. I don’t feel that old.
“I am the oldest guy, but I don’t feel like the oldest guy. I feel like my mind’s in my 20s, but I’ve got the wisdom of a 33-year-old.”
With the retirement of world-record holder and two-time Olympic champion Ashton Eaton – not fake news! – Hardee is Team USA's best hope to bring home a medal. If he wins the gold, he would be the oldest world champion in history, surpassing Roman Sebrle of Czech Republic who won in 2007 in Osaka, Japan, when he was 32.
Hardee has 10 good reasons to stay in the competitive realm – four on the track and six on the field. He scored 8,225 points to win in Sacramento, defeating relative youngsters Zach Ziemek (8,155 points), who is 24, and Devon Williams (8,131), who is 23.
Make that 11 good reasons. Hardee’s daughter Frankie was born last December and she was at the track to watch him triumph. “She’ll never remember, but we got pictures of it,” Hardee said.
Frankie is already enrolled in a little tykes gym class, sort of a decathlon for babies.
Hardee tweeted a picture of her wearing his national championships medal and a big smile – “Basking in the glory of all her hard work. Frankie’s ready for #London2017.”
Frankie has athletic genes from the other side of the family, too. Her mom is Chelsea Johnson, the 2009 world silver medalist in the pole vault and her grandfather is Jan Johnson, the 1972 Olympic pole vault bronze medalist.
Unbeknownst to Frankie, her dad was performing the grueling 10-event, two-day decathlon while being especially cautious to protect a lingering heel injury.
“That was as measured and smart a decathlon as I’ve ever done,” Hardee said. “Every event was its own thing and we had these minimums we were trying to hit.”
Hardee’s problem began one morning in September when he woke up with what he thought was a bruised right heel. After a few weeks of pain, he finally had images taken of it. “The original diagnosis was a 40-percent tear of the whole thing off my heel, so it’s just scar tissue and cobwebs and prayers holding that thing together,” he said with a laugh.
Hardee didn’t get his legs underneath him until March. Then he was gearing up for the Texas Relays when his car was T-boned in an intersection and he suffered damage to his left knee.
Hardee was forced to stop training and said he woke up every morning not wanting to do anything because his foot hurt. “I was thinking like, ‘Maybe this is my body telling me it’s time to move on,’” he said.
But his wife wouldn’t let him have any regrets. Chelsea didn’t want him to look back on Sacramento and think, “I should have stuck with it.”
So there Hardee was on the Hornet Stadium track where the temperature was 110 degrees.
“I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder, like ‘No one thinks I can do it,’” Hardee said after the event. “I was out here having fun. And after Day 1, I was the most surprised person in the world at the score, considering how I felt and there weren’t any great events.
“But,” he added, “Ashton not being here makes it easier.”
The only event where Hardee’s foot didn’t hurt was the shot put. “Everything else is doing damage down there,” he said.
He passed several heights in the pole vault, then took two attempts and shut it down. He took two attempts in the javelin, two in the discus and just one in the long jump.
“Decathlons don’t stress me out anymore,” Hardee said. “I’m 33 years old, but I’m dangerous. I’ve still got some pop. I took one long jump and went a foot away from a personal best, I feel like I could have jumped really far.
“I’m the snake in the grass right now. In all the events that I’ve done, I haven’t blown any of them out of the water yet. Everyone knows what I’m capable of, but no one knows what to expect.”
Hardee will throw caution to the wind in London. “We go for it,” he said. “We’re going to London to do our best and leave it all out there, and try to win.”
Rico Freimuth of Germany has the top mark in the world this year, scoring 8,663 in late June. Five other athletes have also surpassed 8,500 points, while Williams is the top American – and eighth best performer – at 8,345. Hardee is ranked 13th.
“I’ve been in the best shape of my life, and I won barely scoring 8,600,” Hardee said, “then I’ve been in not great shape and I’ve scored 8,700, so every championships has its own flow and its own rhythm to it.”
One measure of success is simply finishing. Hardee was in top shape in 2015, prepared to give Eaton a run for his money at the Beijing worlds, when he hurt his lower back in the long jump, the second event. “It was like a bolt of lightning when I hit the board on the takeoff,” Hardee said. “It was bad news after that.”
He tried to throw the shot put, but had to drop out.
Then at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field, Hardee aggravated a left hamstring injury. He knew he had no chance to make the Rio Olympic team, but stayed in the competition so he could watch the other decathletes from the infield and encourage them.
In Rio, he worked as a commentator for NBC. “It was an awesome experience,” Hardee said, “but commentating the decathlon was tough. It wasn’t bittersweet; it was just bitter."
He said it was hard watching guys he had beaten doing what he does for a living on the world’s biggest stage.
“Not to say I would have been up to par and would have won, or would have done anything of note,” Hardee said, “but I just felt like it was taken away from me, like I had done everything right. If I’m healthy I’m on the team.
“It made me never want to be on that side of it again – if I could help it, I got a taste of it, and it wasn’t fun.”
What is fun is being out on the track with what he calls a “brotherhood” in the decathlon.
“We console the guys who don’t do well and we’re the first people to cheer on the guys who do well,” said Hardee, adding that they squirted water in each other’s lanes in Sacramento because the track was so hot.
“I dare you to watch the open events and see if that happens,” said Hardee, who is a mentor to Williams and willing to lend an ear or give advice to any fellow decathlete. “It’s really special and what’s awesome, man, the U.S., we’re good at it. We’ve got a great history, a great system of coaches and education, we’re pumping them out.”
While Hardee said that the 2016 Rio campaign was never going to be his “last hurrah,” he’s not going so far as to commit to Tokyo.
“I love what I do,” he said. “If I take some time off and my foot heals up, and it’s still something I wake up every day thinking about, then absolutely, I wouldn't want to rule anything out. But at the same time, I don’t know what life after London is going to be. I might wake up after all that and say, ‘You know what? I’ve done a good job, and I think it’s time to hang ‘em up.’”
And if he does, you’ll hear it straight from him.