Claye Surprised Even Himself

Claye mined gold in only his second meet of the yearMARK SHEARMAN PHOTO

You may not be stunned that Will Claye won his second World Indoor TJ title 6 years after taking home gold in ’12 at age 20. Claye, however, does harbor a smidgen of disbelief.

For one thing, his MO in the five intervening seasons has been to point at competition in the open air. “And that was the plan this year, as well,” he says. “I was training through and I just wasn’t feeling that well in my training. I kind of had this sickness come and go type of thing, where I didn’t know what was wrong.

“So I just took some time off and when I came back I was looking so good my coach [the Chula Vista training center’s Jeremy Fischer] said, ‘Hey, maybe we should enter USAs. And USAs was about a week later.”

Although he won with a list-leading 56-8½ (17.28), he recalls, “I didn’t have that much energy within me.”

But the buzz in Birmingham was contagious. “It was just everyone right on top of you,” he says. “We had the entrance and the intros for each athlete, the crowd was clapping for every jump.

“So obviously I was going to have the energy there but it definitely was tough to get into that mode just jumping into it when I wasn’t planning on it.”

It showed on Claye’s first three jumps. “I knew that I wasn’t hitting the right positions and I knew that I hadn’t prepared for this moment,” he says.

“You know, it just was like, ‘You’re here, you might as well go for it. Don’t really focus on trying to be perfect.’ Because I hadn’t trained, I hadn’t done any jumping at practice for me to even have cues. Most of the cues that my coach was giving me were from last season. Before USAs I jumped [in practice] one time.”

Then the switch flipped. “My fourth jump [a 57-2¼/17.43 that mined gold and claimed the yearly world lead] was where it came together,” he says, smiling.

Five-time Worlds long jump gold medalist Dwight Phillips was looking on, close enough to yell at Claye and be heard: “Let’s go, man, go get it!”

Says Clay, “I was like, ‘Alright.’ That’s one of my mentors and for him to say that to me right then and there gave me a lot of energy. And I just went for it. That filled me with energy and it showed at the end of the jump. I was going crazy.”

Fisher—whom Claye lauds as “one of the most underrated coaches in the sport”—told him “that’s probably the worst that I’ve ever looked at a championships, technical-wise. But you know it was enough to win so I’ll take it.”

Claye added, “I felt like God had brought me there for a reason because it wasn’t my plan, I didn’t plan on it. And so when things like that happen, I feel like that’s just God’s plan.”

That plan included Claye’s luggage never making it to Birmingham, so to celebrate, he says, “I stayed in my room and bought a big bottle of champagne for myself and I FaceTimed all my friends.

And Queen Harrison, Claye’s fiancée? “I had to FaceTime Queen too,” he says, “but she was in Miami laid out on the beach, she was watching the meet by the pool at some hotel so she was doing good.”

Intent on preserving his body and fire for jumping over the next decade if he can, Claye may forego outdoor jumping—but not training—this year to focus on his hip-hop career.

He released 12 songs last April (check iTunes or any major streaming service), they’ve been well received and he says, “I need a break. I definitely want to pursue my other passions [including his Elevate fashion line and charitable foundation]. I’ve been able to be compensated as an artist as well, and I feel like if I can put some more of my time and myself into music then I can do very big things with that and be able to touch lives through that sector as well.

“For me, I think it’s just a time to get my mind back right and then once I do come back be in a better place and be able to just go out there and give it my all and to entertain the fans and be an inspiration on the track & field.”

 

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