June 23, 2015

Trey Hardee's lucrative decathlon career has suddenly gone to the dogs.

More specifically, his two Rottweiler mixes, Minka and Luca, who actually have an endorsement deal with a pet food company that keeps them rolling in treats.

Simply the spoils of having an owner who's one of the top dogs in a grueling two-day, 10-event competition.

Fully healthy, Hardee is a big favorite at the U.S. championships this week in Eugene, Oregon. Even more so with rival, record-holder and Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton sitting the decathlon out since he has an automatic bye into worlds as the defending champion.

Still, Hardee, a two-time world champ and Olympic silver medalist, has been training with such an intensity that he's ''losing vision'' - his description - during workouts. That's what it takes these days to keep up with Eaton, who will compete in the long jump at nationals.

These two share an agent, extreme work ethic and - should everything go as planned - a stage two months from now in Beijing at worlds.

''I don't need to check in with Ashton to know he's training hard,'' Hardee said in a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. ''He feels that way about me, too.''

Hardee's workouts are cringe-worthy in their magnitude, designed in a way for the 31-year-old to feel a little lightheaded toward the end. Just like on that last day of a competition, when all he has left is four laps around the track at full speed.

''The other day, when I was running the 1,500 (in practice), I actually saw my wife on our wedding day as my life flashed before my eyes,'' cracked Hardee, who sometimes finishes off a big workout by going home and mowing his lawn. ''I guess I was just searching for motivation because I was like, `Why am I doing this?'''

How exactly did he get into this? Now that's an intriguing question, because he's sort of an accidental decathlete. Cut from his high school basketball team, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hardee discovered pole vaulting.

A quick study, he went to Mississippi State hoping to become the next Sergei Bubka. Soon after, he was introduced to the decathlon and began to flourish, transferring to Texas, where he became an NCAA champion.

''I don't think anyone is born to be a decathlete,'' said Hardee, who was once invited to try out for the New York Jets, only to stick with amassing points over catching passes. ''It's always a fall back option.''

He said he's healed from a balky hamstring that kept him out of a recent tuneup meet in Austria.

No stranger to pain, Hardee was only months removed from surgery to fix a ligament in his elbow when he captured silver at the London Games, finishing behind Eaton. It was the first time the Americans had gone 1-2 in the Olympic decathlon since Milt Campbell and Rafer Johnson in 1956.

Hardee's personal-best score is 8,790 points, which he set in Berlin in 2009. He currently ranks behind only Eaton - owner of the world record (9,039 points) he set three years ago at Hayward Field - Dan O'Brien and Bryan Clay in American history.

In the pantheon of U.S. decathlete greats, he's there with that trio, along with Johnson, Campbell and 1976 Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner.

''I'm at the bottom of that totem pole,'' Hardee said. ''The decathlete is an awesome fraternity.''

Hardee isn't sure how much longer he will compete. His sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Nike were recently extended into 2017.

''I keep thinking, `When am I going to start a career?''' Hardee said. ''But there's no other feeling in the world like waking up on the morning of a competition. I still get goose bumps and butterflies in my stomach just talking about it.

''If all keeps going well, I'm not going to deny myself this ride.''

After all, he's got others to think about. Namely, his two rescue dogs. Minka and Luca actually star in an online video. His pups, of course, steal the show.

''My dogs getting a sponsorship out of all this?'' Hardee said. ''Now that's one of the cooler things that's ever happened to me.''

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