SEC champion races for hometown glory

By Chris Raleigh

When two-time SEC champion Gray Horn is throwing javelin, jumping hurdles, pole vaulting or performing in any of the other seven events in a decathlon, he’s competing to change more than the record books.

“Being in a small town can limit you mentally,” Horn said. “I’m from a small town. I like to show them that people from small town can do anything.”

Horn is talking about his hometown of Waynesfield, Ohio, population 803, and he knows that all of Waynesfield is watching every move he makes.

Horn has given the people of back home plenty to cheer about lately, with Horn recently taking fourth place in the NCAA Indoor Championships in the heptathlon to go along with his two SEC decathlon titles.

The University of Florida men’s track and field team is rated No. 1 in the 2011 U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division I Men’s Preseason Outdoor Computer Rankings, the New Orleans-based organization announced Wednesday. The Gators, who are two-time defending NCAA Indoor Championships, have finished second at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in each of the last two seasons.

“It’s a big deal,” Horn said about his local TV, radio and newspaper’s coverage of his time at the University of Florida. “It’s a good feeling that God put me in a position to effect other people’s lives.”

When you’re a decathlete like Horn, you’ll need all the inspiration you can get. 

While the average Univ. of Fla. student-athlete spends the whole year perfecting his or her one sport, Horn somehow has to master 10.  That means practicing two events for four hours, six days a week on top of the 12 credits he’s taking this semester.

That load could worry any other athlete, but not Horn.

“You just care of your business,” he said. “I appreciate knowing that not everyone can do what I do. It’s like a gift to me. My gift is the mindset to do something like this.”

Horn nurtured that mindset long ago in his grandfather’s backyard.

One summer when he was younger his grandfather taught him how to pole vault on the mat that he set up for Gray in the back yard. Horn attributes his success today to the lessons and skills he picked up from his grandfathers’ those many summers ago.

Those weren’t the only thing Horn picked up when he was younger.

Around eighth grade people started to call him, “little Ivan Drago,” from the Rocky movies. If you’ve ever seen Horn, it’s easy to see how that nickname follows him around still. (Here’s a video made two years ago, depicting Horn and his Soviet doppelganger.)

“They all think I’m foreign, and I tell them I’m the cornfields of Ohio,” Horn says with a laugh. “I’m as American as you can get.”

It’s that American flag he hopes is one day on his jersey right next to the Olympic rings.

“Every athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympics.  If I don’t make it it’s because there’s a few better guys in the US.  It won’t be because I didn’t work hard that’s for sure,” Horn said.

Horn realizes that the hurdles that stand in the way of him and his dream but when you have Gray Horn’s heartland work ethic and hometown inspiration, he believes he can make it.

Besides, the hurdles are his favorite event anyway.