The man who has been called the world's greatest athlete faced a crowded field of children.


"Were you guys thinking we were going to race today?" asked Bryan Clay, Olympic gold medalist. "Who thinks they can beat me?"


He half-raised his hand, waiting to see who else would, as the students laughed: No one was taking the bait.


Clay was making a return trip to Mesquite Trails Elementary School after the school raised the most money this spring out of all participating Victor Valley area schools for the Bryan Clay Foundation, which supports sports in education.


Tuesday, he competed against Mesquite Trails staff and students who had won grade-level competitions previously.


"We're going to let Bryan tie his shoes up," said Principal Dave Stewart over the loudspeakers. "I can tell he's starting to get a bit nervous."


Stewart and Clay teased each other throughout the event. Prior to becoming an educator in the Hesperia Unified School District, Canadian-born Stewart was the number one pre-Olympic favorite for track and field events in the 2004 games in Athens. A week before the trials in July 2004, illness struck and cost Stewart his spot on the national team. Clay went on to win the silver medal in the decathlon, conquering 10 different events over two days in Greece. Four years later, he became the first American in 12 years to win a gold medal in the event and by the largest margin of victory since 1972.


"On your mark, get set, gopher!" Stewart shouted, his students laughing as the competitors took their positions again after the false start. "I can't believe Bryan fell for that. That's, like, the oldest Mr. Stewart joke in the book."


Clay raced against the students, taking it easy at first, but picking it up near the end, paced the entire way by Keyshawn, a 6th grader in dreadlocks, whom Clay high-fived and talked to afterwards.


Then it was on to the javelin.


"It's got two very sharp ends," Clay said, hoisting the javelin and explaining throwing technique. "Teachers, when you walk with this, hold it up like this. We don't want anyone to lose an eye."


Even with tutoring from Clay, there was no question as to who were the teachers, who was the former world-class athlete and which one was the gold medal decathlete.


"There's been a lot of talking coming into this; let's see what he can do," said Stewart as fifth grade teachers Matt Michalski picked up the javelin, hurling it further than the rest of his colleagues. "Whoa!"


In the end, Clay showed how it was done, and made it look easy, despite favoring an injured elbow: His javelin flew straighter and dramatically farther than even Stewart's.


"Bryan's farthest throw, if we measured it, would be all the way to the track," Stewart told his students, pointing at the school's walking track, almost invisible from where the assembly had gathered.


Finally, Clay, Stewart and a pair of students lined up, ready to do a small course of hurdles (kid-sized hurdles for the students).


"We don't enough room and I don't think Mr. Stewart's in that good of a shape," Clay grinned as he explained the event. "In between each hurdle, you're trying to take only three steps."


All four shot off at the same time, with Clay, Stewart and Keyshawn crossing the finish line at approximately the same time.


For more information about Clay and his foundation, visit BryanClay.com.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.