Olympic Trials Men’s Triple Jump — Will Claye’s Last-Gasp Comethrough

Bouncing back from a serious Achilles injury, Will Claye still had what it took on the last jump of the competition. (KEVIN MORRIS)

“IT WAS JUST ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS where you had to be a veteran and pull it out and make something happen.”

That’s how Will Claye described standing on the runway in round 6 as the last triple jumper in the competition. After leading for most of the first three sequences, he was stuck in 2nd behind Donald Scott’s fourth-round 56-4½ (17.18).

He needed to add at least two inches to the 56-2¾ (17.14) he had jumped in round 4. Down the runway he flew, hitting the board perfectly, and bounding with all his remaining strength. Yet, it wasn’t good enough, he thought, picking himself up and stepping out of the sand, shaking his head with a “whaddya-gonna-do?” expression.

Then the board flashed 56-5¾ (17.21) and proved him wrong. It was enough after all, just barely. Claye had successfully defended his title.

It wasn’t easy. His biggest opponent had been the Achilles tendon he ruptured in fall ’19. He kept it quiet, but devoted himself to a complete rebuild. “I’ve never been to the point where I couldn’t walk before and I couldn’t do things for myself. The hardest thing was not being able to walk for over a month and really thinking about the devastation of that type of injury and how it’s ended a lot of people’s careers.”

A May meet at Mt. SAC where he won at 56-3¼ (17.15) was his first since taking silver in Doha 19 months earlier. When reigning Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor ruptured his own Achilles a month before the Trials, the favorite’s mantle landed on Claye — only because the world didn’t know about his Achilles.

In round 1 both Scott and Chris Benard leaped 54-8 (16.66) before Claye topped them with a 55-7½ (16.95). The oppressive 93-degree (33C) heat in the stadium — and by some accounts over 110 (43C) on the track — made it harder. “You don’t want to blow your gasket out there,” said Claye.

In round 2 the three leaders all fouled, but Chris Carter improved to 54-10¼ (16.72). The next stanza, Scott stole the lead back at 55-8½ (16.98) but Claye responded with a 56-1¼ (17.10).

After a brief break, Scott jumped ahead again with his 56-4½ (17.18). Round 5 changed nothing, leading to the fateful last round. Carter improved to 55-2¼ (16.82), but would stay in 4th. Benard improved to 55-9¾ (17.01) for 3rd.

Scott needed a big improvement to be safe. Instead he got his second-best, 56-1¾ (17.11). Then Claye took the win.

The plan, said the victor, is to “Get stronger, get faster, get more consistent. Getting more consistent to where I can put out what I want to put out in any given round and not wait till the end.”

Then, he thinks, he’ll be ready to face the world in Tokyo.

MEN’S TRIPLE JUMP RESULTS

(June 21) (winds ranged from +2.0 to –0.5)

1. Will Claye (Puma/NYAC) 56-5¾ (17.21) (AL)

(55-7½, f, 56-1¼, 56-2¾, f, 56-5¾) (16.95, f, 17.10, 17.14, f, 17.21);

2. Donald Scott (adi) 56-4½ (17.18)

(54-8, f, 55-8½, 56-4½ [AL], 56-½, 56-1¾) (16.66, f, 16.98, 17.18, 17.08, 17.11);

3. Chris Benard (Nik/CVE) 55-9¾ (17.01)

(54-8, f, 54-6, f, 55-3, 55-9¾) (16.66, f, 16.61, f, 16.84, 17.01);

4. Chris Carter (unat) 55-2¼ (16.82)

(52-11, 54-10¼, f, 54-4¾, f, 55-2¼) (16.13, 16.72, f, 16.58, f, 16.82);

5. Timothy White (unat) 54-5¼ (16.59) PR

(54-2¾, 53-4½, 52-10¾, 53-7, f, 54-5¼) (16.53, 16.27, 16.12, 16.33, f, 16.59);

6. Alphonso Jordan (unat) 54-4 (16.56)

(f, f, 53-5½, 53-10¼, 52-4, 54-4) (f, f, 16.29, 16.41, 15.95, 16.56);

7. Isaiah Griffith (Or) 54-1 (16.48) PR

(f, 52-7½, 54-1, f, p, p) (f, 16.04, 16.48, f, p, p);

8. Sean Dixon-Bodie (LSU) 53-5½ (16.29)

(52-4½, 53-3¾, 53-3¾, f, 53-¾, 53-5½) (15.96, 16.25, 16.25, f, 16.17, 16.29);

9. Christian Edwards (Al) 53-¾ (16.17)

(53-¾, f, 52-2½) (16.17, f, 15.91);

10. Anthony Applequist (unat) 51-5½ (15.68)

(51-¾, 51-5½, 47-2½) (15.56, 15.68, 14.39);

11. Jah-Jah Strange (KsSt) 50-4¾ (15.36)

(f, 50-4¾, f) (f, 15.36, f);

12. Keyshawn King (Stan) 50-2 (15.29)

(f, 50-2, 50-1¾) (f, 15.29, 15.28).

QUALIFYING (June 19)

Qualifiers: Claye 55-3½ (16.85), Scott 55-2 (16.81), Benard 54-3¾ (16.55), Carter 54-2½ (16.52), Jordan 53-9¾w (16.40), White 53-9¼ (16.39), Edwards 53-9¼ (16.39) =PR, Griffith 53-3¾ (16.25) PR, Dixon-Bodie 53-¼w (16.16), Strange 52-10 (16.10), Applequist 52-5¼ (15.98), King 52-4 (15.95);

Non-qualifiers: Darrel Jones (unat) 52-¾w (15.87), Craig Stevens (unat) 51-10½ (15.81), Jelaani Davis (Ok) 51-5½ (15.68), Chris Welch (HouB) 50-11½ (15.53), Chauncey Chambers (VaT) 50-8¾ (15.46), Nathaniel Meade (BosNTC) 50-7½w (15.43), James Carter (Ia) 49-8¼ (15.14), Rex Parker (unat) 47-¾ (14.34);… 3f—Keshun McGee (Al), Julian Hubbard (BosNTC).

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