As Ayden Owens-Delerme caught his breath after completing the most successful and one of the most memorable decathlons of his burgeoning track and field career last week, what he had just accomplished in a stadium in Walnut, Calif., hit him like a ton of bricks.

“It definitely hit me, man,” Owens-Delerme said from Puerto Rico on Wednesday. “It’s something that I’ve been reaching for for a long time, since those days at NA and even before that when I was running for Three Rivers USATF. I remember being 9 years old starting sports, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be an Olympian.’”

While some of his peers dreamed of playing in the NFL or NBA, Owens-Delerme, a 2018 North Allegheny graduate, yearned to be a part of that competition with the familiar symbol consisting of those five interlaced rings — blue, yellow, black, green and red.

“I just wanted to be like Usain Bolt,” he said. “And my last name was Owens, and I knew about Jesse Owens, so I said, ‘I want to be like him.’”

Years later, Owens-Delerme is just like Bolt and Owens in that he is officially an Olympian.

Owens-Delerme, 23, qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the decathlon following a career-best performance at the Mt. SAC Relays April 17-18. Owens-Delerme, who represents Puerto Rico, needed to hit the Olympic Standard of 8,500 points to qualify, but he did much better than that, as his 8,732 points were 200 better than his previous best achieved at the 2022 World Championships. Not only that, but it was a Puerto Rican national record and the No. 1 mark in the world this season. It also ranked No. 17 on the all-time list of top decathlon scores.

The performance Owens-Delerme will never forget may have come more than 2,400 miles from where he grew up, but he still was able to do it in front of his biggest group of fans and supporters as his parents and all seven of his siblings made the trip to California for the event. His support team included sister Melina, who ran at North Allegheny and Kent State. Melina recently gave birth to her first child.

“I had a lot of motivation,” Owens-Delerme said. “I became an uncle for the first time, and it was pretty fun to have all my family and my little nephew out there.”

It has been a hectic past year for the former WPIAL and PIAA champion, who is back thriving again despite committing a few track and field no-no’s.

“It’s funny. Anyone will tell you, you don’t do two things in an Olympic year. One is don’t get hurt, and the other one is don’t change coaches. And I did both,” Owens-Delerme said with a laugh. “Last fall, I was 10 months out from Paris and they’re performing some knee procedure on me and I’m about to move from the United States to another country and bring a different coach with me. Everyone’s like, ‘Bro, what are you doing? You’re one of the best decathletes in the world. Just stick with what works.’ I’m like, ‘I think that what I’m doing, everyone will see why.’”

Back in September, Owens-Delerme had a procedure done on his left knee to repair a torn patellar tendon. He had been dealing with patellar tendonitis (also known as jumper’s knee) for quite some time, saying it got to the point where it was “really debilitating.” It certainly affected his performance at the World Championships in Hungary a month earlier when he no-heighted in the pole vault before pulling out of the javelin and 1,500.

Said Owens-Delerme, “I hadn’t been training for the decathlon, even through Worlds. It was all just maintenance. There was no jumping. So basically I went to Budapest last year unprepared.”

Ayden Owens-Delerme cleared 16-8¾ feet (5.10 meters) in the decathlon pole vault to set a personal best at the Mt. SAC Relays at Hilmer Lodge Stadium in Walnut, Calif., on April 18. (Kirby Lee/Getty Images)

Owens-Delerme didn’t compete again until last month, and when he did, it was with a new coach. Enter Lawrence “LoJo” Johnson, a former Olympic silver medalist and world indoor champion in the pole vault. The relationship between the two was initially formed during Owens-Delerme’s senior year at North Allegheny. At the time, Johnson was coaching at Germantown Academy, located near Philadelphia. Owens-Delerme said that Johnson reached out to him after watching him in the decathlon at a national meet.

“He said, ‘I would love to help you out in any way I can if you want to make the drive,’” Owens-Delerme recalled. “I showed my mom. I was like, ‘Hey, Mom. Do you think this is something I should do?’ And she said, “Heck yeah, your vaults suck most of the time.’”

Owens-Delerme said he visited LoJo twice that year, and through it saw his pole vault improve by a foot. And although it would be years before the two would work together again, they stayed in touch and maintained a relationship with one another.

Said Owens-Delerme, “So when this year rolled around, I said, ‘What’s preventing me from winning against the best decathletes in the world is my field events, mainly my pole vault.’ And I said, ‘I believe that this dude could get me there.’ So I said, ‘LoJo, we have a great relationship, would you be willing to move to Puerto Rico? And he said, I’d be willing to help you reach your dreams.’”

So, the two, along with Owens-Delerme’s trainer, have been busy gearing up for the Olympics in the town of San Germán, which is located about two hours away from San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, where Owens-Delerme’s family is from. He compared it to the area in Eastern Pennsylvania where Muhammad Ali trained for some of his most memorable fights.

“I’m just in the middle of nowhere, just me and my coach. No training partner,” Owens-Delerme said. “100 degrees every day, and I’m just dying. But I love that part.”

Ayden Owens-Delerme finished the decathlon 400-meter run in 47.23 seconds at the Mt. SAC Relays at Hilmer Lodge Stadium in Walnut, Calif., on April 17. (Kirby Lee/Getty Images)

Owens-Delerme competed in the pole vault, shot put, discus and 110-meter hurdles at events in Puerto Rico in March before making his long-awaited season debut in the decathlon at the Mt. SAC Relays, an event he participated in several times while in college. The switch to the new coach appears to be paying off, as he set personal records in the pole vault, javelin and shot put at Mt. SAC, marks that played a big role in him reaching his massive PR in the decathlon.

“It’s funny, my best events were my worst events,” he said. “So the only events that the world knows Ayden Owens is good at, the 400 and 1,500 and the running events, I lost in. I never lose those events, so it’s really exciting to say — Boom! — this next meet, I’m going to get those events that are good for me back to my strongest so I can improve my score and my position heading into the Games.”

His final tuneups include an event in Austria next month before competing in the Puerto Rico national championships. Other than that, it will be a lot of preparation and training before Owens-Delerme and his team leave for Paris in early July. The Olympics begin July 26, with the decathlon taking place Aug. 2-3.

It will be another giant step in the athletic journey for a guy who just six years ago at this time was preparing not for the Olympics, but the WPIAL championships.

“I can remember those times vividly,” Owens-Delerme said. “I just remember running races back at Baldwin and the WPIAL, and checking to see the times they posted on the paper that they taped to the wall. That’s what I remember. All I cared about is I just wanted to win WPIALs. I remember so much having my vision like, ‘Wow, I’m the best in the Wips.’ And then I was like, ‘I might win states.’ That was not long ago. There were a lot of stepping stones to get to where I am. But I would say it all came really, really fast.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at